Why do dogs bite and how do they warn us?

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Courtesy of Doggone Safe

There are several possible reasons why a dog may bite a child:

  • The dog is protecting a possession, food or water dish or puppies.
  • The dog is protecting a resting place.
  • The dog is protecting its owner or the owner's property.
  • The dog considers itself dominant over the child and the child has done something the dog considers to be insubordinate (e.g., hugging the dog, moving into the dog's space, moving without permission from the dog, leaning or stepping over the dog).
  • The dog is frightened and the child has threatened it in some way (e.g., hugging the dog, rapid approach, leaning over or stepping over the dog).
  • The dog is old and grumpy and having a bad day and has no patience for the actions of a child.
  • The dog is injured.
  • The child has hurt or startled it by stepping on it, poking it or pulling its fur, tail or ears.
  • The dog has not learned bite inhibition and bites hard by accident when the child offers food or a toy to the dog.
  • The child and dog are engaging in rough play and the dog gets overly excited.
  • The dog views the child as a prey item because the child is running and/or screaming near the dog or riding a bicycle or otherwise moving past the dog.

What can parents do?

Parents should supervise all interactions between children and dogs. A child should not be left alone with a dog unless that child has demonstrated competent dog handling skills and the dog respects the child. Parents can educate their children about how to behave around dogs and how to recognize a bite risk situation. If a bite occurs the child should be reassured that she/he is not at fault. The fault lies with the owner or adult handler of the dog. If a bite occurs the child should be seen by a doctor no matter how minor the injury may seem. In the case of a severe attack, trauma counseling should be sought for the child. The bite should be reported to the appropriate authorities.

Parents should teach children the following (these apply to their own dog, other dogs that they know and strange dogs):

  • Do not to approach dogs that are not their own, even if the dog is on leash with its handler (most children are bitten by a dog that they know, or by their own dog).
  • If you, as a parent, decide that you think it is safe for your child to approach a particular dog - teach your child the ABC approach. (See doggonesafe.org)
  • Ensure that when a child visits a house with a dog, that the dog will not be unsupervised with the children.
  • Teach your child to "be a tree" when confronted with an unknown, overly friendly or hostile dog. Stop. Fold your branches (hands) and watch your roots grow (look at feet) and count in your head until the dog goes away or help comes.
  • Teach your child to "be a rock" if the dog actually jumps on them and knocks them down (curl up and protect face and neck with hands and arms).
  • Never stare at a dog in the eyes or put their faces up to a dog's face.
  • Never try to take something away from a dog.
  • Never go near a dog who is eating or drinking or chewing on something.
  • Never approach a dog that is on a bed or furniture.
  • Never approach a dog that is tied up or in a vehicle.
  • Never try to pet a dog through a fence or in a crate.
  • Never climb over a fence into a dog's yard, even if the dog is usually friendly.
  • Never try to break up a dog fight or interact with dogs that are play fighting.
  • Leave dogs alone that are sleeping, resting, injured, very old or with puppies.
  • A safe dog is one that is panting, face happy looking and wagging his tail enthusiastically.
  • A dangerous dog has his mouth closed, ears forward, intense look.
  • A dog about to bite may be growling, showing his teeth, raising fur along his back or holding his tail high in the air (he may even be wagging it).
  • Teach children to play safe games such as fetch that do not involve running or rough play and to play only with their own dog.

Teresa's Bad Rules (rules that kids don't like - applies to your own and other dogs) See www.doggonesafe.com
Doggone Safe is a non-profit organization dedicated to Dog Bite Prevention through Education

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