Ever caught yourself hugging your dog? Whispering secrets into its velvety non-judgemental ears? How about during training when you might be making it wait for its toy when it is desperate to play? Ever ask yourself how you know the dog is ok with you doing this? How can you tell? More importantly, is your child able to judge the same things as you are?
A BBC report has highlighted the continuing dangers involved when kids mix with pet dogs
Often, news reports on dog attacks give impressions of a slavering mange-ridden hound that has somehow mauled an unsuspecting child. We look over at our snoozing pet dog and we somehow ‘know’ they would never be like that. Nevertheless bite statistics indicate that children are bitten most often by their own family dogs compared to an unknown stray.
The BBC report states that research which examines how children “scan” a dog’s face shows that younger children focus on the mouth and teeth, and that under-fives are far more likely to “lean in” to have a closer look. A single bite, intended to make a child ‘go away’, can easily cause permanent scarring and does not necessarily mean that the dog has turned into a vicious animal! Nevertheless the child probably failed to read the signs.
So, what can we do right now to reduce the risks?
Dr Kerstin Meints, from Lincoln University, is helping to assess the bite prevention interactive DVD called “Blue Dog” which aims to teach children about how to play safely with dogs and when to leave it alone. The DVD gives the child a chance to decide whether or not to approach the dog or play with it in different scenarios. It is aimed at children even as young as 3 years old, to give them an insight into reading dog cues. The research, to be presented at the World Safety Conference in London, indicates that even two weeks later children still show that they have learned the rules presented on the DVD.
The Kennel Club have a free interactive site for their Safe and Sound scheme, which again aims to show children how they might learn to read the signs. My advice to you is to take that test and see how well you fare as an adult!
Dogs are, by and large, hugely tolerant creatures. Nevertheless if they are continuously under stress, it is not surprising that one day they will be pushed too far.
If you would like to take steps to really work on this with your own dog, don’t forget you can read more in our Kids Dogs Safety and Sense manual.
As a dog-owning community, it is within our power to spread the word and to smash the myth that ‘only bad dogs bite’.