The Canada Safety council estimates that 460,000 people are bitten by dogs in Canada each year. According to Health Canada data, most of these are children. The most common bite site is the face and in most cases the dog that bit was their own dog, a friend's or neighbour's dog and the bite occurred at someone's home. Clearly these data indicate that most bites are preventable through supervision, education of children and families and better training of dogs to accept the actions of children. Information to help you reduce the risk of a dog bite to your child is presented below.
Why do dogs bite and how do they warn us?
What can parents do?
What can dog owners do?
and how do they warn us
There are several possible reasons why a dog may bite a child:
· it is protecting a possession, food or water dish,
· it is protecting a resting place,
· it is protecting its owner or the owner's property,
· it considers itself dominant over the child and the child has done something the dog considers to be insubordinate (e.g., hugging the dog, moving into the dog's space, moving without permission from the dog, leaning or stepping over the dog),
· it is frightened and the child has threatened it in some way (e.g., hugging the dog, rapid approach, leaning over or stepping over the dog),
· it is old and grumpy and having a bad day and has no patience for the actions of a child,
· it is injured,
· the child has hurt or startled it by stepping on it, poking it or pulling its fur, tail or ears,
· the dog has not learned bite inhibition and bites hard by accident when the child offers food or a toy to the dog,
· the child and dog are engaging in rough play and the dog gets overly excited,
· the dog views the child as a prey item because the child is running and screaming near the dog or riding a bicycle past the dog.
There are usually warning signs before a bite occurs, but these can be very subtle and may be missed by many people. A dog may appear to tolerate the maulings of a child and one day bites, surprising everyone. Signs that you should take very seriously that indicate that the dog is saying "I have been very patient with this child, but I am nearing the end of my patience", include:
· the dog gets up and moves away from the child,
· the dog turns his head away from the child,
· the dog looks at you with a pleading expression,
· you can see the whites of the dogs eyes, in a half moon shape,
· the dog yawns while the child approaches or is interacting with him,
· the dog licks his chops while the child approaches or is interacting with him,
· the dog suddenly starts scratching or licking himself.
You may think that your dog loves to have the children climbing all over him and hugging him, but if you see any of these signs, then you are being warned that a bite could occur if the dog feels he has no other way of defending himself. Do your dog and your child a favour and intervene if you notice any of these signs.
What can parents do?
Parents should supervise all interactions between children and dogs. A child should not be left alone with a dog unless that child has demonstrated competent dog handling skills and the dog respects the child. Parents can educate their children about how to behave around dogs and how to recognize a bite risk situation. If a bite occurs the child should be seen by a doctor no matter how minor the injury may seem. In the case of a severe attack, trauma counseling should be sought for the child. The bite should be reported to the appropriate authorities.
Parents should teach children the following (these apply to their own dog, other dogs that they know and strange dogs):
· not to approach dogs that are not their own, even if the dog is on leash with its handler (most children are bitten by a dog that they know, or by their own dog),
· ensure that when a child visits a house with a dog, that the dog will not be unsupervised with the children
· to "be a tree" : stop, fold branches (hands) and watch roots grow (look at feet) and count in their heads until the dog goes away or help comes,
· never stare at a dog in the eyes or put their faces up to a dog's face,
· never try to take something away from a dog,
· never go near a dog who is eating or drinking or chewing on something,
· never approach a dog that is on a bed or furniture,
· never approach a dog that is tied up or in a vehicle,
· never try to pet a dog through a fence or in a crate,
· never climb over a fence into a dog's yard, even if the dog is usually friendly,
· never try to break up a dog fight or interact with dogs that are play fighting,
· leave dogs alone that are sleeping, resting, injured, very old or with puppies,
· a safe dog is one that is panting, face happy looking and wagging his tail enthusiastically,
· a dangerous dog has his mouth closed, ears forward, intense look,
· a dog about to bite may be growling, showing his teeth, raising fur along his back or holding his tail high in the air (he may even be wagging it),
· to play safe games such as fetch that do not involve running or rough play and to play only with their own dog.
What can dog owners do?
· supervise all interactions between children and your dog,
· attend obedience school and use a training method that stresses a reward-based approach (correction-based training methods can increase aggression),
· give your dog lots of positive social interactions,
· give your dog lots of exercise,
· don't encourage any kind of aggressive behaviour or barking in your dog,
· don't chain your dog or leave him alone in a yard for extended periods,
· give your dog his own special place and don't allow him on furniture or on the bed,
· encourage children and other guests to leave the dog alone if he is resting in his special place, eating or chewing on something,
· teach your dog to walk on a leash without pulling,
· teach your dog not to jump on people,
· do not permit your dog to bark or paw at you or others for attention,
· if your dog does show signs of aggression toward you or others, seek the help of a canine behaviourist,
· avoid using methods such as the alpha rollover, shaking or pinning the dog to the ground - these may reduce aggression toward you, but may increase aggression toward children or other weaker family members
Copyright 2002 Teresa Lewin and Joan Orr
Joan has kindly given up permission to post this article on our website. Please take a moment to visit their website www.doggonecrazy
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