The most frequently bitten people are children. By the age of 14, about half of all children have been bitten by a dog. The overwhelming majority of bites occur in children under nine years of age, sometimes resulting in both physical and emotional damage. Through an understanding of canine behavior and preparation for what to do in the event of a canine confrontation, many such bites can be avoided. Most dogs are fun and safe to be with, but certain dogs, and it's hard to tell which ones, have their own set of "rules" regarding children. Whether or not we humans feel the rules of this minority appropriate, we must help our children become aware of situations to avoid.
This article is not meant to blame children if they are bitten. There is rarely a good excuse for a dog biting a person, but knowing the reasons a dog might bite, from the dog's point of view, may be helpful in avoiding bites. Here are some statistics from Chicago and Dallas University which were based over a three year period of reported dog bites. Many are not reported. Of all dog bites of children under four years of age, most were bitten in early May. Sixty percent were bitten on the head, neck and face, 90 percent were bitten in their own home, 40 percent were bitten by their own dog and 60 percent of the dogs had no previous history of biting. Of all dog bites of children age four to 16, most were bitten in early July. Eighteen percent were bitten on the head, neck and face, 38 percent were bitten in their own home, 18 percent were bitten by their own dog and 50 percent of the dogs had no previous history of biting. Further studies showed that 51 percent of the infants bitten were bitten in their cots and most were bitten by their own pets. None of the reported bites were by strays, and most were not witnessed by the parents. This posed questions:
Why were the dogs allowed in children's sleeping areas? Where were the parents?
Many of these potential bite situations can be avoided by providing the proper training and environment for our pet dogs. It is not, however, the intent of this article to give information on how to bite-proof dogs, but rather how to bite-proof children.
You can tell if a dog is upset.
Any dog can bite, but most won't if you act the way you should around them. The signs are: tail up, hairs on its back raised, baring teeth and growling. If a child keeps on doing what makes the dog angry, it might get angrier and perhaps bite. If the dog's ears are laid back with the tail between the legs, it is scared. It might run, but it might also bite if it cannot get away. Do not go closer if it looks like that. If a child is bitten, he/she should try to remember what the dog looked like and in which direction it went. The child should tell an adult who can wash the wound with soap and water. If a doctor has to be seen, ask for a report to take to the police.
The warning body language of aggressive dogs is: Ears erect, body stiff, tail high, hackles up.
A fearful posture is: Ears back, body crouched, head low, tail tucked in.
Other signs to watch for are: Growling and barking, lips lifting, teeth bared
Dogs that have assumed either a defensive or offensive threat posture frequently have a "critical zone". A child is safe around this zone until entering the imaginary circle the dog has projected. The problem is that this zone varies between dogs and can even be different for the same dog if the situation changes. So it's impossible for humans to accurately determine the critical zone. A defensive threat posture is adopted by the shy or fearful dog. It is hesitant, easily frightened, timid, tends to avoid certain persons or things. Frequently, these traits are not noticed until the dog encounters a new situation. The dog might assume elements of the defensive threat posture when frightened.
Shy dogs can be gentle, loving, obedient pets, but may try to bite when frightened. The dog's motive is to chase that person away. The problem is, we cannot always tell which people or actions frighten the dog. The fearful dog may fool you by appearing brave. The dog growls and raises the fur along the neck and back like a brave/aggressive dog, but ears may be pinned back, body lowered, tail between the legs. The tail may even be wagging, but a wagging tail doesn't always mean a friendly dog. The dog might bark and stare, but then turn away, only to turn toward you again and start all over. This dog would really rather not deal with you and hopes to frighten you away but, if pushed, it might bite.
An offensive threat posture is when a dog is hostile, assertive, ready for combat, dominant and self-confident. It does so when provoked. The dog can be a loving and loyal pet to his immediate family if given proper training, but this type of dog can bite if challenged. The motive is to hurt the challenging person. The problem is, we do not always know what the dog may regard as a challenge. The brave/aggressive dog's offensive threat posture, may include growling deeply, raised hackles, staring, a show of fangs, standing tall with ears and tail erect and leaning toward the opponent. If the situation is not handled carefully, this dog might bite.
So how does a child avoid getting bitten?
- Never touch a dog when it is feeding.
- Do not tease a dog, its ears are not hankies.
- If chased by a dog while cycling, get off. Place the bike between you and the dog. LOOK AWAY.
- Avoid packs of dogs, if confronted, do not run away or scream.
- Do not disturb a sleeping dog.
- If meeting a new dog, pat him on the side of the face, under the chin or on the chest. Never place your head above a dog's head. Crouch down, and approach on his level.
- Ask an owner if it is permissible to pat their dog. If it is, let the dog sniff your knuckles to show you are a friend.
- Do not pat dogs in cars, it is a space they consider worth defending.
- Do not try to separate dogs fighting, go for help if necessary.
- Never approach a dog when it is chained up.
- If a strange dog comes up to you, stand still, like a lamppost.
Children and dogs can live happily together as long as they follow the rules we have just been through. The presence of an adult is a deterrent. Never leave dogs and children alone.
Commitment, Firmness, but kindness.
Children and Dogs
by David the Dogman
David is a Canine Behaviourist who works and lives in Marbella, Spain. Tel/Fax (00345) 2883388. His web site is located at: www.thedogman.net. David has his own radio and TV shows, and writes for many newspapers and magazines. David has been working with dogs for many years and started his career in Israel, working on the Border Police. He has been involved in all forms of training, including air sea rescue, air scent work, and has trained dogs for finding drugs. David has devoted the past 10 years to studying behaviour and the very passive approach. He does not use choke chains, check chains, or any form of aggression.