In March 2011, I served as an expert witness in a dog bite case in which a child was mauled, and the child’s grandmother who owned the home where the Pit Bull mix lived was prosecuted as responsible. I learned a lot during this trial, one of the biggest lessons having to do with the many misconceptions regarding dogs, dog language, and dog bites. In fact, I address quite a lot of these issues in my thriller SHOW AND TELL, that includes Pit Bulls, dog fighting, and misconceptions about dogs.
How to Stop Dogs Biting
You can’t. All dogs bite. In fact, canine jaws easily tear flesh and break bones. Don’t be fooled by size, either. They may be tiny but even Chihuahua-size pooches expertly use their choppers. And when they’re big dogs like this Belgian Malinois below, the damage can be severe.
Dog Fights & Dog Bites & Child Dog Bite Safety
All dogs squabble just as all people sometimes get upset and argue, but that doesn’t mean dangerous bites always results. That also doesn’t mean the dog is aggressive. Dogs have exquisite control of their jaws and know exactly how close they can snap without making contact. Pugs don’t miss unless they mean to. Consider air-snaps and bites that DON’T break the skin as calculated warnings. Learning to master the power of their jaws—bite inhibition—allows dogs to make important points and resolve differences without hurting each other, or you.
Children suffer dog bites more often than anyone else. Dog bites injure nearly 5 million people every year. Half of all kids in the United States get bitten by age 12, and five-to-nine-year-old boys are at highest risk. Scary stuff!
These statistics, though, are somewhat skewed. Every bite is cause for alarm, but did you know that the numbers include ALL dog injuries that break the skin, even “bandaid” situations. That is, if the puppy’s nail scratches the infant, technically it’s reported under bite stats. Bites from working K-9 (police) dogs also are included in the report. Bites to a medical person rendering assistance to an injured, in pain dog also are bundled in these figures.
However, if your child is bitten, he’s 100 percent bitten and it can be a tragedy—one that doesn’t have to happen. Dog bites not only hurt you or your kids, they result in pricy medical bills and insurance rates. Dog bites can lose your dog his home or even his life.
That’s what happened in the dog bite case referenced in the opening. There were no winners–oh, the little girl survived, with scars; her grandmother was acquitted. Buddy, the dog, was killed. You can read details of the case here.
Most dog bites result from inappropriate interaction with the family pet, with a neighbor’s or a friend’s dog. But you can teach yourself and your kids ways to be safe with these 9 easy tips.
9 Tips To Prevent Dog Bites
- Respect Doggy Space. Children should not approach, touch or play with any dog who is sleeping or eating. NEVER approach a tethered or chained dog, which restricts the dog’s movement and elevates his potential for arousal. Mom-dogs caring for puppies are especially protective. Even friendly dogs may react with a bite if they feel their food or toys might be stolen by a playful child.
- Ask First. Always ask permission of the owner before petting. Not all owners recognize danger signs, though, so when in doubt, decline the petting. Before touching, let the dog sniff a closed hand. Remember that petting the top of the dog’s head can look threatening from a pet perspective, so instead scratch the front of his chest, neck or stroke underneath the dog’s chin.
- Supervise. Accidents happen even with friendly dogs. In the court case, above, the dog knew and loved the toddler. Kids, toddlers, adults and dogs make mistakes. An adult should always be present when kids and dogs mix.
- Nix the Hugs and Kisses. Kids get bitten on the face most often when they try to hug or kiss the dog. It’s much safer to show your puppy love with a scratch on the chest or side of the neck.
- Alert Adults. If a child sees a dog off-leash outside, he should tell an adult immediately. Also alert adults to multiple loose dogs. Groups of dogs egg each other on into a “mob mentality” when individuals in that same group likely would never offer a threat.
- Look Away. Eye contact with a dog can be interpreted as a threat or challenge, and set off an otherwise calm dog. Young kids at eye-level with big dogs may pose a challenge without being aware of the danger.
- Be A Tree. Teach your child to stand still and quiet around strange dogs—be a tree. Trees are boring, so the dog will go away or at least not be excited. Walking, running, arm-waving and high-pitched loud talking, giggling, and laughing excites the dog even further and invites dogs to play chase-bite games. Even friendly dogs may bite out of enthusiasm, just as well-behaved children might accidentally strike out and hurt a classmate during play. That also works to calm down a puppy that gets too excited during play.
- Be A Log. If a puppy knocks the child down, teach her to roll up in a ball and be still—like a log—until the dog goes away. Movement encourages the game of jumping, tugging and wrestling and can escalate the dog’s excitement and tendency to bite.
- Train the Puppy. Teach your puppy with love. Dogs bullied or hurt during training can get pushy or aggressive to weaker family members—the kids. Teach kids to enjoy and respect dogs, and socialize puppies to kids so they grow up to enjoy and love each other.
You can learn more about puppy socialization and teaching dogs bite inhibition in my book COMPLETE PUPPY CARE.
Have you ever been bitten by a dog? What were the circumstances? I have…when I was a vet tech. Tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine! What did you learn?
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!