Exposing your dog to children is one of the most important aspects of socialization, as the majority of dog bites happen to children between under the age of 15, and generally the younger the child is, the severity of the injury increases. Humans can be scary to undersocialized dogs, and sometimes dogs don’t realize that children are human at all! Children move erratically, squeal like prey animals, take things from dogs, and generally are very intrusive of a dog’s personal space. Kids are also right at face level with dogs, which can be especially scary. This video (albeit a bit strange) shows just how strange and frightening a child might appear to a dog:
As important as it is for your dog to become used to the actions & sounds of children, it’s just as important that your children know the appropriate way to interact with dogs. Simply because your child has met the dog previously does not mean that the dog will make that same association and apply it to the current situation. While Grandma’s dog and the neighbor’s dog might have been okay previously, perhaps this time they have a bone and grandma might be in a different room. Remember, every dog can bite given the right set of circumstances. Use common sense when letting children and dogs interact, especially dogs that aren’t often around kids, and please don’t leave young children and infants unsupervised around a dog!
It’s a good idea to teach children these things:
Don’t touch nor bother the dog while the dog is eating, chewing, or possessing something of value.
Don’t bother the dog while sleeping. Many bites happen this way!
Dogs don’t usually like to be hugged like people or stuffed animals. Instead of scratch first on the chest, then shoulders. Don’t pat the dog’s head nor pull on parts of his face or ears.
Never approach a dog when the owner isn’t around!
Never touch a dog through the fence!
Never touch nor bother a dog that is tied up.
Always ask to pet the dog, and never approach without permission.
Don’t scream, and stay calm! High-pitched noises excite dogs and may activate a predatory response.
Don’t run away! Dogs have an instinctive reaction to chase!
“Be a tree” and “Be a rock” (see the following video)
No more than 1 child petting a dog at once. Children can surround a dog quickly and create fear.
Here is a video clip that demonstrates some of these things:
In addition to becoming fluent in dog body language, extensive socialization, and exposure to children, owners can give their dogs the greatest chance of success by training basic obedience commands with positive reinforcement. Using positive training method teaches dogs what to do in a situation, rather than punishing them for making a mistake. A dog that is used to punishment-based training generally has a higher level of anxiety and lacks confidence in comparison to positive-reinforcement trained dogs. When put in an unfamiliar situation, the former dog is more likely to cross the fear threshold and deliver a bite, because he fears being punished for making the wrong choice.
Here’s an example (albeit, not an excellent one, but hopefully it makes some sense!): It’s as if your “friend” keeps socking you in the arm every time you say hello to someone on the street. You two are walking, you see lots of new people and say hello, and you keep getting socked in the arm. Soon, you’re pretty tired of getting socked in the arm, and anxious and stressed out. You don’t want to say hello to anyone anymore. Then, someone comes along and acts like he absolutely intends to say hello to you regardless of your desire NOT to. All you can think about is how you’re about to be socked by your “friend” and decide to prevent it instead- you sock either the person saying hello to you (because this person is a predictor of your incoming punishment), or sock your ‘friend’ first (the Punisher).
Give your dog the tools he needs to succeed! Give him training to better understand and make good doggy decisions in this often complicated and scary world for dogs! Know his language, train him to understand you, let him see the world and it’s inhabitants and shows him that it’s not a scary place. The more we can do this for our canine companions, the better, happier citizens they will be, and more dog bites will be prevented. Your dog, your neighbor, and your postman will thank you!