When a dog bites a child, it’s always a tragedy. Often the family is completely blindsided. “He was always such a sweet dog, “ they might say. “He used to let Little Jimmy crawl all over him.” Usually things fair far worse for the dog who is either relinquished to an already crowded shelter or euthanized at the family’s wishes.
The good news is most dog bites are preventable if we understand what can drive a dog to bite. It’s important to teach children how to interact with a dog. Any dog will bite if it feels annoyed, bullied, scared, hurt, or in danger. Granted not all dog bites occur because someone provoked the dog, but bites from dogs who are provoked are the most preventable. Aggressive behavior in dogs is often fear, protection, territory, or possession motivated. Some things children do can trigger those territorial instincts in dogs. What are the things kids do that can cause a dog to bite? Well, they’re the same behaviors that annoy you.
Let me eat in peace!
Most people don’t like the idea of someone else’s grubby hands playing in their food. Dogs are the same way. They want to eat their meals in peace. Teach children to leave a dog and its food alone when it is eating.
Don’t touch my stuff!
We teach children that stealing toys from other children is rude. It’s also rude to steal toys from a dog. Some dogs can be as possessive of their toys as children. You can build up tolerance in your dog by training them to give up their toys for treats. That way they won’t feel so possessive, but in general children should be taught to leave a dog’s toys alone.
Get out of my face!
Young kids especially have a tendency to get in people’s faces. They have to be taught to maintain an appropriate social distance from other people. It’s the same with dogs. Putting your face in a dog’s face can be irritating and scary for a dog. Some dogs may even interpret it as a challenge. Teach children to keep their faces away from the dog’s face.
Let me sleep!
Most people don’t like being disturbed when they’re resting or sleeping, but most people can simply close the bedroom door to get some peace and quiet. Dogs need a safe place they feel comfortable like a crate or bed to rest as well. Children, especially excited children, should avoid busting in on a dog’s “private” space while he’s sleeping. If the child calls the dog from far away and the dog gets up to go to the child, that kind of interaction is fine. But if the dog chooses to be left alone, he should be.
People don’t like being handled roughly and neither do dogs. Teach children that hitting, poking, pinching, and pulling on ears and tails is unacceptable. It’s also rude to step on and invade someone else’s space. Teach children how to pet animals in the direction their fur goes and avoid touching sensitive areas.
You’re too loud!
Loud screaming, whining, and crying can definitely leave a human frazzled. Imagine what it does to a dog’s sensitive ears. If a noise startles a dog, it may try to protect itself from the scary sound.
You’re squeezing me!
We often forget that gestures of affection can be irritating to some people. Like people, some dogs simply have a lower tolerance to being hugged and kissed than other dogs. You can train dogs, especially as puppies, to enjoy cuddling and hugging, but children need to be taught that not all dogs enjoy affection.
Back off man!
Usually it’s younger children who need to be taught how to handle animals gently. Older children need to be taught not to taunt a dog. It’s not funny to throw things at a dog or to spook a dog in any way. If a dog feels threatened, it will try to protect itself.
People don’t like strange people walking in their yard. Neither do dogs. Dogs are possessive animals. It’s natural for a dog to be territorial of his things, his people, and his space. In fact, a dog who scares away strangers with a growl or bark can be attractive to pet owners looking for security. What children often don’t understand is that a dog can see them as strangers. Teach children to stay away from a strange dog or even a neighbor’s dog who is barking and/or growling.
Warning signs a dog may bite
If your dog becomes agitated, he or she will often display signs of distress. As your dog’s owner you need to know what you’re seeing. You also need to teach your children to watch out for these warning sign.
- Yawning, licking lips, or avoiding your eye. These are the first signs your dog gives that he is uncomfortable. While these behaviors do not necessarily mean a bite will happen, they are indicative that a dog is anxious and unsettled.
- Growling, Snapping, or Showing Teeth A low growl accompanied with bared teeth is a dog’s most direct way of warning those around them of a potential bite.
- Wagging Tail While a wagging tail is often a sign of happiness, it can also be a good indicator that a dog is feeling on edge. When a dog is happy they wag not only with their tail but their whole body. When a dog is about to bite their tails are raised high, slowly wagging while their body stays perfectly still.
- Rigid Body A rigid body is another telltale sign a bite may be coming. If a dog is on edge, every muscle in their body goes stiff.
- Fur Standing Up When a dog feels threatened, the fur on their back or neck may stand up.
- Seeing the Whites of their Eyes When a dog is content, the whites of their eyes will be completely hidden. When you can see the whites of a dog’s eye, it is a clear warning sign.
Want to learn more about how to prevent a dog bite? Check out our blog.