American Veterinary Medical Association statistics show that there are an estimated 4.5 million people bitten by dogs each year. Almost half of the dog bite victims are children under 12 years old with the most vulnerable children being 5-9 year old boys. Many people are concerned about breeds, but there is no particular dog breed that can be labeled as aggressive. Un-neutered male dogs are involved in 70-76% of reported dog bite incidents.
The first step in preventing dog bites to children is adult supervision since most dog bites occur on the property where a dog lives. Children’s natural behaviors of running, yelling, grabbing, and hitting put them at risk for dog bite injuries. Children learn by observation, therefore, parents need to set a good example of how to interact with their pets. For example, if a parent uses a dog for a pillow or footrest then the child might not understand why he/she cannot do the same. If parents wrestle with the dog, a child might try to mimic the behavior, which often includes the dog grabbing at the individual it’s wresting with. If children watch parents petting a dog gently the child is more likely to mimic that behavior.
Parents need to check with the dog owner to make sure that there are no known problems with the dog. Parents and dog owners need to be aware of signs that a dog may give that indicate that the dog is uncomfortable in a situation. If a dog is nervous or anxious in a situation then it is more likely to bite. General indications that a dog may be nervous, anxious, or fearful include: backing away from a person, the dog licking its lips, puffi ng out its cheeks, pulling its ears back, dilation its pupils, and lowering or tensing its body and looking from the child back to the owner. A tucked tail is a clear indication that a dog is fearful in a situation, but a wagging tail does not always mean a dog is happy. If a child is afraid of dogs then that child should not be encouraged to pet a dog unless the owner of the dog is absolutely 100% certain a problem will not occur. People who are afraid of dogs move in a more hesitant manner, which may make a dog nervous about the interaction and be more likely to bit.
Children should be taught to never approach dogs behind fences or dogs tied to or in front of houses. A dog may defend an area or it may perceive that it is trapped by the fence or tie out. Also, children should ask a dogs owner’s permission prior to approaching or petting a dog. They should also not intentionally startle or scare a dog. They should not approach sleeping dog and they should not pick up a dog as if it’s a stuffed toy.
An important point to remember is that each dog is an individual and will respond in a different manner to different situations. If a bite occurs unexpectedly, the owner should try to note as many of the details about what occurred before the bite as possible. This information will be useful to help desensitize a dog to that situation. A dog behaving in an aggressive manner should not be punished. The dog may intensify its response to the individual punishing it, worsening the situation. The owner should discuss the problem with their veterinarian.
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