You may have heard that it’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week®. If you have a dog in your home, if you’re ever in contact with dogs, and especially if you have children, this week is an important reminder of the importance of safety around dogs.
We share our homes with our dogs, and if you have one, you know that they’re a very important part of your family. It’s often really hard to believe that your family pet could bite someone. If you have children and they have a great relationship with your dog, you may not consider that they don’t know how to interact with a strange dog that may not be used to children.
How common are dog bites?
Unfortunately, statistics on dog bites are few and far between, and those that are published are likely underestimates. This isn’t a fault of those doing the research or calculating the data, the fact is a majority of bites likely aren’t reported.
I was bitten myself by a neighbour’s dog when I was a young child and I know it wasn’t ever reported. Typically, only serious bites resulting in the need for medical attention are.
In saying that, it has been estimated that 4.5 million people in the US are bit by dogs per year (Sacks et al., 1996; Gilchrist et al., 2008). According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there were over 350,000 reported dog bites to children between 2010 and 2012 in the US. Of children, toddlers are the most likely to be bitten, with the risk gradually decreasing as children get older (Schalamon et al).
Why do dogs bite?
Dogs can bite for many different reasons. Almost all dogs (unless they have been punished for it previously) will show some other form of behaviour before they resort to a bite.
Dogs can bite when protecting territory, resources, or their young; or when they’re afraid, just to name a few. Dogs do not bite because they think they are the alpha over other members of the family (we’ll deal with this in another post).
Young children may be more at risk for many reasons:
They’re often at the same level as dogs
They don’t know how to read signals a dog may be giving
They may approach dogs in situations where they would be more likely to bite
Their behaviour can be unpredictable to dogs
Any many more...
So how can we prevent dog bites?
It is incredibly important that adults and children learn how to:
Recognize situations in which dogs shouldn’t be approached
Learn how to read dog behaviour - especially less obvious signs that a dog is uncomfortable or fearful
Adults manage and supervise carefully when dogs are around children
Many people are aware of overt signs of aggression in a dog and wouldn’t approach a dog showing obvious signs like growling, baring teeth, lunging and barking. Children need to be taught about these signs, what they mean and what they should do if they come across a dog showing those signs. However, the subtle signs that a dog is fearful often go unnoticed.
Did you know that many of the pictures floating around the internet of kids and dogs often have dogs that are showing signs they are uncomfortable?
For example, in the picture below, what can you see about the dog that might let you know that they are uncomfortable in this situation?
To name a few:
- The dog is leaning away from the younger child
- The dogs’ ears are pinned back
- You can see the whites of the dogs’ eye, often a sign that they are fearful
Now these signs don’t mean that this dog is about to bite the young child, but depending on the personality of the dog, the situation they’re in, and the history the dog has had with children, this could lead to a situation where the child is at risk.
What can you do to start?
It’s VERY important to talk to children about dog safety and model appropriate behaviour that you would want them to mimic.
Want some ideas? You can sign up HERE for 5 days of fun, safe games and activities you can do with your kids and dog.
ONLINE COURSE COMING SOON! In May 2018 my online course all about dogs and kids will be launched! You can learn all about dog behaviour and how to read signs they’re giving, how to manage your children and your dog in your home safely so that you are supervising their interactions appropriately, and how to handle common behaviour problems we see with dogs around children. By signing up for the 5 days of fun, safe games and activities, you’ll be notified when the course is coming out!