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Dog experts will agree that some dogs bite and some dogs don’t, but all dog bites are preventable. Unfortunately, children are at a high risk of receiving a bite from a dog. In Canada and the United States, between 1982 and 2014, of all the reported dog bite cases, 81% of the victims were children. Additionally, between 2010 and 2012, 359,223 children were bitten by a dog and while many people assume that dog bites are received from strange dogs, about 61% of dog bites occur within the home or in a familiar place.
While there is often controversy as to where the responsibility falls when a dog bite occurs (some blame the owners, others blame the victim) parents can help decrease the risk of a dog bite by teaching their child how to responsibly and safely interact with dogs.
Adult Supervision Around Dogs
Although it’s important that children are taught how to behave around dogs, either familiar or unfamiliar, adults are also responsible for supervising children around dogs. If an adult is around, particularly the owner of the dog, the dog is less likely to attack. If an attack does occur, adult intervention can help reduce the severity of the attack (ie. fatal attack). Similarly, if a child is left alone with a dog and the dog does attack, the child is less likely to free him or herself from the attack than if an adult was present. Not only are adults responsible for supervising a dog’s behavior, unsupervised children are more likely to wander off into a potentially dangerous situation.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
This is an important question to answer, especially for people who assume that dogs are always at fault. First off, there is no one reason why dogs bite, but here are a few:
- Dogs are Pack Animals: By nature, dogs are pack animals and much of their behavior is based on such instincts. Since children are typically smaller than most dogs, some dogs may consider themselves as superior or alpha. Additionally, a dog may display protective behavior for a territory or person (which is also instinctive behavior).
- Boundaries are Compromised: Many dogs are territorial and have boundaries in which they feel comfortable and safe. Children, on the hand, do not understand boundaries. An overly protective dog can feel threatened when his or her boundaries are crossed.
- Too Much Physical Contact: Most dogs like affection and are eager to receive it, but if a tail or ear is pulled by an overly affectionate child, a bite may occur as a warning to “back off”.
Show and Tell Your Child How to Interact with Dogs
While dog owners have a great responsibility to teach their dogs not to bite and to recognize a potentially dangerous situation (ie. meeting strangers or too much stimulation in public), parents can only control how their child acts around dogs (or how the family dog acts). Here are some tips to teaching your child how to act around dogs:
- When approaching a dog (and his or her owner) always walk slowly and quietly
- Always ask the owner if you can pet his or her dog, never assume
- If the owner says “yes”, slowly extend your hand to let the dog sniff the back of it (not the palm)
- Pet a dog’s shoulder or chest, not the head
Additionally, if a child is in a dangerous situation with a dog, he or she should:
- Never run, but give the dog a jacket, backpack, or something not attached to them
- Avoid direct eye contact and stand like a tree with arms at their sides
- Remain quiet and curled up in the fetal position if the dog knocks him or her down