6 Steps to Stop Your Dog Biting Your Child: it's a real risk!
70% of children that are bitten by a dog are actually bitten by a dog that they know and love. The thought that most kids who receive dog bites are due to dogs owned by strangers is a myth.
If you don’t think your family dog would ever bite one of your children think again and follow these 6 tips to prevent a tragic accident.
Your child could be bitten at any age, from newborn baby to toddler, school starter to teenager. The impact of a dog bite can be life altering and the effects of even a small bite should not be underestimated. As well as physical injury and scarring, your child could be left with a lifelong fear of dogs (this is something I’ve discussed previously in my article about how to get over a fear of dogs). Even worse, dog bites can kill.
It’s not just children who suffer from dog bites. It would not be uncommon for the “offending” dog to then be euthanized. Killed for something that in all likelihood was not actually their fault.
You might think that your dog is the most relaxed, the nicest, the friendliest dog in the whole world. But statistics don’t lie, your dog is more likely to be bitten by the family dog than any dog they don’t know.
Today I've got six steps to help you prevent your dog from biting your child.
How to stop your dog biting your child
Socialize your dog
Learn to read dog body language
Always actively supervise your dog and child together
Teach your child to be gentle and respectful
Teach never to take food from your dog or interrupt meal time
Provide a safe space for your dog with 24/7 access
Socialize your puppy or dog
Ideally any socialization is going to be carried out at an early age, when you first get your puppy. You should introduce them to babies, to toddlers and children of all other ages. If you don’t yet have a baby or children yourself you can go around to your friends and your family who have got young babies or young children and introduce your puppy to them.
If they come across kids at this stage, then they're much more likely to accept them as normal. They're going to accept the crying, the noise, the hustle and bustle, the poking and prodding as normal and they're going to know when they get older that the sight, sound and actions of children is nothing to be frightened of. I have a comprehensive puppy socialization plan here
If you've got an older dog we can still carry out a socialization process. It's just going to take longer. It's going to take a few more introductions to these situations for them to accept that and we may need to start off a little bit more gradually. This is especially the case if your dog seems particularly scared or unsure of children or has had a previous negative experience.
This might mean just introducing a dog to being in the same room as a baby or toddler, without any specific interaction to start with. Gradually as time goes on, slowly increase the level of interaction and noise once your pet seems comfortable with the current level of interaction.
If you’ve taken the time to socialize your puppy or adult dog ahead of time, when it comes to actually welcoming a baby or child into the house, they're going to be much happier and less stressed. Stress should not be underestimated and I’ve previously discussed some other ways to reduce stress in dogs and cats.
Learn dog body language
If you spend any time on Facebook or other social platforms you’ll no doubt have seen videos of babies and toddlers playing or interacting with dogs. It's incredible how scary that can actually be to someone who is able to read the body language of a dog!
Oftentimes we think of these behaviors as cute, but actually we're putting our dogs under a huge amount of stress and many times we're actually setting them up to fail. It wouldn't be surprising if these dogs bit the child or baby and it's amazing that they don't in many cases.
What do you need to look for? well, dogs are actually really good communicators if we learn how to interpret their behavior, and typically escalate the signs they show before finally resorting to biting. In very few cases is a bite completely out of the blue, we just failed to understand what they were trying to tell us in the first place.
Yawning, lip smacking, wide staring eyes, the ears held flat even just upright and pointing towards the child. Trying to back away might and withdraw themselves from the situation may come next. One common sign that is misinterpreted as enjoyment is when a dog “smiles”. They will pull their lips back slightly to show their teeth and rather than smiling your dog is actually saying “Hey, I'm getting really uncomfortable. Look at my teeth. If you push me much further I will bite”.
Growling is then another clear warning so stay back. If your dog does growl resist the temptation to tell them off. Instead listen to what they are saying. Growling is one of the more obvious ways a dog will communicate with us but if they are repeatedly pushed and then told off for growling we get the danger of a dog going “I'm not going to growl because I get told off, shouted at and excluded all the time”. Instead they go straight to biting. It's not their fault, it's ours. We really need to learn to read their body language.
Actively supervise your dog and children’s time together
Always supervise your dog and your child when they're together. This is active supervision, continually watching the interaction and play that is taking place. It does not mean keeping half an ear out doing jobs while your kids play with a dog in another room. You need to be able to pick up any early signs that your dog is getting stressed and intervening early. Not reacting to a serious event that was likely not your dogs fault.
Clearly this step is of most use if you're actually able to read your dog's body language and intervene accordingly. Active supervision should be a rule for babies, for young toddlers and even older children up to around 8 years of age (although this will vary depending on each individual child). At these ages you never quite know what your kid is going to get up to, or what bright idea they have that your dog may take objection to.
Teach children gentle handling and respect
It is never too early to start teaching your child to be gentle with your dog, to respect their space, to respect their possessions and to just really behave nicely with them. It's not rocket science! Dogs don't like their tails being pulled. They don't like having their ears tugged. Small dogs often don't like being picked up. Big Dogs and small dogs don't like being cuddled really tightly or having your child lying right on top of them.
We should also respect our pet dog when they're asleep and when they're resting. If they’re fast asleep or resting and get woken up by being jumped on, that fright can cause a real defensive reaction.
It's amazing what our dogs will put up with before they go to bite, but just learning to respect our pets can make a huge difference.
Teach safety around food
Food and meal times is another really important thing. We should be teaching our children when they're very young to never go and interrupt your dog when they're eating. Never. Certainly never try and take food away from them.
It's a good thing to train your dog to be happy with having food taken from them, but we should definitely be teaching our children to never do that. We equally should never be teasing dogs with food because, like I said earlier, that's just setting them up for failure.
Provide a safe space for your dog with constant access
Respecting a dogs right and desire to withdraw from a situation they are not comfortable should also mean always providing them with an “escape route” and their own safe space for them to retreat to. This could be their crate, it could be a blanket behind the sofa or under a chair. It could be a bed in the laundry.
At the same time you should teach your child that if your dog doesn't want to play, if they want to go to their bed or wherever their safe space is, to let them. They should then leave your dog alone and respect the decision that they've made to withdraw from the interaction that they're having.
I hope these tips help and they give you a few ideas for how to prevent your child getting bitten by your dog. There's also a really good book I’d recommend which is “How to Keep Kids Safe with Dogs”. It's a very child friendly book, so one you can go through with your child, to help them learn how to act with the family dog as well as strange dogs when you are out and about. It teaches children how to react and behave in different situations and also has a bonus body language section, which you’ll know by now is something I think is incredibly important. I’ll put some other books on this subject you might also be interested in below.
My final thought is that if your dog does bite a child, be absolutely sure that they were not provoked before you make any decision that can’t be reversed. It’s not always the child’s fault, but it’s also not always the dogs.
Our Pets Health: because they’re family.