Kids And Dogs: Safety First!
Every Dog Owner Should Read
Your Dogs, Dog-proof Your Kids
Norma Bennet Woolf
Used by Permission. Copyright 2003 by Canis Major
High-pitched laughter pealing behind her, Nancy
ran around the corner of the house smack dab into the
dog chained by the garage. Unnerved by the noise and
startled by the child, the dog lunged and bit Nancy on
the nose. She screamed, and the dog bit again. Nancy
ended up with several stitches in her face and
nightmares; the dog was euthanized for biting; and both
families were traumatized.
The tragedy could have been avoided if Nancy's folks
and the dog's owners had been prepared.
First of all, a dog should never be chained outside
unattended. Most dogs of guard or working heritage
suffer personality quirks when tied and many become
downright aggressive. Dogs are better off in fenced
areas, where they can see the barrier between them and
the world, where they can feel somewhat safe from noisy,
frolicking children. In addition, many dogs
instinctively equate the high-pitched sounds of children
with the distress sounds of prey animals, and they react
by biting the child as they would have bitten the prey
animal in the wild.
Second, children should be taught how to behave
around dogs, even if their own family does not own a
dog. For example, a child should never approach a
strange dog without asking the owner if it's OK to pat
the dog. If the child sees a loose dog on the street, he
should not approach it even if he knows the dog belongs
to his friend. He should tell someone that he saw the
dog, but should make no attempt to pat or grab it.
Nor should he scream or run away, for these actions
can result in an attack by the dog. A running being
frequently says "prey" to the dog and triggers the chase
response in his brain. Once triggered, this response is
almost impossible to interrupt. The dog is reacting to
chemical stimulus, not rational thought, and is
extremely difficult to sidetrack.
Most dogs, even those that are well-trained, do not
consider children as figures of authority. Furthermore,
since children frequently stare intently at animals, a
dog may feel threatened by this short person who is
trying to catch him. Even the best-natured dog may bite
to protect himself in these circumstances, especially if
he feels cornered.
Once a child is given permission to approach a dog,
she should present her closed fist for the dog to sniff.
This protects the fingers in case the dog is frightened
and tries to nip.
Children should never hug a dog that is not their
own, and should only hug their own dog very gently if
the dog can tolerate the hug. Children should be taught
to never hit dogs with their hands or an object, to
lower their voices when playing with the dog, to leave
the dog alone when he's sleeping, eating, or ill, and to
never tease a dog in any fashion. Many dog bites occur
because the child teases the pet beyond endurance.
Dog owners share the responsibility for bite
prevention as well. They should socialize their puppies
to small children at an early age. (It helps to buy from
a breeder who has started this socialization prior to
the puppy purchase, for the younger the puppy is exposed
to gentle children, the more tolerant of children it
Socialization can be as simple as walking the dog
near a playground where children are making noise,
running about, playing ball or Frisbee or soccer or
walking through the neighborhood while the kids wait for
the school bus. The dog can be told to walk at heel
through a crowd of children, to sit-stay and watch the
play or allow the children to pet his head, to down-stay
until the end of the game. Constant exposure of this
type will accustom the dog to the presence and antics of
The dog should never be
left alone with a child less than five years of age.
A young child may challenge or injure the dog
unintentionally and the result could be tragic. Dogs
and children should be separated at snack time so the
dog doesn't learn to steal food from tiny hands.
The dog should have a
place he can call his own, a retreat, a private room,
a den. This can be a pen in the back yard or
a crate in the house. The children should never be
allowed to bother the dog when he is in his place.
If the dog has access to
a fenced yard, owners should make sure that
neighborhood children cannot accidentally or
intentionally tease him. Kids often begin by
goading the dog to bark, then to snarl. Or they may
throw things at him to chase him away from the fence.
However it begins, the end result is usually the same:
the kids learn that teasing the dog gives them a
feeling of power tinged with the possibility of danger
and the dog learns to hate kids. This hatred may be
manifest as fear or as aggression, and may end when a
child is bitten and the dog is taken to the pound to
be placed in a new home, (if lucky).
If the dog does not like
the children, the children must change their behavior.
Most dogs are wary of staring, of quick movements, and
of high-pitched screams, all of which are typical of
small children. Here's a few hints to alleviate the
tension between dog and children.
Provide a crate where
the dog can escape the attention of boisterous or
Teach children to leave
Ranger alone when he's in the crate, to pat him
gently--no squeezing around the neck, please--and to
leave him alone while he's eating.
Do not play tug-of-war
with any dog who has access to children. A
dog that learns to tug on any item will soon figure
that anything he can grab is his, even if it's a
child's toy, clothing, or appendage.
Teach children not to
run past the dog and scream, for this can
excite the dog and lead to dominant and even
Never tie a dog in the
yard. Children tend to tease tethered dogs
even without realizing it, which can lead to
aggressive behavior. Many instances of dogs attacking
children occur when the dog is tethered in the yard
and a screaming or running child enters its space.
The sight of a child and a dog napping together on
the sofa or the floor, playing in the yard, or
contemplating the sunset is a wondrous thing. The
potential relationship between a child and the dog who
considers himself the family guardian is precious, and
it needs to be nurtured and guided. Families can
accomplish this by teaching the dog and the child to
respect and cherish each other. If this can be done,
fewer children will be bitten and fewer dogs will be
euthanized for aggressive behavior.
Understanding Dog Bites:
How They Occur
and How to Prevent Them
Used by Permission. Copyright 2003 by Canis Major
Tis article by Vicki DeGruy, originally published
in Dog Owner's Guide, was the winner of a 1993
Dog Writer's Association of America Maxwell award for
best article in a canine newspaper.
I'd like to get a
medium to large breed dog for my family but I'm worried.
I've heard so many stories about dogs biting children.
How can I be sure that it will be safe for my kids?
You have good reason to be
concerned. Statistics show that most dog bites causing
serious injury involve medium to large sized dogs and
children under the age of five years. The dog is usually
known to the child or is the family's pet.
To understand how these bites occur, what causes them
and how to prevent them, a little education in the
nature of dogs and the nature of small children is in
A dog's temperament is first inherited, then modified
by events in his life and proper training. Some breeds
and certain bloodlines within breeds are friendlier,
more tolerant and more adaptable to training because
they were bred to be that way. A responsible breeder
wisely puts emphasis on good temperament when selecting
breeding stock. Breeders without adequate knowledge of
dog behavior may not understand what a correct
temperament is and use unsuitable dogs for breeding.
Unscrupulous breeders sometimes deliberately breed
dogs with poor temperaments. There are some dogs, just
like there are some humans, that are mentally disturbed
or have an illness or physical defect that affects their
behavior. A dog's basic temperament, instincts and
training have the biggest effects on how that dog reacts
to the world around him and his levels of tolerance.
Very few bites happen without provocation -- but the
provocation may exist only in the dog's mind! We need to
realize that dogs are not little people in furry
costumes. They don't think in the same way that we do.
They look at the world around them with a different
perspective. Most of their actions are instinctive. A
dog will react to situations according to what his
instincts tell him unless these instincts are overridden
by the consistent training and socialization he needs to
receive from his owner throughout his life.
Here is one of the most commonly reported scenarios
in a bite case: A very young child sees a pretty dog
he'd like to pet. The dog may not want to be petted. The
dog's first instinctive reaction is show his displeasure
by giving a warning -- growling. The growl means that
something more unpleasant will follow if the warning
The type and number of warnings given can vary. Many
dogs faced with a child like this would just walk away.
Walking away can be considered a warning. If the child
keeps trying to pet the dog, a sterner warning, usually
a growl, will follow. Some warnings are more subtle -- a
stiffening of the body, for example. Few dogs bite
without giving some indication beforehand.
Small children (and some adults) don't recognize a
warning when they see or hear one. A very young child
(under age six) doesn't know what a growl means. What
may be obvious to an adult isn't understood by the
child. The child continues to pet or follow after the
dog even though the dog has now clearly told him what
will happen if he doesn't stop.
Dogs instinctively set up an invisible "fight or
flight" boundary around themselves. The size of this
boundary depends on his level of confidence and
tolerance. A fearful dog will give itself a wider area
than a more stable one. When someone who the dog
perceives as threatening or unwelcome enters that area,
the dog has two choices -- it can run away or it can
defend itself. If it feels that it can't run away, it
will fight instead, no matter how afraid it might be.
Some dogs will choose to fight first, rather than run.
A small child that's petting or hugging a dog has
already intruded well within the dog's flight or fight
boundary, the dog's safety zone. If the dog has tried to
leave or has issued a warning with no response from the
child, the dog (in his mind) has no other recourse -- he
bites. This is normal, instinctive behavior -- to the
dog. He is responding to what he perceives as a threat
and is doing what his instincts tell him to. Remember
that dogs don't think in the same way that people do. A
child's innocent action, petting the dog, can be
provocation for a bite when seen through the eyes of the
There are other circumstances that can provoke a dog
to bite a child. Running, playing, screaming kids can
trigger an instinctive predator-prey reaction in some
dogs. Children who rough house and wrestle with dogs
unknowingly encourage them to use their teeth. Dogs
equate this kind of play with littermates or other dogs
where using teeth is allowed. Startling a sleeping dog
or petting him when he's eating can also provoke a bite.
What can be done to prevent dogs from biting
children? I feel that, first, it's essential to
understand that almost any dog will bite under the right
circumstances. Second, a dog is a dog, an animal whose
behavior isn't the same as humans and can't always be
predicted with 100 percent accuracy, no matter how
friendly or reliable he is.
Obedience training and socialization are absolute
musts for a dog who'll be spending time with children.
Remember that a dog will act according to his instincts
if he doesn't receive proper training or if that
training isn't kept up through regular practice. The dog
needs to be taught to obey commands under all conditions
no matter how distracting. Just as responding to the
command to "come" could save the dog's life someday, an
immediate response to the command "leave it!" could save
a child from serious injury.
Just as children need to be taught how to be
well-behaved around other people, they need to be taught
to be well-behaved and respectful around animals. They
need to learn what kinds of games are appropriate, how
to touch the dog properly, how to interpret the dog's
body language and when the dog is not to be disturbed.
When they're old enough to understand, kids should be
involved in the training process. They should learn to
give the dog commands and be able to enforce them.
Adult supervision is essential! Small children should
never, ever be left alone with any dog, no matter how
reliable the dog has been before. A responsible adult
needs to be on the scene to prevent any aggressive
behavior by the dog and to keep the child from putting
him or herself in danger. Telling the toddler to stay
away from the dog isn't enough! Remember that young
children don't recognize when they may in trouble. It's
up to the adult to keep them safe from the dog and to
keep the dog safe from the children. I can't stress
enough that adult supervision around children and dogs
is absolutely critical! If you can't be right there to
handle whatever might come up or if you have any doubt
about the dog's behavior around children, the dog should
be put away out of reach of the kids.
Almost all of us would agree that it would be nice
for our children to grow up with a dog. Kids and dogs
are wonderful, almost an American tradition. If you're
thinking of getting a dog for the children or already
have one, here are some guidelines: Consider postponing
the purchase of a dog, especially a large one, until
your children are at least six years old.
Take your time when
looking for a dog. Do your homework. Learn
the differences in the various breeds and choose one
best suited to your lifestyle and experience.
Be honest with yourself
about the amount of time and work you're willing to
put into a dog. If you don't have time to
raise and train the dog properly, don't get one.
Buy your dog from a
reputable, responsible breeder who puts priority on
good temperament and health and consistently produces
dogs that excel in those areas. Choose a
breeder who's experienced and willing to guide and
advise you about care and training throughout the
Train and socialize your
dog properly! Get help if you run into
problems. Don't fool yourself into thinking the dog
will "outgrow" it or that the problem will go away on
Teach your children how
to behave correctly and safely around animals and to
If your children are too
young to understand, it will be up to you to
physically supervise them and protect them from
potential harm. Don't take chances with their
safety! If you can't be right there to take care of a
problem or if you can't control your dog or your child
-- put the dog away.
Remember that what your
dog tolerates from your own children may not be
tolerated from someone else's. You need to
take extra safety precautions when other children
visit and make sure that the children obey your ground
Never, ever leave a
child alone with any dog, no matter how harmless the
Kids and dogs are wonderful together -- when adults
use common sense and put safety first.