I am a huge dog lover. Always have been. I’ve had dogs in my life since I was born. My kids are the same. When they were little, they would always want to pet and play with dogs that they saw. But, even though most properly trained dogs are perfectly safe and friendly, the fact of the matter is that dogs can be unpredictable animals. In Massachusetts, there are so many dogs that it is important to teach children how to be safe around them.
When you’re teaching children how to avoid being bitten by a dog, keep it simple. Discuss animals and how they can be friendly and protective. Don’t just talk about the potential dangers of dogs and being bitten but talk about the role of the dog in the family. You do not want to unintentionally create unnecessary fear of dogs.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association there are easy tips you can use to help kids understand how to respect dogs and avoid dog bites.
How to Avoid Dog Bites
- Avoid unknown dogs. If you see a dog you don’t know and it’s wandering around loose and unsupervised, avoid the dog and consider leaving the area. Consider alerting animal control.
- When the owner is with their dog, always ask the owner for permission to pet their dog. Don’t ever pet a dog without asking first — even if it’s a dog you know, or a dog that’s seemed friendly toward you before.
- Teach children to confidently, quietly walk away if they’re confronted by an aggressive dog. Instruct them to stand still if a dog goes after them, then take a defensive position. It often helps to tell them to “be a tree:” stand quietly, with their hands low and clasped in front of them, remain still and keep their head down as if looking at their feet. If they are knocked down, teach them to cover their head and neck with their arms and curl into a ball.
- Teach children to avoid escalating the situation by yelling, running, hitting or making sudden movements toward the dog.
- Teach children that if a dog goes to bed or to his/her crate, don’t bother them. Enforce the idea that the bed or crate is the dog’s space to be left alone. A dog needs a comfortable, safe place where the child never goes. If you’re using a crate, it should be covered with a blanket and be near a family area, such as in your living room or another area of your home where the family frequently spends time. Do not isolate your dog or his/her crate, or you may accidentally encourage bad behavior.
- Educate children at a level they can understand. Don’t expect young children to be able to accurately read a dogs’ body language. Instead, focus on gentle behavior and that dogs have likes and dislikes and help them develop understanding of dog behavior as they grow older.
- Teach children that the dog has to want to play with them and when the dog leaves, he leaves — he’ll 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.
- Teach kids never to tease dogs by taking their toys, food or treats, or by pretending to hit or kick.
- Teach kids to never pull a dog’s ears or tail, climb on or try to ride dogs.
- Keep dogs out of infants’ and young children’s rooms unless there is direct and constant supervision.
- As a parent, report stray dogs or dogs that frequently get loose in your neighborhood.
- Tell children to leave the dog alone when it’s asleep or eating.
- Sometimes, especially with smaller dogs, some children might try to drag the dog around. Don’t let them do this. Also discourage them from trying to dress up the dog — some dogs just don’t like to be dressed up.
- Don’t give kids too much responsibility for pets too early — they just may not be ready. Always supervise and check on pet care responsibilities given to children to ensure they are carried out
- Remember: if you get your kids a pet, you’re getting yourself a pet, too.
While these tips are no guarantee that a dog won’t act unpredictably, the more education we can provide children the better armed they will be when confronting a dog.