Dogs might be cute, but that doesn’t mean that they are safe to be around. Even the cutest, littlest dog can give a nasty bite. Whether you frequent dog parks, or simply live in a community where your neighbors are likely to be out walking dogs, you should know a few basic rules for how to approach a dog, avoid a dog and keep yourself and your children protected from being bitten.
Children are at highest risk for dog bites
Children are more likely to be bitten by dogs than are adults, and many of those bites will be to a child’s face. In fact, dog bites are one of the top three reasons why children must visit an emergency room. You probably don’t want to teach your child to be afraid of dogs, but you do need to teach him to use caution, especially around dogs he doesn’t know. Teach your child that before he approaches any dog, he should ask the owner whether the dog is friendly, and whether the dog likes children. Especially if the dog is skittish around children, most owners will be relieved to have your child ask first rather than having to pull the dog away if they are worried that the dog might not interact well with the child. If the owner is hesitant or answers that the dog is not friendly or doesn’t like children, respect that. It’s for your own safety that you not touch or approach that particular dog.
Why kids and dogs aren’t always a great combination
Even a sweet, good-natured dog is an animal, and it has the natural response of defensive aggression if it is startled or feels threatened. A young child moves fast, is small, and could easily stumble onto a sleeping dog, poke it or pull its tail (even accidentally). The child likely isn’t trying to hurt the dog, and the dog might not intend to hurt the child, but even a growl or “warning snap” by a dog is something that you have to take seriously.
Whether you have a dog in your home or your child is around other people’s dogs, it’s important to teach a child never to take something that the dog thinks is his. That means that the child should never come between a dog and its food, a bone or a toy. Even if the dog takes a toy that belongs to the child, the child should be taught to have an adult intervene to get it back – not to try to take it back herself. As well, if a child is frightened by a dog’s behavior, if the child runs away or screams, that could trigger a dog’s predatory behavior and increase the likelihood that the dog would go after the child.
There are specific dog body language cues that can tell you when a dog is feeling threatened, scared or aggressive.
Good pet habits for kids
If you have a dog in your home, teach your child some basic rules:
- If the dog walks away during playtime, it means that the dog is finished playing or is no longer having fun. The child should not follow the dog – the dog will return when it wants to play again.
- The child should never tease the dog or pretend to take its toys, food or treats.
- Children should not pull a dog’s ears or tail, and they should not try to ride on the dog.
How to “meet” a dog
Even adults should follow certain guidelines for becoming acquainted with a new dog. Regardless of how much of a dog lover you are, you still need to exercise caution when you meet a new animal. Just like you would teach a child, you should always ask a dog owner’s permission before you pet the dog. If the person says no, respect that and don’t touch.
- When you meet a dog for the first time, slowly offer the back of your hand for the dog to sniff. Once the dog has become familiar with your scent, pet it gently under the chin or on the chest.
- Learn to recognize a relaxed dog, as opposed to a threatening one. A relaxed dog has:
- tail down or wagging
- mouth and lips relaxed
- ears in regular position (neither back nor forward)
- hair lying flat on its back
A threatening dog has:
- a wrinkled nose or teeth showing
- tense or cocked body language
- “hackles”, or hair standing up along the back of its neck and spine
- growl or snarling noises
- ears pinned back against its head
- If the dog is exhibiting any of these, do not approach.
“Be a Tree”
If any dog approaches you in a way that makes you feel threatened, whether it’s your own dog or a loose dog you encounter, be a tree. If you run, the dog will be more likely to chase you and attack. If you stop, stand perfectly still and look at your feet, the dog will lose interest.
If you Suffer a Dog Bite or Dog Attack
First, get the medical attention you need. If you or your child has been bitten by a dog, call your physician or head for the nearest urgent care or emergency department. Even if you think that the bite is minor and doesn’t require much treatment, it’s important to watch for signs of infection. Second, contact us. At McIntyre Law, we take dog bite injuries seriously and can get you the compensation you deserve. While any breed can bite, there are some dangerous dog breeds that are more likely to put you in harm’s way. Know the statistics, and be safe.