Put simply, because people are naïve, negligent, or just plain ignorant.
Sounds harsh, but it is very true.
Let me explain.
You see, I’ve heard and read all sorts of bite stories coming from many different sources, people, and families. Some were being cautious, others allowed their child to take too many liberties with a dog they were familiar with, and then there are those who were taken off guard by a stray dog.
In all scenarios, both the children and the dog lose.
In many cases, the dog gets put down and the child is traumatized and may carry scars for life.
I hear it a lot. “Oh, my dog, he/she’d never bite me. He/she’d bite other people, but me, I can do anything and they’d never bite me! I just know it!”
Not in my book. If your dog has a mouth, it can bite you. Whether it chooses to or not, is completely up to the dog and there is no 100% surefire way of knowing whether or not today is the day that your dog will get fed up with having it’s ears or jowl’s pulled, being woken up with your face in their face, or being sat on.
Years ago when I began training, Kip, my very first client, was telling me a story about a relative’s friend. The woman had an older German Shepherd, I can’t remember the age exactly, but I remember it being over 5 years old. This woman was so confident in what she could get away with with the dog and, ironically, while she was telling her friend (Kip’s relative) this she was bit in the face. Bad.
The dog was asleep on the couch and she walked over as she was talking about how she’d had the dog since it was a puppy and could do anything with it. As the dog was sleeping, she bent over the dog, grabbed the dog’s face and placed her face directly into it. Of course, this is when the dog bit her.
Was the dog aggressive? Not in my opinion. Clearly the dog hadn’t ever had a moment like that before because I believe she would’ve not been touting the way she was. I believe the dog was startled and wasn’t expecting to wake up to a face in its face and it just reacted in self-defense. Or, maybe the dog was just fed up with years of having this woman taking too many liberties and it just decided to correct her and establish a boundary.
I believe this woman was both naïve and ignorant in her behavior.
It’s this same thought process that I see parents take with their children.
So what can you as a dog owner do about it?
Well, you can always tell an oncoming child, “No.”
If they just walk up to you and your dog with their hands extended then I step in-between them and give them another firm, “No, you cannot touch my dog.” Who cares if the kid gets upset or the parents give you a dirty look. We have to look at the bigger picture here. Which is that that child is learning to approach ANY dog without asking and that’s a BIG problem.
What happens when the parents aren’t paying attention and their child sees a dog, walks up to it uninvited, and pets it. Except, this dog isn’t friendly and decides to bite. Or, maybe the dog is friendly, but the child doesn’t have any boundaries and decides to pull the dog’s ears and pulls to hard. Now the dog does a correctional bite. And who pays in the end?
The dog and the child.
What if I allow a child to pet my dog, what can I do to keep them safe?
As a dog owner, what I like to do is have the child wait. I’ll crouch down to my dog’s level with my dog in a “Sit.” I hold the leash up close by the collar if not the collar itself, loosely with my left arm around my dog’s neck. The reason for this positioning is so if there was a moment, I can quickly contain my dog by restricting movement of the head with both my left arm and right hand on the collar. Do not hold on to the dog tight as this can cause discomfort, you are merely resting your hand around their neck and only adding pressure should they react.
I’ll then have the child approach from the side and start by petting them down the back. This approach is non-threatening to the dog and is also the easiest to address should things go south (for whatever reason). From there the child can slowly work their way up to the dog’s head and under the neck. Once they’re done, I’ll have the child step away and then I’ll get up.
What can you teach your child that would keep them safe?
Preferably, I do not let children pet dogs until they understand the words “no” and “gentle,” but if you decide that it is ok, then that is your choice.
Be proactive in teaching your child proper etiquette when interacting with dogs. Just be sure to teach them to be respectful of animals and to not pull their ears, jowls, or tail. To not walk up and pet a dog while they’re sleeping. Teach them to not sit on a dog or use them as a pillow.
This goes for all dogs, big and small, young and old.
Remember that this also goes for your own personal dog and this is very important! How you allow your child to interact and treat the family dog is how they will treat other people’s dogs! They will transfer these interactions with other dogs so I recommend having your children to ask for permission even for petting the family dog. Sounds silly, but it will keep them safe in the future.
What can you do as a parent?
This steps out the realm of dog training, but it is important.
Know where your child is at all times and who and what they are interacting with. Tell your child “no” from time to time so that they learn to be mindful when other people tell them no just in case they do manage to sneak away and they have to be addressed by another adult.
Also, never leave your child unattended with a dog! You don’t know how many countless times I’ve heard of people coming into a room with a child crying/screaming because it was just bitten by the dog, but no one knows what happened!
What can I do if my child is attacked by a dog?
In a worst-case scenario, whether provoked or unprovoked, should your child be attacked. Don’t panic and don’t try to pull your child away from the dog! You risk prey drive kicking in and the dog intensifying its attack. You also risk tearing muscle as you pull them from their teeth.
If the dog has a collar, grab it from the top of the collar and pull straight up until the dogs front legs are off the ground and they can’t get ground to power the attack. Hang them up until they choke out and release the bite. This is risky, but if the dog is latched on, you can pull straight up on the collar and as they’re off the ground, take your other hand and come from underneath their jaw. Take the dog’s jowls and fold them over the back teeth, pressing hard so that the dog is biting itself. This can help aid in them releasing, but does put you at risk of a bite when it does release.
Should the dog not have a collar, take a belt or even a shirt and wrap it around the dog’s neck and repeat what I mentioned above. The key thing is to not pull the dog away. You want to contain the dog and calm the child because if they are squirming or being frantic, it will draw out prey drive and things will get worse.
You can also refer to this blog for what to do when an Aggressive Off-Leash Dog Approaches.
I’ve always made it a point, when working with children, to teach them how to approach dogs correctly because it will help keep them safe in the future. Unfortunately, things like this are a “you don’t know until it happens” deal and once it happens, it’s too late. The damage is done and both parties will face consequences.
That’s it for this week’s blog.
Until next time.