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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Parental Advisory: prevent dog bites to your kids!

There are lots of things that drive me crazy when I am out in public as a veterinarian.  Dogs left in cars on a hot day; dogs roaming in a yard off leash;  dogs loose in the back of a pick up truck, to name a few.  My craziness comes from having to clean up the problems such as heat stroke, or  accidents that could have easily been avoided.  As my practice has developed  in pet behavior , I can see the easily avoidable problems with dog bites when I am out in public.  So now I get frustrated and a bit crazy at people when they are not paying attention to their dogs, especially when children are around.  The resulting bites, scratches, lunges and nips that happen result in the dog being the bad one, not the humans who could have easily prevented the whole scene.  I am not going to rant on this.  This blog is devoted to preventing bites to our children from owned pets when children greet them - the most common dog bite situation.
Know your pet - Butterscotch is loving the rubs but others might not 

So who is responsible for keeping kids safe around dogs?  The parent or the dog owner?  In my opinion both are, with the parent the  foremost responsible.   One can not rely on the dog owner to be aware of what is the best way for kids to greet a pet.  There is not any test on dog care, training and behavior one needs to take before getting a dog.  Many people base their knowledge of what to do with dogs on just what they knew from a previous pet.  In my experience in our community, I see less than 25% of dog owners actually going through any kind of  dog training, so do not depend on the dog owner to  knowing what to do.   This is your child.  Protect and educate them.

Here are a couple of very important points to always remember:
  Look at life from the dog's point of view.  It does not matter what your child meant by hugging the dog.  To the dog they were about to be strangled so that is why they  snapped.  A  common bite
scenario is hugging  a sleeping dog.  Let sleeping dog lie!!!!   Don't disturb them - do you like someone rubbing your back or hugging you all of a sudden when you are deep in sleep?
leave this dog alone not matter how sweet she looks!!

Dogs turn to aggression - any body language to increase the distance from what the dog perceives as a threat - to get something to stop coming towards it.  Simply said, snapping, growling, staring, freezing, lunging and circling are ways to get your child to go away because no one has paid attention to the earlier signs of "help me".  Those signs are turning the head away, moving away from the child, tail down, ears turned back, licking the lips, and constantly looking around.  Get the dog and child apart if you see these signs and everyone will be much better off.
Glenda loves this but  Butter does not

If a dog goes to growling, staring, not moving,  they are shifting to aggression because acting afraid is not helping them.  Keep your kids away!!!  Ask the owner to put their dog up for the benefit of both your kids and the dog.  This is not a  bad dog.  It is a dog that is overwhelmed  and trying to help itself.  If it is difficult to remove the dog, get your kids to another area or have them do different activities ( like stop cartwheeling around the dog, or running around ) that may help decrease the stress on the dog.
humans like hugs and close contact - but not all pets do!

Where do you start?  Right now !

1. Infant to toddler ( birth to  age 2) - Children at this age cry, squeal, roll around, crawl, and move around very quickly in an unpredictable way to the dog.  All of this activity can look like a little injured squirrel that needs to be eaten.   Some
 dogs  stare - sniff intently over the body of the child.   Do not allow this!!!!!!!!!!!!   Even if a dog seems very tolerant, you don't know what the dog will do next.  If a dog is looking away, turning the head away from a child, moving to another area it is saying "I don't know what this child is going to do and I need to get away".
Bella keeps one eye on the child - and I on Bella 

So get the child  or the dog away from each other.  This requires parents to have their eyes literally on their child.  Do not leave kids and dogs alone with each other.  The major of bites to children happened when the adults were not present.

2.  preschool to school age:  At this age, the child can follow your instructions about proper greetings -  asking first, avoid petting on the head, and not rushing up to to dog but they need an adult to demonstrate this with them.  Few children at this age remember to follow all the rules, so parents remind  the child and  demonstrate proper greeting.  Take the opportunity to ask your child how they see the dog respond to them.  If the dog is pulling away, point out that the dog has had enough.  This is how the child learns to respect the dog's space.  It isn't all about what the child wants to do.

3.  Adolescent to adult hood:  Parenting never ends.  Yes, you still need to remind and at this point keep an eye out for how your child is acting around dogs, especially at family barbecues or parties.  When your teenager is laughing loud, looking at their phone and not paying attention  this is scary to the dog.  If they all of a sudden reach down to pet the dog as they hold an I phone, to the dog they are  unsure of what that object is in the hand.  All the rules are the same- ask if you can pet, invite the dog in, and touch from the shoulders to the back.

Dog owners certainly need to be in charge of their dogs.  Unfortunately not every dog owner sees life through their dog's eyes.  They miss the early signs of fear and then aggression results.  Information abounds for the dog owner, but some just don't listen.
reward good behavior
  So parents, step up.  Take charge of the situation with your kids.  The majority of dog bites to kids could be easily prevented by not allowing the child to rush up to a dog, getting in the face, reaching over the head, or "bugging" the dog when it is sleeping, eating or had a toy.  If parents and dog owners would step in and stop kids doing this the bite rate would drop dramatically.
Thanks. Sally J Foote DVM 
Okaw Veterinary Clinic