Fri, 11/18/2022 - 10:41pm

Children and Dog Bites

All canines are capable of hurting our most vulnerable humans


How should I teach children to prevent dog bites?


The best way to teach children to be safe around dogs is to keep it simple. I recommend having discussions about the role of animals in your family and how to treat them. Educating kids about the importance of respecting dogs and when to give them space will help ensure they avoid serious injuries.

Any breed of dog can bite. Just because a dog is small or seems friendly doesn’t mean it can’t hurt someone. Even the nicest, best-trained family dog may snap if it is startled, scared, threatened, angry or hungry.

This is something I deal with on a daily basis as a veterinarian. It can be hard to convince owners that all dogs are capable of biting when they feel threatened, and that a wagging tail is not always a sign of a happy dog.

Adults and children need to understand that dogs are territorial. They want to protect their home, food, owner or possessions. If they see a stranger, even if it is a child, their instinct is to protect, and the only way they know how to is to bite.

Statistics show that more than 50 percent of dog-bite victims are children and 26 percent of these children require an emergency-room or doctor visit. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one out of every two children under the age of 12 years has been bitten by a dog.

In most cases, the child teases or unintentionally provokes the dog by approaching when the dog is eating or sleeping. The majority of dog bites and attacks on kids are from a dog that the child knows. Often it is even their own pet. Younger children should always be supervised around dogs and shown how to be gentle from the very beginning.

It is best to advise children to avoid dogs that they do not know, especially if the children or dogs are alone and unsupervised. If they see an unfamiliar dog that is wandering around loose, they should not approach the dog, but should calmly leave the area. Ask them to let you know so that you can consider whether to contact animal control.


How should kids act around dogs to avoid a bite?


When an owner is with his or her dog, children should always ask for permission before attempting to pet the dog. Never pet a dog without asking first, even if it is a dog that the child knows, or a dog that has seemed friendly in the past. Shy or anxious dogs may not feel comfortable being petted by strangers.

Teach children to confidently and quietly walk away if they are confronted by an aggressive dog. Actions like yelling, running, hitting or making sudden movements toward the dog can escalate the situation.

Instruct children to stand tall, still and quiet if a dog goes after them. It helps to tell them to “be a tree” and stand quietly with their hands low and clasped in front of them. They should keep their head down as if looking at their feet. Remaining frozen and avoiding eye contact will communicate to the dog they do not wish to engage, and the dog should lose interest.

If they are knocked down, teach them to roll into a ball, and protect their head and neck with their arms.

Dogs in their bed or their crate want to be left alone. Parents should enforce the concept that the bed or crate is the dog’s space to be left undisturbed. A dog needs a comfortable, safe place to retreat to where the child does not go.

Instruct children that the dog has to want to play with them and to let the dog leave if he wants to leave. The dog will return for more play if he feels like it. This is a simple way to allow kids to be able to tell when a dog wants to play and when he doesn’t. Children should never tease the dog by taking the dog’s toys, food or treats, or pretending to hit or kick.

The internet is full of horrifying images. Children should never be allowed to pull on a dog’s ears or tail, climb on or try to ride a dog. Especially with smaller dogs, children may try to lift or drag the dog around. You really can’t blame a dog for reacting to this kind of treatment.

Dressing up dogs should also be discouraged. Many dogs do not appreciate being made to wear costumes. I learned this the hard way. I have a scar on my upper lip from when I was 10 years old. Zsa Zsa the Dachshund did not feel like wearing her cowgirl suit that day.


What are the signs of an aggressive dog?


Everyone, especially children, should be aware of the warning signs of an aggressive dog. The most obvious signs are barking, growling or snapping. The dogs will often crouch with their head low and their tail between their legs.

Another posture of an aggressive dog is a stiff body stance with hackles raised and the tail held high. Intense, direct eye contact is another indication of a dog in potential attack mode.

Even the friendliest family dog may bite if injured or in pain. Children should never disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping, caring for puppies, or seems sick or hurt.


How should I treat a dog bite?


If your child is bitten by a dog, there is some first aid you can administer. Remember to consult your physician in case any further treatment is needed. Puncture wounds may require a tetanus booster. Some bites can seem minor on the surface, but can cause deeper injuries to muscle, bone and nerves.

First, rinse the wound with warm running water to clean away any bacteria. Then wash the wound with warm soapy water for at least five minutes. You can use an antibacterial soap or dish soap.

Cover the wound with a clean bandage. Apply direct pressure and raise the arm or leg above heart level if the bite wound is bleeding.


What if a dog bites your child?


You may want to report the dog bite to your local health department and animal-control agency, especially if the dog is not yours. It is important to find out if the dog is up to date on all vaccinations.

While rare, rabies and bacterial infections can result from a dog bite. These wounds should be treated right away. Your doctor will let you know if your child needs antibiotics to prevent infection. Not all wounds caused by a dog bite are closed with stitches. Sometimes, closing bite wounds can increase the risk of infection.

In order for your doctor to provide the best treatment, try to have the following information ready: Provide the name and address of the dog’s owners and the current vaccination status of the dog.

If you witnessed the incident, tell the doctor whether the attack was provoked or unprovoked. A provoked attack would include approaching a dog while it is eating or taking care of puppies. A description of an unprovoked attack lets the medical personnel know that the dog could be sick, which might affect treatment decisions.

If you are not seeing your regular physician, it is helpful to know your child’s immunization status, medical history and any medications being taken. You should also advise the medical staff of any history of allergic reaction to medication or vaccinations.



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