The bond between a young child and a pet is special. The valuable lessons a pet can teach a child should be cherished. Children who grow up with pets often benefit developmentally, as they have stronger self-esteem, stronger relationships, and learn responsibility. But, if a child and his pet are not properly trained on how to act around each other, their interactions could result in tragedy.
Children are the most common dog-bite victims and are often severely injured. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports, “nearly 10,600 children two years old or younger visited emergency rooms as a result of dog bites.”
Why do dogs bite?
Dogs who feel threatened or anxious naturally want to protect themselves from harm, so they react negatively. Animals will use body language to subtly show their feelings before they take action, whether they are happy, excited, sad, anxious, or fearful. While dogs may sometimes attempt to bite without obvious warning, pet owners can learn to read their dog’s body language and help prevent a dog from biting.
Watch for warning signs, including:
- High pitched barking
- Lifting lips and showing teeth
- Circling, jumping away, hiding
- Hyperalertness (intense focus on an object or person)
- Ears lying flat against the head or straight up and forward
- Attempting to get away
- Tense body
If your dog exhibits any of these signs, remove young children from the room or remove your dog from the situation and away from the child. Preventing dog bites starts with training dogs how to behave around children and training children how to behave around dogs.
Training tips for dogs
Training dogs to become comfortable with children should start during puppyhood. Socialization—the method that helps animals interact and feel comfortable with other animals, people, places, activities, sounds, or sensations—is a key component to the success of the puppy’s training.
Socializing your pet will require time and patience, with the time period varying depending on your pet. The goal is to expose your pet to positive experiences with the subjects—in this case, the children—you want her to socialize with, and to reinforce her good behavior with rewards.
A reward can be a favorite treat or toy, or positive verbal affirmation with snuggles. Introduction to the subjects should be gradual, brief, and not forced. Once your pet is comfortable with short introductions, the sessions can become longer as each milestone is achieved.
You should also consider your dog’s home environment. Set your dog up for success by creating a relaxing environment. If your dog lives with young children or young children often visit the home, provide her with a calm place that is off-limits to children. Place a few of your pet’s favorite things in her safe spot, including comfortable bedding, toys, and treats. If possible, turn on comforting music and plug in a pheromone diffuser, like Adaptil, to help her stay relaxed.
Pet safety for kids
Children are full of love and want to share that with their furry friends, but they don’t always understand how pets perceive their actions. Parents can show their children how to effectively communicate with animals and how to show them love in an appropriate and safe way.
Here are some tips that will help your children interact safely with dogs:
- Ask permission from the owner before you touch an animal.
- Allow the dog to sniff your hands before petting.
- When petting a dog, begin under the chin and not on top of the head.
- If a dog has an object in or near her mouth, do not touch her.
- Respect the animal’s space and avoid placing your face in hers.
- Do not shout or run around pets. Instead, move slowly and quietly.