Any dog can and might bite a baby or child. Even friendly dogs might bite.
Dog bites on children often happen in or around the home. Usually, it is the family dog or a friend’s dog that bites. The most dangerous times are when a child is playing alone with a dog or when a child is trying to play with a dog that is eating or sleeping.
You can reduce the risk of dog bites and other injuries by closely supervising children and dogs when they are together and especially during play. Close supervision means staying within arm’s reach and being ready to step in straight away if you need to. Close supervision also means staying alert and avoiding distractions like phones or loud noises.
You can take the following steps to prevent dog bites:
- Teach your child to be gentle when playing with dogs.
- Separate your dog and your child when you cannot supervise properly, during noisy or energetic play, when food is present, or when the dog is sleeping.
- Set up a dedicated dog-free zone for your child and a child-free zone for your dog.
- Ask friends and relatives to supervise or separate your child and their dogs.
- Train your dog to obey commands like sit, stay, drop, and come.
- Teach your child not to run past dogs or try to outrun a dog.
- Reward both your child and your dog when they behave the way you want.
When to keep dogs and children apart
There are times when you should never let your child be around your dog or other dogs. These times include the following:
- The dog is sleeping: make sure your dog’s sleeping area is in a quiet place away from activity areas, where it can sleep without being disturbed.
- The dog is eating or chewing a treat: separate your dog and your child at these times and at family mealtimes or snack times. Only you or another adult should feed your dog. Do not let your child play with or near your dog’s food or water bowl.
- Your child does not know the dog: your child should not go up to the dog, even if it looks familiar or friendly.
- The dog is tied: a tied-up dog cannot run away if it is uncomfortable or scared. It might get upset instead and lash out at your child.
- The dog is sick or injured: pain or discomfort might cause the dog to be less easygoing than usual.
- The dog is with its puppies: if your child approaches the dog, it might get aggressive.
- The dog has taken a toy or some food away from your child: teach your child to call you rather than trying to get the toy or food back.
You can show your child how to pat a dog safely using the following steps. You might need to show your child how to do this several times:
- Make sure your child knows to always ask you about patting a dog, even if your child knows the dog.
- Teach your child to avoid direct eye contact with dogs when approaching them.
- Walk towards the dog and its owner so they can see you coming. Stop three big steps away from the dog.
- Always ask for the owner’s permission for your child to pat the dog and wait for the owner to say yes.
- Move calmly towards the dog, but do not move straight towards the dog – curve around towards the dog.
- Let the dog smell the back of your child’s hand – curl your child’s hand into a fist so the thumb is tucked inside the fingers.
- Let your child stroke the dog gently down its back from its collar towards its tail, but avoiding the dog’s head and tail.
Your child should never try to kiss a dog or hug a dog around its neck. This brings your child’s face close to the dog’s mouth. Your child also should not pat a dog on the head – many dogs find this behaviour threatening.
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