|Kids and dogs are
wonderful together -- when adults use good sense and put
safety first. Dogs can help prevent allergies if
sleeping inside at night, help a troubled child read &
become the best friend a child ever has.
Question: I'd like to get a medium to
large breed dog for my family but I'm worried. I've
heard so many stories about dogs biting children. How
can I be sure that it will be safe for my kids?
Answer: You have good reason to be concerned. Statistics
show that most dog bites causing serious injury involve
medium to large sized dogs and children under the age of
five years. The dog is usually known to the child or is
the family's pet.
To understand how these bites occur, what causes them
and how to prevent them, a little education in the
nature of dogs and the nature of small children is in
A dog's temperament is first inherited, then modified
by events in his life and proper training. Some
breeds and certain bloodlines within breeds are
friendlier, more tolerant and more adaptable to training
because they were bred to be that way. A responsible
breeder wisely puts emphasis on good temperament when
selecting breeding stock. Breeders without adequate
knowledge of dog behavior may not understand what a
correct temperament is and use unsuitable dogs for
Unscrupulous breeders sometimes deliberately breed dogs
with poor temperaments. There are some dogs, just like
there are some humans, that are mentally disturbed or
have an illness or physical defect that affects their
behavior. A dog's basic temperament, instincts and
training have the biggest effects on how that dog
reacts to the world around him and his levels of
Very few bites happen without provocation -- the first
step to find out the cause lies in good parenting and
asking the child 'What did you do to the dog?' We need
to realize that dogs are not little people in furry
costumes. They don't think in the same way that we do.
They look at the world around them with a different
perspective. Most of their actions are instinctive. A
dog will react to situations according to what his
instincts tell him unless these instincts are
overridden by the consistent training and socialization
he needs to receive from his owner throughout his life.
In other words, a dog from a very good environment
of socialization and guidance is not one we are worried
about. It would be the child who likely caused the
situation to change so drastically. Realize that
children need as much training and guidance as do the
Here is one of the most commonly reported scenarios in a
bite case: A very young child sees a pretty dog he'd
like to pet. The dog may not want to be petted. The
dog's first instinctive reaction is show his displeasure
by giving a warning -- growling. The growl means that
something more unpleasant will follow if the warning
The type and number of warnings given can vary. Many
dogs faced with a child like this would just walk away.
Walking away can be considered a warning. If the child
keeps trying to pet the dog, a sterner warning, usually
a growl, will follow. Some warnings are more subtle -- a
stiffening of the body, for example. Few dogs bite
without giving some indication beforehand.
Small children (and some adults) don't recognize a
warning when they see or hear one. A very young child
(under age six) doesn't know what a growl means. What
may be obvious to an adult isn't understood by the
child. The child continues to pet or follow after the
dog even though the dog has now clearly told him what
will happen if he doesn't stop.
Dogs instinctively set up an invisible "fight or flight"
boundary around themselves. The size of this boundary
depends on his level of confidence and tolerance. A
fearful dog will give itself a wider area than a more
stable one. When someone who the dog perceives as
threatening or unwelcome enters that area, the dog has
two choices -- it can run away or it can defend itself.
If it feels that it can't run away, it will fight
instead, no matter how afraid it might be. Some dogs
will choose to fight first, rather than run.
A small child that's petting or hugging a dog has
already intruded well within the dog's flight or fight
boundary, the dog's safety zone. If the dog has tried to
leave or has issued a warning with no response from the
child, the dog (in his mind) has no other recourse -- he
bites. This is normal, instinctive behavior -- to the
dog. He is responding to what he perceives as a threat
and is doing what his instincts tell him to. Remember
that dogs don't think in the same way that people do. A
child's innocent action, petting the dog, can be
provocation for a bite when seen through the eyes of the
Dogs equate this kind of
play with littermates or other dogs where using teeth is
allowed. Startling a sleeping dog or petting him when
he's eating can also provoke a bite. What can be
done to prevent dogs from biting children? I feel that,
first, it's essential to understand that almost any dog
will bite under the right circumstances. Second, a dog
is a dog, an animal whose behavior isn't the same as
humans and can't always be predicted with 100 percent
accuracy, no matter how friendly or reliable he is.
other circumstances that can provoke a dog
to bite a child. Running, playing, screaming
kids can trigger an instinctive
predator-prey reaction in some dogs.
Children who rough house and wrestle with
dogs unknowingly encourage them to use their
Obedience training and socialization are absolute musts
for a dog who'll be spending time with children.
Remember that a dog will act according to his instincts
if he doesn't receive proper training or if that
training isn't kept up through regular practice. The dog
needs to be taught to obey commands under all conditions
no matter how distracting. Just as responding to the
command to "come" could save the dog's life someday, an
immediate response to the command "leave it!" could save
a child from serious injury.
Just as children need to be taught how to be
well-behaved around other people, they need to be taught
to be well-behaved and respectful around animals. They
need to learn what kinds of games are appropriate, how
to touch the dog properly, how to interpret the dog's
body language and when the dog is not to be disturbed.
When they're old enough to understand, kids should be
involved in the training process. They should learn to
give the dog commands and be able to enforce them.
Adult supervision is essential! Small children should
never, ever be left alone with any dog, no matter how
reliable the dog has been before. A responsible adult
needs to be on the scene to prevent any aggressive
behavior by the dog and to keep the child from putting
him or herself in danger. Telling the toddler to stay
away from the dog isn't enough! Remember that young
children don't recognize when they may in trouble. It's
up to the adult to keep them safe from the dog and to
keep the dog safe from the children. I can't stress
enough that adult supervision around children and dogs
is absolutely critical! If you can't be right there to
handle whatever might come up or if you have any doubt
about the dog's behavior around children, the dog should
be put away out of reach of the kids.
Almost all of us would agree that it would be nice for
our children to grow up with a dog. Kids and dogs are
wonderful, almost an American tradition. If you're
thinking of getting a dog for the children or already
have one, here are some guidelines: Consider postponing
the purchase of a dog, especially a large one, until
your children are at least six years old.
Take your time when looking for a dog. Do your homework.
Learn the differences in the various breeds and choose
one best suited to your lifestyle and experience.
Be honest with yourself about the amount of time and
work you're willing to put into a dog. If you don't have
time to raise and train the dog properly, don't get one.
Buy your dog from a reputable, responsible breeder who
puts priority on good temperament and health and
consistently produces dogs that excel in those areas.
Choose a breeder who's experienced and willing to guide
and advise you about care and training throughout the
Train and socialize your dog properly! Get help if you
run into problems. Don't fool yourself into thinking the
dog will "outgrow" it or that the problem will go away
on its own.
Teach your children how to behave correctly and safely
around animals and to respect them.
If your children are too young to understand, it will be
up to you to physically supervise them and protect them
from potential harm. Don't take chances with their
safety! If you can't be right there to take care of a
problem or if you can't control your dog or your child
-- put the dog away.
Remember that what your dog tolerates from your own
children may not be tolerated from someone else's. You
need to take extra safety precautions when other
children visit and make sure that the children obey your
Kids and dogs are wonderful together -- when adults use
common sense and put safety first.