Every year in the United States, an estimated 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs. Of that number, nearly 450,000 are children who require medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Many factors contribute to those high numbers, including inadequate training and containment, and aggressive treatment of the dog. But, lack of awareness about how to behave around dogs is also a risk factor, and it’s a key reason why so many children end up in the emergency room. Teach your children the proper way to behave around dogs, and you can prevent them from being bitten.
Move with Caution
The single most effective way your child can reduce his chance of being attacked by a strange dog is to avoid approaching it at all if it is exhibiting signs of aggression. The ASPCA provides a list of common behaviors in dogs that should be viewed as aggressive, including snapping, snarling, growling, and guttural barks. Review those signs with your child, and instruct him not to approach a dog if it is behaving aggressively. If your child and the dog are already in close proximity to one another, advise him not make sudden movements that may trigger a defensive response on the dog’s part. Also, though the child may be frightened, instruct him not to run away, as that signals to the dog that it should give chase.
If you are with your child and see an aggressive dog, you will feel protective, but do not use sudden movement to pick up the child. Already aggressive dogs may view that as threatening behavior, and then attack. Instead, position yourself between the child and the dog. The dog will likely view that as protective pack behavior, and the chance of an attack will diminish.
Your own dog may view your child squatting down as being a friendly gesture, but an aggressive dog who is unfamiliar with him will see it as a subservient move. So, tell your child to remain upright, and stand still with his arms at his sides. If your child is already on the ground, advise him to position his body face down.
Watch Your Tone
Dogs cannot understand what we are saying, but they do recognize tone and volume, often using those as cues to signal a behavior choice. If a dog in your child’s vicinity is showing signs of aggression, remind your child to remain calm, lower the volume and tone of his voice, and speak in a relaxed, reassuring manner. Your child will be scared, and may want to scream or get otherwise loud, but that behavior triggers a negative response, particularly in a dog that is already scared.
The Eyes Have It
Direct eye contact is considered by dogs to be confrontational, so warn your child not to look directly at an aggressive dog. He’ll need to stay aware of the dog’s position, but should do so without looking directly at it. Explain to your child what is meant by peripheral vision, practice the technique together, and let him know to keep track of an aggressive dog’s movements in that way.
A common reaction children have to heightened emotions is to smile nervously. However, the baring of teeth is viewed by dogs as decidedly threatening behavior. So, warn your child not to smile if he finds himself being confronted by an aggressive dog. The goal is to be perceived by the dog as being a non-threat.
Regardless of how nonthreatening your child tries to appear, unfortunately, a dog may attack anyway. However, your child’s best chance of avoiding injury is to follow the tips listed and attempt to get the dog to lose interest in him. Once it does, tell your child to slowly back away until he has achieved enough of a distance to turn and walk away. After he has successfully removed himself from the situation, notify the local animal control center.