Once Bitten, Twice Shy: Teaching Kids to Prevent Dog Bites

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by Jovita Kravitz

Most dogs are not bad; they are just misunderstood.

Dog insecure ears back2

Like humans, dogs use body language to show their feelings.  If a dog is insecure, scared, anxious, in pain, or easily startled, and a human ignores the warning signs and approaches the animal anyway, it can easily lead to a bite or attack.  When this happens, even though it was not the dog’s fault, the dog gets blamed and may ultimately be surrendered to a shelter—or euthanized.

The Statistics:

About 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the U.S. every year, and half of them are children.  Learning how to read a dog’s body language, therefore, and teaching children how to interact with dogs—even their own pets—is critical in preventing a dangerous situation for both the child and the dog.

Spot the Warning Signs:

If you see a dog show ANY of these signs, do NOT try to pet or even walk up to him:

  • Ears back
  • Fur standing up on the dog’s back
  • Whites of the eyes are visible
  • Growling
  • Teeth bared
  • Yawning
  • Licking their lips (indicates stress)
  • Freezing in response to touch
  • Direct eye contact from the dog
  • Tail held high, sometimes waving just at the tip

Avoid eye contact and calmly walk (don’t run) away.

5 Lessons to Prevent Dog Bites:

Here are 5 lessons parents and educators should teach all kids about dog safety and preventing bites:

  1. NEVER approach a dog you don’t know. Children who are overly-excited and run up to unfamiliar dogs are asking for trouble.  Kids and adults alike should always ask the dog’s human for permission to pet the dog.  Even if the dog looks friendly and you get the okay to approach, stay very calm, and before touching the dog, put out your hand with your palm up to let the dog sniff you.
  2. “No touch, no talk, no eye contact.” Dog psychology guru Cesar Millan of the hit show The Dog Whisperer emphasizes this important rule in his training when meeting a new dog.  Dogs perceive eye contact from strangers—even children—as a threat.  When dogs first meet each other, they do it indirectly, by sniffing and assessing each other’s energy.  “No touch, no talk, no eye contact” –   have your child memorize and practice this mantra around every new dog they meet!
  3. Be respectful. Most of us had, at some point in our childhood, that annoying great-aunt who would squeeze and kiss us whether we liked it or not.  Similarly, dogs don’t appreciate having someone charge at them yelling and waving their hands.  If you were walking down the street and a stranger did that to you, you would most likely freak out and take defensive measures.  Dogs see that kind of excited behavior as a threat, too.
  4. Always supervise your children around dogs. Even the sweetest family dog has his limits.  Children can be unintentionally rough when playing with animals, and if the dog feels pain from an ear pull or poke in the eye, his self-defense instinct may kick in, potentially leading to a bite or attack.  Take extra precautions and make sure your children do not play around a dog unless an adult is present at all times.
  5. Stay “calm and assertive” at all times. Whether it’s around dogs or other people, staying “calm and assertive,” as Cesar Millan likes to say, is an invaluable life lesson for adults and children alike.  Dogs respect people who are calm, consistent, and balanced.  Read more about how to be “calm and assertive” here.