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How Safe is Your Child Around Dogs?

Pet Child SafetyThese are important questions posed by the

  • Does your child love dogs?
  • Does he know which dogs he can play with and which he should not?
  • Does he know what it means if a dog is yawning or if the dog is licking his lips? (Hint: it does not mean the dog is tired or hungry!)
  • Does your child know how to "become a tree" to protect himself from a dog that is threatening or even just overly rambunctious?

The Doggone Safe organization is sponsoring the International Bite Prevention Challenge during the week of May 15 – 21, 2011. The goal of the Challenge is to teach 50,000 children to stay safe around dogs by learning how to determine if a dog is threatening or friendly, and how to avoid injury by using their bodies to 'be a tree.'

Dr. Becker's Comments:

According to the CDC, 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. One in five bites requires medical attention. And in 2006, over 30,000 people required reconstructive surgery to repair damage done by a dog bite.

The three groups most likely to be bitten are:

  • Children between five and nine years of age; kids under the age of 15 represent 70 percent of all dog bite victims
  • Adult men
  • People with dogs in their home

And as the number of dogs in the household increases, so does the number of bites. People with more than one dog are five times more likely to receive a bite.

More Disturbing Statistics on Kids and Dog Bites

According to

  • The most severe dog bite injuries happen almost exclusively to children under the age of 10.
  • Over 60 percent of dog bites occur at home or another familiar place.
  • Over 75 percent of dogs that bite are owned by the child's family or a friend.
  • When a child under four is bitten, the family dog is involved half the time, and the attack occurs in the family home 90 percent of the time.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians:

  • Most fatal dog bites are in children
  • Most dog bites are unprovoked; most victims are engaged in normal activities when the bite occurs.
  • Fatal infant dog bite attacks most often involve a sleeping baby.

Fortunately, fatal dog bites are rare.

But even after the physical wounds heal, the emotional trauma of a dog bite can stay with a child for the rest of his life. It can result in a permanent fear of dogs, and rob a child of the opportunity to share his life with a wonderful canine companion.

A Word About Unprovoked Attacks

While it's true most dog bites aren't provoked in ways humans understand, from the dog's point of view there has been probably some form of provocation. Since dogs don't speak our language, they can't tell us in words there's trouble brewing.

A normally gentle family pet will usually send signals of discontent. It's our job to understand the signals and respond in a way that doesn't escalate the situation.

According to the folks at Doggone Safe, a dog may exhibit one or several of the following signs of anxiety as a way of alerting that he is not happy and feels provoked:

  • One paw raised
  • 'Half moon eye'
  • Displacement behaviors -- behaviors that are out of context for the situation, for example:

    • Yawning when not tired
    • Licking chops without the presence of food
    • Sudden scratching when not itchy
    • Sudden biting at paws or other body part
    • Sudden sniffing the ground or other object
    • Wet dog shake when not wet or dirty
  • Avoidance behaviors, including:

    • The dog gets up and leaves an uncomfortable situation
    • Turning head away
    • Hiding behind person or object
    • Barking and retreating
    • Rolling over on back in submissive way (please don't hurt me!)
  • Tail between legs
  • Tail low and only the end is wagging
  • Tail between legs and wagging
  • Tail down or straight for curly-tailed dog
  • Ears sideways for erect-eared dog
  • Ears back and very rapid panting
  • Dog goes into another room away from you and urinates or defecates

General Tips for Preventing Dog Bites

  1. Use great caution when approaching a strange dog. Don't try to pet any dog before he sees you and sniffs you.
  2. Don't turn your back to an unfamiliar dog or try to run away. The natural instinct of most dogs will be to give chase and catch you.
  3. Don't attempt to interact with a dog that is sleeping, eating, playing with a toy or bone, or a mother who is with her puppies.
  4. Signs a dog is about to bite:

    • She suddenly freezes and holds her body rigid
    • She stands with her front legs splayed and her head low, looking at you
    • She curls her lip to show teeth
  5. If you feel a dog is a threat:

    • Stand motionless with your hands at your sides
    • Avoid eye contact with the dog
    • If the dog loses interest, back away slowly
    • If the dog comes at you anyway, offer him anything you're holding, a purse or jacket for example, anything that may distract him
    • If you wind up on the ground, curl into a ball, put your hands over your ears and stay still – resist the urge to yell, scream or move around

Keeping Children Safe

Never under any circumstances leave an infant or a small child alone with a dog, yours or anyone else's.

Don't allow a child to play with a dog unsupervised.

Every child, including toddlers, should learn the following safety rules:

  • Be careful and respectful of all animals, including your own pets.
  • Don't approach a strange dog or reach through a fence or car window to pet an animal.
  • Greet the dog's owner first and ask permission to pet the dog.
  • Keep your face away from the face of an unfamiliar dog.
  • If you encounter a strange dog and feel threatened, don't run or scream. 'Be like a tree' and stand still. If a dog knocks you down or you fall, roll into a ball and lie still.
  • Don't make direct eye contact with a dog.
  • Tell a parent or other adult if you encounter a stray dog or one that makes you feel threatened.

+ Sources and References