Dog Bites & Kid Safety: 9 Tips to Prevent Dog Bites (and Keep Dogs Safe, Too!)

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.

Angry aggressive barking dog in a steel cage

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.

portrait of a very angry purebred belgian shepherd malinois

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!

Curious chained dog on a pile of wood.

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.

Don't tempt fate! How stooopid is this?

Don’t tempt fate! How stooopid is this?

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

  1. 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.dog tied to a tree
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Catnip Clues & STARE-‘o-DEATH!

Okay, my blog “burped” last Saturday…and posted this blog early. So if you already read it, sorry about that.

I’m repeating this blog covering catnip and why dogs stare from 2011 because…well, I’ve got a whole bunch new followers, AND the schedule for fiction-ing leaves me little time these days. Besides, it’s my blog and I make up the rules as I go along. So there! Also, I figured the blog needed a serious influsion of sparkle-icity to keep with the “bling” theme. I’ve not posted any “new” Ask Amy videos in a while but that’s on my to-do list so please offer suggestions for topics in the comments.

To start things out on the right paw, today I’ve posted two. Here’s one about cats and catnip:

And just to offer equal fair play, here’s an Ask Amy about doggy eyeball communication:

Please share–do your cats carry the “catnip gene?” How often do they get a kitty fix? Did you get ’em on film? *snicker*

And for the dog-matic followers, have you ever experienced the canine stare-‘o-death? Of course my Magical-dawg also stares at me when he wants me to read his mind….  “Time for a car ride, yes yes yes???!”

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Thoughty Thursday: Feeding The Muse

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Due to the magic of WordPress, I get to write this EARLY and have it posted tomorrow morning while I’m flying to New York. Can you see my arms a-flappin’ (insert “twack-thwackity-thwack” sound effects)?

I don’t have a lot to say today other than–I’m excited, exhausted, anxious, and thrilled all rolled up in one. Excited because Thrillerfest is the absolutely BESTEST-FUNNEST-INSPIRING-EST conference I attend. Exhausted because I’ve managed to cram a week’s worth of work into two days so I wouldn’t be distracted with (ack) work while there. Anxious because flying ain’t near the adventure it used to be and crappiocca always–ALWAYS–happens (wonder if I”ll be profiled this time?).

And thrilled because I get to see my favorite authors, reconnect with friends and make new acquaintances.

For writers, nothing gives us a goose in the ass-terick like a writer’s conference. We get to schmooze and express our jealousy admiration for all those successful folks; steal all learn the secrets of their success; hang out with cool people in the bar during seminars  and find out–

They’re people, too. And they have some of the same angst-icity and writerly challenges that face the rest of us. Oh, and some of ’em worked for DAYS and WEEKS and sometimes MONTHS before they had an overnight success (I kid…more like years or decades in many cases).

So what’s the most inspiring part of being among people who really understand us–why we bang our heads on the virtual door of publication forever. It’s not that we’re born masochists. Okay, well, some folks are. And it’s not that we’re totally clueless about our lack of talent. Wait–maybe that fellow waa-a-aay over there might be a wee bit . . . never mind. For sure it’s not because we enjoy rejection.

Creative types do it because–it’s who we are, not just what we do. And gathering at a writer conference like Thrillerfest, or at a music festival or Harley Davidson convention, dog or cat show, quilt exhibition, or ComicCon or whatever floats your creative boat FUELS THE MUSE.

I’m already feeling all inspired-like.

What feeds your muse? How do you energize your creative side? When do you feel most in need of a pick-me-up, and where do you find the necessary go-get-’em juice to press on?

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? I’m nearly ready to record a bunch of new ones, so be sure to get your requests in the comments. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Thoughtful Thursday: Expert Witness in Dog Bite Case

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I’ve always described myself as a pet owner advocate, one who figuratively speaks for dogs and cats and translates for their owners. But I never realized that I’d serve as a spokesperson in the more literal sense.

Last August I was contacted by a local defense attorney about a dog bite case that happened many months earlier. At first, he simply wanted my opinion about dog behavior. Ultimately I was appointed by the court to be an expert witness. I learned this background about the case.

The day of the event, the 4-year-old pit bull named Buddy (yes, one of THOSE!) owned by the home-owner’s friend had been placed on a tether hooked to an overhead runner-line outside the fenced yard. This was only the first or second time the dog had ever been tethered, because the home owner (“Grandma”) felt sorry about confining him in a very small dog run. Home owner’s 5-year-old granddaughter loved Buddy and had often been around him, and the dog had never (to their knowledge) growled or offered any indication of aggression to anyone.

Apparently Grandma was babysitting the grandchild, and a number of adults were in the house on the day in question. Strangers with car problems also crossed back and forth through the fenced yard within sight of Buddy, leaving the gate open as they worked on the car.

When the toddler wanted to go outside and play with her tricycle (outside the fenced yard and near the tethered dog), Grandma asked her to wait so Grandma could first visit the bathroom. Other adults inferred they’d go outside, too, and watch the girl. But when Grandma left the toilet, nobody knew where the toddler was. Normally the gate would have been locked closed, but the car problems meant it was left open. They ultimately found the child unconscious, nearly scalped, on the ground within reach of Buddy who sat quietly watching.

Any case of dog aggression and child injury is horrifying. It doesn’t have to happen—and families naturally are outraged and devastated when such things take place. The Grandmother was of course mortified—and the child’s mother upset—but all agreed it was a horrible accident.

Good news—the little girl survived but will need reconstructive surgery. Bad news—the men beat Buddy to death for his crime. Tragic news—the child cried when she learned Buddy’s fate (and she still loves dogs, thank god!) Even worse news—the State (DA) decided to prosecute Grandma as negligent, charged with criminal injury to a child, saying she should have recognized Buddy was dangerous simply because he was a pit bull. Grandma faced a potential sentence of 20 years.

The case was postponed twice. Finally last week on March 2, I offered expert testimony to educate the jury about 1) normal dog behavior 2) definition of “dangerous dog” 3) predictive situations for aggressive behavior, and 4) media bias toward APBT “type” dogs. During my 2+ hours on the stand, among other things I explained the importance of puppy socialization and dog training, why tethering a dog can be dangerous, translated common misunderstood “dog language” warnings, and debunked breed-specific “bite statistics” based on my own experience and information from CDC, ASPCA, HSUS, AVMA and many other sources. I was the last witness.

The next day, the jury was out 5 hours. They came back with a Not Guilty verdict.

RIP, Buddy.

amy

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