By Victoria Stilwell
According to the Humane Society of the United States, 50 percent of children will be bitten by a dog before their 12th birthday. Children under the age of 5 are most likely to be bitten, and most of these bites come from a dog that the child knows, such as the family dog or that of a relative or friend.
Why are children more likely to be bitten by dogs than adults? Children move fast and these movements can stimulate a dog’s prey drive and chase instinct. Children talk in higher pitched voices than adults, which can make some dogs fearful. Children may frustrate a dog with rough play and teasing or inadvertently inflict pain with the pull of a tail or a poke in the eye. Younger children are closer to a dog’s eye level, making it easier for a dog to feel threatened by eye-to-eye contact and for the child to be bitten in the face. It’s much harder for a child to misunderstand canine body language and miss vital warning signals.
Parents and guardians need to be responsible for their children’s interactions with any dog and young children should never be left unsupervised with a dog at any time.
In general dogs make wonderful companions but need to be treated with care and respect. Most dogs are very friendly but others show aggression because they’re fearful, frustrated or protecting something that is important to them. It’s vital that both adults and children recognize the signals of stress and discomfort. Yawning, lip licking, turning away and cowering are all signs that signal stress. More overt signals include lip lifting, snarling, growling and snapping, all warnings designed to tell a perceived threat to back away.
People can keep themselves safe by following a few simple rules:
- Never touch a dog that is unknown to you.
- Even if you know the dog, always ask permission from the owner first and if permission is given always let the dog come into your space. Don’t lean over and pet a dog on the top of the head as this can be perceived as threatening. Pet on the back and look for wiggly, relaxed body language and a willingness to engage. If you feel a dog stiffen when you touch it, stop all contact immediately.
- Don’t touch a dog that has been tied up or left at the end of a chain in a yard, outside a store or behind a fence
- Let sleeping dogs sleep and eating dog eat!
- Don’t take a bone or toy away from a dog if it’s actively playing with it.
- In general dogs don’t like being hugged. Be gentle with any dog and don’t engage in rough play. •