When my son was seven, each child in the class was asked to draw an animal as part of a story. Being a child of my blood, he of course drew a dog. The little boy who sat next to him started crying.
“Not a DOOOOG!” he yelled. “I hate dogs! They always bite me! Every single one!” As I looked at him in horror, a couple of other kids nodded their agreement.
“More than one dog bit you?” I asked.
“Yes!” he insisted. “They all do!”
So there are two possibilities here: One, this is a little kid who just has terrible luck. After all, I’ve been working in the field every day with dogs longer than he’s been alive and I’ve never had a serious bite. The other more likely possibility, which his parents would probably protest mightily, is this: The kid was asking for it.
He may not have KNOWN he was asking for it, and in all likelihood if the child had been educated as to what he was doing he might have been able to avoid his traumatic events. And that is why Dog Bite Awareness Week, which happens every third week of May, is so important.
The statistics are sobering: 4.5 million dog bites a year in the United States, almost a million of which require medical attention. Children represent a disproportionate number of dog bites. Although the rare random dog mauling can happen and is a terrifying occurrence, by and large most dog bites occur with familiar dogs during everyday activities.
Why is all of this so important? Because most of those bites are preventable. Children do not know they are interacting in an unsafe and threatening manner, and dogs don’t know what to do when a child is ignoring all the warning signs they are trying to send out. That leaves it up to the adults to maintain control of the situation, which happens less often than I’d like.
One need look no further than Pinterest to see the evidence: hundreds of “cute dog and baby pictures” featuring a child sticking their head right next to a dog that is indicating all the hallmarks of a stressed animal:
- Pulling or looking away from child
- Crescent shape of the white of the eye indicating distress
- Ears pulled back
- Licking lips
- Tail low
Children don’t know any better. It’s up to parents and dog owners to teach them these warning signs and the basics of safe dog interaction:
- Always ask and receive permission from a dog owner before approaching a strange dog.
- Allow the dog to approach you; if they aren’t interested, do not force the interaction.
- Pet on the shoulder, not the head.
- Talk calmly, avoiding yelling or jumping around that makes a nervous dog more aroused.
- Never put your face near a strange dog’s face.
There are many more tips and tools for teaching kids (and adults!) to be safer around dogs, but those are the basics that anyone, whether or not they own a dog, should know. I’m willing to bet my son’s classmate was doing at least some of these on a regular basis to provoke multiple aggressions and never knew it.
Although many people who are bit say “It came out of nowhere! We never saw it coming!” video of dog bites often shows otherwise. Multiple instances available on YouTube of dogs biting reporters happen when both the handler and the news reporter ignore clear warning signs that the dog is upset.
Dog bites are dangerous, painful, and traumatic. They result in many otherwise wonderful pets going to shelters or getting euthanized.
This Dog Bite Prevention Week, make a vow to review some of the excellent resources out there and share with the people you know. We all play a role in keeping dogs and people safe!
For more information, check out:
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang
Image: vvital / Shutterstock