Safe Play Between Children and Dogs.
This Holidays4Dogs article will concentrate on the relationships between children and family dogs. Sadly, there are many incidents of dog bites in the UK. Earlier this year, the Royal College of Surgeons reported that dog related injuries increased by 5% between 2015 and 2018. Children made up 21% of the total admissions to hospital between these years. This equates to 4,775 incidents relating to children and dog related injuries.
These figures are alarming. While dogs make the most wonderful family pets, it should also remembered that they are capable of biting. While many people might think children are bitten by unknown dogs, the Blue Cross actually report that 70% of dog bites to children and young people, occur in the home. This is a worrying situation, since it suggests many families with young children are failing to effectively supervise interactions between the child and the family dog.
This is a shame because research has shown that children who are brought up around dogs benefit in many ways. Dogs help to reduce anxiety, help with social and communication skills and build stronger immune systems.
Many dogs are very tolerant of children. However, ALL dogs need supervision when it comes to playing with children. It is vitally important, as a parent and pet owner, to understand canine body language and to teach children the appropriate way to behave around animals.
The main point to remember is that dogs rarely bite without reason. When they do, it usually occurs due to a break down in communication between the dog and child, (or adult).
Understanding just why a dog might bite in the first place is crucial to learning how to avoid this happening. In most cases, this can be completely prevented.
Common situations where a dog may bite;
Being over excited. Sometimes dogs can become super excited. Children running fast and emitting high pitched squeals, can cause some dogs to become hyper-reactive. In this scenario, dogs can be apt to use their teeth, claws and body weight. They will have no understanding that this can hurt a child. In some cases, this can escalate into the dog biting and nipping, (in play). While this might not be due to aggression as such, it can still cause significant damage
Hugging. There are many dogs that don’t like to be cuddled too closely. In some cases, a dog may feel he has no option but to bite in order to escape.
Guarding. Many dogs can be protective over items that they believe are ‘theirs’. This could mean toys, (dog toys, as well as children’s toys), or food (either their own, or a child’s). Children themselves can be possessive over toys and the concept of sharing. Therefore, this can create friction.
Sleeping. When dogs are disturbed from sleep, they can become startled. This can sometimes result in the dog reacting by growling, or snapping. Equally, if the child climbs into the dog’s own basket, he may see this as an invasion of his space and could potentially bite.
Pain. If a dog is in pain, he is much more likely to act in an aggressive manner.
A dog that feels frightened, or threatened, will normally go through a series of ‘warning shots’ before resorting to an actual bite. This may involve;-
- Looking away/trying to get away/moving away/leaving the area.
- Licking, or curling of the lips.
- Showing the whites of the eyes.
- Lying down and showing their belly – this is not always an invitation for petting but a sign of submission due to the dog feeling uncomfortable.
- If these signals are ignored, the dog is likely to move on to low growling, baring of the teeth, or air snapping – before actually biting. It is very important for parents to recognise these signs, so that both child and dog are protected from a potentially serious incident.
It’s a good idea to teach youngsters some basic rules of how to behave around the family pet.
Be calm and gentle in the dog’s presence – no squealing, or yelling.
No rough handling – no pulling, pushing, hitting, or wrestling.
No taking food, or toys from the dog at any time, (no matter how amenable the dog is to this). The exception to this is where you have trained the dog to retrieve and you have also instructed the child how to play this game.
Never disturb the dog while he is sleeping, or eating his dinner.
Never try to sit on, or ride on the dog’s back.
Teaching a child how to behave around dogs – all dogs, not just the family pet – needs to be approached in a positive manner. Nobody wants their child to be alarmed, or end up being fearful of dogs. It is simply about respecting another creature.
Toddlers and young children are unable to understand these signs. For this reason, children and dogs should ALWAYS be supervised. Never underestimate how well your dog tries to communicate with you, so do take time to learn these signs. You will soon learn how to predict what your dog might do next and intervene where necessary.
By monitoring interactions you are helping to create a stronger sense of trust and respect. In turn, this helps to forge a strong bond between dog and child.