Sunday, July 12, 2015

Babies, and Children, and Puppies, Oh My!

"Good grief, I can't believe a dog would
bite a child!"
In the middle of Houston's hot, humid summer a visit to the dog show always makes me smile. Just seeing a dog on the street makes me smile. So, you can see I like dogs. Dogs and children seem to be a winning combination but . . . "Dog bite injuries are the second most frequent cause of visits to emergency rooms of nine activities common among children."

Although my own dogs have never even snapped at me, most U.S. children who are bitten by dogs were bitten by the family pet. Severe injuries from dog bites is most frequent in children age 5-9. Although we read horror stories about small children getting killed by a pit bull, even small breeds have caused fatalities in babies and toddlers. Fatalities, however, are rare, about 10-15 a year in a population of over 65 million dogs.  Janis Bradley writes,  "A child has a greater chance of being killed by a marble or balloon than a dog."

So, dogs and children are a winning combination when you add awareness and responsibility. Parents be aware that:
  • Most children who are bitten are bitten on the face. Many dogs don't really like someone's face close to theirs. Keep your child's face away from a dog's face. Keep small children from running up to a dog's face.
  • We keep dogs for protection. This is great when they are protecting our sheep, our house, or our child. Dogs protect territory and resources. A dog sees his resources as his food, toys, and bones. Children should be taught to never bother a dog who is eating, or to try to take away a toy or bone. 
  • Many bites occur at a friend's or relative's house. Just because Grandma adores her grandchildren doesn't mean her dog feels the same way. Children move and act differently than adults. Dogs like familiarity. Small children should never be left alone with a dog. Older children should be taught not to bother a friend's dog.
  • Toddlers and babies should always be supervised around a dog, even the family dog. They should not be allowed to pull or play with a dog's face, pound on his body, or fall on it. 
  • Older children should be taught to:
    • never tease a dog
    • never approach a strange dog
    • never go over a fence or into a yard to approach a neighbor's dog (Remember, the dog sees what is inside the fence as his territory - this is also true of invisible fences.)
    • never take away food, bones, or toys from a dog.
    • never approach an injured or trapped dog. Get an adult for help.
    • never try to physically break up a dog fight. Get an adult for help. 
  • We all know what stress is. When children get stressed they may throw a tantrum, cry, or whine. When dogs get stressed they may whine or bite. Good dogs want to behave, but sometimes owners put them in stressful situations. Summer festivals, farmers markets, musical and fireworks displays are not places for dogs. Yes, some dogs seem to enjoy the activity but it is very stressful for many dogs. This is not a place for children to be interacting with dogs.
  • Dog parks are not a place for children. Lots of dogs, lots of activity, and lots of ways a child might get bitten. Some dogs find themselves bullied at a dog park. Some dogs get into fights. Some owners ignore their dogs. Take your child with you when you walk your dog, but not to a dog park.
  • Hurt dogs, sick dogs, aching dogs are more likely to snap at a child. Be aware of the health and age of your dog. Be careful if you are in a veterinarian's office. Concern over your dog may make you less aware that your child is approaching someone's else's sick dog.
Yes, children and dogs are great. I am glad I had a dog as a child and glad my son had dogs. Most dogs don't bite and most children are safe around most dogs. Whether you own dogs or not, you and your children need to know how to be safe around them. One great resource is the Facebook page: Reisner Vet Behavior. 

Finally, don't get a dog unless you are able to care for it throughout its lifespan. I have always said, "Find a person who had a dog from puppyhood to old age. Someone who laughs at a puppy's mistakes and realizes a pair of shoes isn't as important as a living creature. Someone who trained a dog to be a great companion. Someone who loved a dog when it was sick, smelly, and old. Someone who cried at the end of their dog's life. That person has a head start on being a great parent. "

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