Parents should supervise all interactions between children and dogs. A child should not be left alone with a dog unless that child has demonstrated competent dog handling skills, has a knowledge of canine communication and dog and child share a long established relationship based on mutual understanding, love and respect. Babies, toddlers and young children should never be left alone with a dog - all interactions should be actively supervised. Parents can educate their children about how to behave around dogs and how to recognize a bite risk situation. If a bite occurs the child should be reassured that she/he is not at fault. The fault lies with the owner or adult handler of the dog. If a bite occurs the child should be seen by a doctor no matter how minor the injury may seem. In the case of a severe attack, trauma counseling should be sought for the child. The bite should be reported to the appropriate authorities.
Read an interview with Doggone Safe president Joan Orr with advice for parents about choosing a dog and fostering a safe bond between dog and children.
Parents should teach children the following (these apply to their own dog, other dogs that they know and strange dogs):
- Dogs do not like hugs and kisses. This is a major cause of facial bites to children. Read an article from a research study that supports this contention.
- Read another article that explains about dogs and hugs
- Do not to approach dogs that are not their own, even if the dog is on leash with its handler.
If you, as a parent, decide that you think it is safe for your child to approach a particular dog - teach your child the ABC approach:
A: Ask your parent and the dog handler before you pet a dog
B: Be a tree if the dog is loose or too excited
C: Coochie coo on the side of the neck to pet the dog
- Ensure that when a child visits a house with a dog, that the dog will not be unsupervised with the children.
- Teach your child to "be a tree" when confronted with an unknown, overly friendly or hostile dog. Stop. Fold your branches (hands) and watch your roots grow (look at feet) and count in your head until the dog goes away or help comes.
- Teach your child to "be a rock" if the dog actually jumps on them and knocks them down (curl up and protect face and neck with hands and arms).
- Never stare at a dog in the eyes or put their faces up to a dog's face.
- Never try to take something away from a dog.
- Never go near a dog who is eating or drinking or chewing on something.
- Never approach a dog that is on a bed or furniture.
- Never approach a dog that is tied up or in a vehicle.
- Never try to pet a dog through a fence or in a crate.
- Never climb over a fence into a dog's yard, even if the dog is usually friendly.
- Never try to break up a dog fight or interact with dogs that are play fighting.
- Leave dogs alone that are sleeping, resting, injured, very old or with puppies.
- Teach your child about canine body language - visit the Kids page.
- A safe dog is one that has a soft, relaxed, happy face and a wiggly body.
- A dangerous dog has his mouth closed or mouth open with tight lips, ears forward, intense look, hard body.
- A dog about to bite may be growling, showing his teeth, raising fur along his back or holding his tail high in the air (he may even be wagging it). He may freeze and stare.
- Teach children to play safe games such as fetch that do not involve running or rough play and to play only with their own dog.
The Family Dog
Sometimes it is difficult for children to understand that the family dog may not always welcome their attention. It may seem hard to believe, but most bites to children are by the family dog or other dogs known to the child. Kids (and parents) assume that because the dog knows, likes or loves them that it won't bite them. Dogs don't think this way. A dog may snap or bite in annoyance because the child is bothering it in that moment, whether the dog loves the child or not.
Here is an example with which most kids can identify...
When you are home at night watching TV or reading a bedtime story you might like to sit on your Mom or Dad's knee or have them whisper "I love you" in your ear. However if you are out on the soccer field or at school with your friends or acting in the school play you might not want to sit on a parent's lap or have them run out in the middle of the game or the play to whisper in your ear. It's the same for dogs. If they are busy doing something, or interested in another dog or a squirrel, or they are tired they may not want to have attention from you that they might enjoy at other times.
A dog may indicate that it wants to be left alone by leaving the room, showing a half moon eye (see below), yawning or licking its chops when the kids are bothering it for weeks, months or even years before finally getting to the point that it feels it has no choice but to bite. Parents often tell us that the dog bit without warning, but there is always a warning. Many people simply do not recognize the warning signs, even though the dog has been exhibiting these for weeks, months or even years.
We are not saying that all signs of anxiety that we describe on the body language page indicate an impending bite. What we are saying is that the dog will tell you if it is uncomfortable in a situation with a child (or with you). As a parent and/or dog owner it is up to you to educate yourself and your children so that you all know what the dog might be feeling. Dogs give us a lot of love and joy and we know that you want your dog to be happy and to have a great relationship with the family. Learning about dog body language and emotion and developing empathy for dogs is a great way to help improve the relationship with your dog.
Read an excellent article about whether dogs bite "out of the blue". Realize that even the nicest dog can be pushed to the point of biting if multiple stressors come into play. Read an article that explains how this can happen.
Download our questionnaire to see if there are any areas of concern that may need to be addressed. This will give you an idea if there are issues that you can address to reduce the bite risk in your home.
Download our checklist to help you notice various dog body language signs in your own dog and in dogs on TV or out and about.
Other People's Dogs and Play Dates
You may not care about maintaining a good relationship with a dog, you just want to keep yourself and your kids safe. Dogs are everywhere and whether you love them, hate them or are indifferent, you and your kids are going to encounter them. It is important even for children who have dogs at home to learn that other people's dogs may not be as nice and tolerant as their own dog. Everyone will benefit from understanding dog body language and knowing when it is best to leave a dog alone, or even to ask the dog's owner to put him away if you are visiting. If you or your child is uncomfortable around a dog, don't be shy! Ask the host to put the dog away. You could say something like this: "That is a lovely dog. I know he is friendly, but we are a bit uncomfortable around dogs. Would you mind putting him in another room or on a leash?".
If your child is going to visit at a playmate's house, ask if they have a dog and whether the dog will be confined when your child visits. If you are going to leave your child in a home daycare where there is a dog, be sure to visit, meet the dog and ensure that the dog will not be a threat to your child. Click here for an article that describes the things you should look for in deciding whether it is safe to leave your child with someone who has a dog.