Nearly five million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S. alone, and nearly half of those are children. Many children are naturally drawn to dogs, but that can be the recipe for disaster. Here are five things you can do to help protect your children from dog bites — and to protect dogs, which are frequently put down if they ever do bite a child.
The most important rule to teach to children is to never approach a dog that they do not know, even if the dog seems friendly. Some dogs are naturally skittish around children because kids can be very high energy and unpredictable. Combine that with a child running straight toward a dog, and even the most docile animal can snap out defensively.
If the dog is with its owner, teach your children to ask from a distance if they can approach the dog, and to not feel bad if the owner says “No.”
If a strange dog does approach a child, they should remain calm and still. Running away can trigger the dog’s prey drive and cause it to chase the child. Loud noises, like yelling, can also increase a dog’s energy level and make it anxious, meaning that it’s more likely to become aggressive.
If a dog knocks the child down, the child should roll into a ball and stay still, protecting their neck and head with their hands and arms — 66% of dog bite injuries to children under the age of four are to these areas.
See Something, Say Something
Teach your children to inform an adult immediately if they see a dog behaving unusually. Erratic behavior in a dog can be a sign of rabies, while a dog racing around unsupervised can be an indicator of aggression or excess of energy.
The child should never approach the dog, but should go directly to a trusted adult and tell them.
Report Dog Bites
If your child or a friend is ever bitten by any dog, you should teach them to tell you immediately. Twenty percent of dog bites require medical attention, so this is the best way to make sure they get immediate attention if needed.
It’s also important to emphasize to the children that they shouldn’t worry about themselves or the dog getting in trouble if a bite occurs.
No Talk, No Touch, No Eye Contact
This rule applies to everyone meeting a strange dog for the first time. In the pack, the leader does not approach the submissive dogs. Submissive dogs come to the leader. By not engaging the dog, you are emphasizing your role as the pack leader. This also shows respect to the dog because you are silently inviting the dog to approach you instead of invading the dog’s intimate space.
If the dog decides to, she may approach and sniff you, then will either walk away or nudge you. If the dog walks away, then continue to ignore her. If she does touch you, then it’s okay to engage with the dog.
However, approach the dog from the side and kneel down. Never pet an unfamiliar dog on top of the head, as the dog can perceive this as a threat. Instead, pet or scratch the dog on the chest.
The common theme in all of this is to teach your children to respect dogs and their space. Dogs are not toys, and not all dogs want to instantly be your child’s best friend. It’s also an opportunity to start early in teaching your children the power of calm, assertive energy, which will help to increase their self-confidence.