National Dog Bite Prevention Week: Helping Dogs and Kids Living in Harmony

Monday, May 19, 2014 - 1:30pm
Little boy walking yorkie

Guest blog by Emily Schneider, a proud mom of two feisty yorkies and a two-year-old living in the Garden State. Emily works in media and public relations for the ASPCA. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

I’ve heard one too many stories of pet parents saying, “My dog is really friendly; he loves kids,” followed by utter shock and disbelief when their dog nips or bites a child. They wonder, “How could this happen? My dog has never bitten a child before.” In that situation, it’s natural to feel mortified, and all you can do is apologize profusely and scold your dog for behaving poorly.

That was me a few years ago, when my dog had a negative interaction with a child who was fortunately left unharmed, though maybe slightly traumatized and wary of dogs. When I had my son Jaden, I wasn’t confident since we had several close calls when our dog Mikey acted up around kids. My husband was also worried and wondered whether having a dog like Mikey was a good fit for our family. Gulp.

Did you know that 50 percent of children in the U.S. will be bitten by a dog before their 12th birthday, and that the majority of dog bites are from a dog the child knows?  In conjunction with National Dog Bite Prevention Week May 18-24, here are some tips I’ve implemented so my son and dogs can live in harmony:

  • Keep dog and kid toys separate. It’s easy for your dog to confuse his toy with a child’s toy because they look similar. Separate the two to avoid problems—I keep my son’s toys in his room, and bring out a few toys for the dogs to play with in the living room.
  • Always supervise playtime. Even if your pets are good with kids, it’s important to keep an eye on your child and pet because accidents happen when you least expect it.
  • Create a safe haven for your pet. Unlike Mikey, my other dog, Olive, prefers to watch Jaden from afar. When she gets overwhelmed, I take her to a quiet room where she can enjoy her alone time.
  • Teach your child to be gentle with your pets, and to always ask an adult’s permission before approaching dogs they’re unfamiliar with. For more tips, visit the ASPCA’s page on dog bite prevention.

Time flies when you’re changing diapers, cleaning dirty bibs and washing a million pieces of a bottle—all on virtually no sleep. My son is a toddler now, and he’s feeling very independent—now that he can run, drive his toy car, and say, “my toy!” And while my husband and I consulted animal behavior experts to address Mikey’s issues, it’s important as parents—especially if you have both—to be extra mindful when your child is interacting with your pets or other dogs.

Yorkies

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carri ortiz

I have one dog my dachshund that is fine with kids, but in certain situation has nipped at strangers. My chihuahua does not care for anyone she doesn't know (she was a stray my nephew with 6 kids found) and I ended up taking her cause the little kids wanted to get in her face to love her but she would just growl) never bit them. So I usually pick her up.....I just keep an eye. We believe she was abused a bit, and then they just moved out and left her. But she is loved here.

Lin

I have worked in hospice care for 15 yrs. it is common for normally friendly dogs to become very protective and bite when they sense how vulnerable and ill their loved ones are . Caregivers, please, confine these sweet dogs when we come so they don't risk becoming "dangerous dogs". They are just doing their job of guarding their famIly. Anxious dogs often bite when they have no history of aggression!

Tobysgirl

Rather than put a dog in a room by herself, how about gates? Dogs are social animals and will see isolation as punishment. And scolding a dog for nipping is probably not constructive, i.e., not positive reinforcement. Small dogs in particular probably need to be protected from small children, whereas my German shepherd had no trouble with children putting hands in her mouth, etc.

That said, make sure your dog is not resource guarding. I tried to adopt a German shepherd who had bitten the woman's child, and could not because she kept attacking my dog due to intense resource guarding. Resource guarding may be attention from you, but it also may be nutritional deprivation. The dog I attempted to adopt was grossly underweight, but you couldn't see it because she was a long-haired shepherd. I don't know what the vet was thinking unless it was a severe emphasis on being thin, something I have had trouble with vets about (perfectly healthy and active animals, able to run at high speeds, being declared overweight). Essentially, this dog was starving, and her biting a child she had always lived with, seemed understandable in context.

Sootys mum

I used to foster senior dogs until we adopted one and switched to cats. My problem when walking the dogs was the parents in the park, they obviously would have failed any parental test! They would allow their young children to walk up to them, without asking, and watch them poke the dog(s) or pull at any toy they had. While none of the dogs ever approached a child and showed no sign of aggression, there is no guarantee that they might not bite if startled or perhaps feeling a little under the weather. Parents need common sense and should always ask if it is OK whether in the park or in someone's home. Many attacks may well be the owner's fault but I would love to know what proportion of bites are the parents/child's fault.

Lily's mom

I would venture that over 50% are poor parental training/supervision. I used to go to the dog park when my now 55-pound pit mix was younger; you would be amazed at the number of people who brought young kids in and turned them loose. They would run (always bad in a dog park), go up to strange dogs without asking - the list goes on. And the parents would be furious if their kid was jumped on or knocked over by rambunctious dogs running and playing.
I've also encountered poorly taught kids while walking Lily. She loves people, but is inclined to jump when excited. I had a girl about 9 or so run down her driveway intent on grabbing at Lily; I had to step between them and give her a quick lesson on "never approach a strange dog without asking its person first." She was sulky and angry that I dared to tell her what to do (guess she hadn't ever been corrected by a stranger before), but better a snotty kid that a bitten one.

Marla

I have seen the same thing at dog parks, people bringing toddlers and letting them run around! It's like they think they are helping their kid not be afraid of dogs and they always say oh he's used to icy with our dogs ? Since I have a rescued almost two year old pit bull mix, who is very strong and playful and likes to jump and play with kids, I do worry and keep him separate from the younger than 5 kids. He has knocked over a toddler or two just by going up to say and give them a kiss. People need to be more cautious, even we'll trained dogs can nip if they feel threatened. And mine is one that you can put your hands all in his mouth to get the toy etc and is so sweet but I still worry!