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The Family Dog – Do you Understand The Risks In Your Home?

The Family Dog – Do you Understand The Risks In Your Home?

 The 3 Most Important Things to Teach Your Kids

 The 3 Most Important Things to Teach Your Kids

Why Do Dogs Bite?

Why Do Dogs Bite?

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The Family Dog – Do you Understand The Risks In Your Home?

The Family Dog – Do you Understand The Risks In Your Home?

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Teach Your Family to Speak Dog!

Teach Your Family to Speak Dog!

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Dog Bite Prevention

Dog Bite Prevention

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Be a Dog Detective

Be a Dog Detective

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 The 3 Most Important Things to Teach Your Kids

 The 3 Most Important Things to Teach Your Kids

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Why Do Dogs Bite?
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Why Do Dogs Bite?

There are several possible reasons why a dog may bite a child:

  • The dog is protecting a possession, food or water dish or puppies.

  • The dog is protecting a resting place.

  • The dog is protecting its owner or the owner’s property.

  • The child has done something to provoke or frighten the dog (e.g., hugging the dog, moving into the dog’s space, leaning or stepping over the dog, trying to take something from the dog).

  • The dog is old and grumpy and having a bad day and has no patience for the actions of a child.

  • The dog is injured or sick.

  • The child has hurt or startled it by stepping on it, poking it or pulling its fur, tail or ears.

  • The dog has not learned bite inhibition and bites hard by accident when the child offers food or a toy to the dog.

  • The child and dog are engaging in rough play and the dog gets overly excited.

  • The dog views the child as a prey item because the child is running and/or screaming near the dog or riding a bicycle or otherwise moving past the dog.
  • The dog is of a herding breed and nips while trying to “herd” the children.

How do they warn us?

There are always warning signs before a bite occurs, but these can be very subtle and may be missed by many people. A dog may appear to tolerate being repeatedly annoyed by a child and one day bites, surprising everyone. Sometimes the warning have gone on for months or even years before the dog finally loses its tolerance and bites. Signs that you should take very seriously that indicate that the dog is saying “I have been very patient with this child, but I am nearing the end of my patience”, include:

  • The dog gets up and moves away from the child.

  • The dog turns his head away from the child.

  • The dog looks at you with a pleading expression.

  • You can see the “whites” of the dog’s eyes in a half-moon shape 

  • The dog yawns while the child approaches or interacts with him.

  • The dog licks his chops while the child approaches or interacts with him.

  • The dog suddenly starts scratching, biting, or licking himself.

  • The dog does a big “wet dog shake” after the child stops touching him.

You may think that your dog loves to have the children climbing all over him and hugging him, but if you see any of these signs, you are being warned that a bite could occur if the dog feels he has no other way of defending himself. Do your dog and your child a favor and intervene if you notice any of these signs.

Do Dogs Bite “Out of the Blue”?

Read a great article by Madeline Gabriel that explains that dogs do not bite “out of the blue”. Sometimes friendly dogs have just been subjected to too many stressors, resulting in a bite.

 

The Family Dog – Do you Understand The Risks In Your Home?
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The Family Dog – Do you Understand The Risks In Your Home?

It’s Difficult Sometimes for Family Members

Sometimes it is difficult for children to understand that the family dog may not always welcome their attention.

It may seem hard to believe, but most bites to children are by the family dog or other dogs known to the child. Kids (and parents) assume that because the dog knows, likes or loves them, it won’t bite them. Dogs don’t think this way. A dog may snap or bite in annoyance because the child is bothering them at that moment, whether the dog loves the child or not.

Here is an example with which most kids can identify…

When you are home at night watching TV or reading a bedtime story you might like to sit on your Mom or Dad’s knee or have them whisper “I love you” in your ear. However, if you are out on the soccer field or at school with your friends or acting in the school play you might not want to sit on a parent’s lap or have them run out in the middle of the game or the play to whisper in your ear. It’s the same for dogs. If they are busy doing something, or interested in another dog or a squirrel, or they are tired they may not want to have attention from you that they might enjoy at other times.

A dog may indicate that it wants to be left alone by leaving the room, showing a half-moon eye (see below), yawning or licking its chops when the kids are bothering it for weeks, months or even years before finally getting to the point that it feels it has no choice but to bite. Parents often tell us that the dog bit without warning, but there is always a warning. Many people do not recognize the warning signs, even though the dog has been exhibiting these for weeks, months or even years.

We are not saying that all signs of anxiety we describe indicate an impending bite. We are saying that the dog will tell you if it is uncomfortable in a situation with a child (or with you).

As a parent and/or dog owner, it is up to you to educate yourself and your children so that you all know what the dog might be feeling. Dogs give us a lot of love and joy, and we know that you want your dog to be happy and to have a great relationship with the family. Learning about dog body language and emotion and developing empathy for dogs is a great way to help improve the relationship with your dog.

Download our questionnaire to see if there are any areas of concern that may need to be addressed. This will give you an idea of issues you can address to reduce the bite risk in your home.

Download our checklist to help you notice various dog body language signs in your own dog and in dogs on TV or out and about.

 

Teach Your Family to Speak Dog!
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Teach Your Family to Speak Dog!

Learn to Speak Dog and Teach Your Kids

 

Why You Need to Know About Dog Body Language

Dog behavior is complex and the signals that dogs send are often subtle. The following is not intended to be a treatise on dog behavior. It is intended to alert parents to situations that could compromise child safety around dogs. Parents seeing potential danger signs in their dog’s behavior are encouraged to err on the side of caution and implement dog bite prevention measures (increase supervision and use physical barriers when supervision is not possible) until it can be determined whether the dog is actually a danger to the children and if so, until the problem is resolved through consultation with the appropriate professional.

Many dog bites could be prevented if parents and children were aware of the subtle communication signs that dogs send when they are anxious. An anxious dog is much more likely to bite than is a happy dog. There is a big difference between a dog that is tolerating interactions with children and a dog that is actually enjoying these interactions.

One of the most common things we hear from adult bite victims and the parents of child victims is “I wish I’d known…”. We don’t want you ever to have to say that. We want you to know and we are going to tell you. So read on…

Many dogs are exceptionally tolerant of mishandling by both kids and adults. They show signs of anxiety, yet never get to the point of biting. Other dogs tolerate things they don’t enjoy for a period of time, or from certain people and not others, but at some point they have just had enough and they growl or snap. Most people are shocked when this happens. “He has never bitten anyone before” or “there was no warning”, they say. Dog behavior experts will tell you that there is always a warning, it is is just that most people do not know how to interpret dog body language.

Can You Spot the Danger Signs?

Before we go on, let’s take a little video quiz. This video shows a lovely poodle who is great with people, but not so keen on puppies. You will see it once at regular speed and once in slow motion. See if you can predict what happens…

Josie’s body stiffened and she raised her tail slightly more. Her tail was already raised long before she bit. The puppy did not see the warning. Did you? The kids that are with her, who are experienced dog handlers and well-schooled in dog body language, did not see the warning either. It all happened so fast. Let’s just pretend for a moment that the puppy was a child and you were the parent sitting right there. Do you think you would have noticed the warning signs? Do you think that you would have been able to stop the bite, even if you had seen the signs? Dogs can bite in 1/40th of a second. It would have been all over before you even had time to react even if you were right there.

It is doubtful that anyone would have been able to stop the bite in this situation. However, we already knew that Josie does not like puppies. She had at various times in the past, got up and left the vicinity of a puppy, shown various signs of anxiety (which we will discuss later on this page) around puppies, and growled at puppies who approached her or her belongings. She had done everything possible to say “I am uncomfortable around puppies” and yet we allowed the puppy to come close to her while she was getting treats. This pushed Josie past her limit of tolerance and she snapped at the puppy. This did not hurt the puppy (other than his feelings) because he has lots of fur and because Josie did not intend to hurt him – just to warn him away. Various strategies could have been used to prevent this situation, all of them based on noticing and acting on the warnings previously given by the poodle. We ignored all these and allowed a situation to occur that resulted in Josie feeling that she had no choice but to tell the puppy off. Since they are dogs it is not a big problem. Dogs are good at sorting these things out for themselves.

Just imagine that the puppy was a child though. Children do not have fur to protect them and this kind of “don’t bug me!” bite could have very serious consequences. This was not an attack or even an incidence of serious aggression. This was a nice family dog, pushed past her limit of tolerance in that moment. It is analogous to a parent losing her cool and shouting “stop that right now!” to a child that has been pestering her or a sibling incessantly. There are many people in the Doggone Safe Victim Support Group who have found themselves in this exact situation with a dog that no-one thought would ever bite. Even a single bite can cause terrible damage to a child’s tender skin resulting in many painful plastic surgeries and lasting emotional problems. The consequence for the dog is even more dire, since he will likely lose his life or end up in a shelter over such a moment of intolerance if the bite happens to land on the child’s face or other sensitive area. We offer this example in order to demonstrate why parents, kids and dog owners need to learn to speak dog and know when the dog is happy to interact and when he wants to be left alone.

Dog Bite Prevention
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Dog Bite Prevention

Below are some photographs of dogs that show clear indications of their message. 

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Be a Dog Detective
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Be a Dog Detective

Kids be a Detective!

Dogs give lots of clues about how they feel if we only know what to look for. You can have lots of fun being a dog detective and looking for clues about how a dog might be feeling.

Dogs have feelings and they can be happy, sad, worried, wanting to play or wanting to be left alone, just like you do. It is never a good idea to go up to a strange dog, so no matter how happy or friendly a strange dog seems, just ignore him and be a tree if he comes close or bothers you.

You probably have friends or family with dogs and maybe you even have a dog of your own. Even these dogs that you know well may not want to play or be petted sometimes. You can tell how the dog is feeling by his body language. If a dog is happy then he may want to meet you or interact with you, if he is not feeling happy, then he would rather be left alone.

Sometimes dogs want to be petted and sometimes they don’t. You might like to have a good night’s cuddle with a parent, but you certainly wouldn’t want your parent to run out onto the soccer field or the dance class in the middle of a practice and give you a big hug, would you? There is a time and a place for interacting with dogs as well. They don’t like to get hugs and kisses, but sometimes they want to sit and be petted or to play, and sometimes they don’t.


Here are some photos that show the same dog presenting 2 different emotions, with arrows pointing to the body part clues that show whether he is happy and relaxed or not. A happy dog with a soft expression and wagging tail with a wiggly rear end may want to interact with you. If he closes his mouth and looks serious as you approach, then he has changed his mind. It is better to leave him alone and let him come to you if he decides he wants to be near you. Remember, we are talking about dogs that you know. Be sure a parent is around to supervise and give permission to approach the dog. Ignore strange dogs even if they do seem friendly.

You may notice that sometimes the arrow points to a tight or loose leash rather than a body part. A tight leash tells you that the dog is not relaxed. Stay away from a dog on a tight leash!

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The most important clue is the mouth. If the dog’s features look soft and relaxed, then he is most likely feeling happy.   If he looks worried or interested in something and his mouth is closed or open but looks tight instead of soft, then he is not relaxed and happy, and he does not want you to touch or play with him right now.  A smiling dog is not always a happy dog.  A dog that looks like he is smiling could actually be feeling very frightened, and it is better to leave him alone.

 

 

 The 3 Most Important Things to Teach Your Kids
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 The 3 Most Important Things to Teach Your Kids

 The 3 Most Important Things to Teach Your Kids

  1. Dogs Don’t Like Hugs and Kisses – Teach your kids not to hug or kiss a dog on the face.  Hugging the family dog or face-to-face contact are common causes of facial bites.  Instead, teach kids to scratch the dog on the chest or the side of the neck.
  2. Be a Tree if a Strange Dog Approaches – Teach kids to stand still, like a tree. Trees are boring and the dog will eventually go away.  This works for strange dogs, and anytime the family dog gets too frisky or becomes aggressive.
  3. Never Tease a Dog – and never disturb a dog that’s sleeping, eating or protecting something. 

The 2 Most Important Things Parents Can Do

  1. Supervise – Don’t assume your dog is good with kids.  If a toddler must interact with your dog, you should have your hands on the dog too.  Even if your dog is great with kids and has never bitten – why take a chance?
  2. Train the dog – Take your dog to obedience classes where positive reinforcement is used.  Never pin, shake, choke, or hold the dog down or roll it over to teach it a lesson.  Dogs treated this way will likely turn their aggression on weaker family members.  Involve older children in training the family dog while supervising.  Don’t allow children to punish the dog.  Condition the dog to enjoy the presence and actions of children using positive experiences.

The 3 Most Important Things Dog Owners Can Do

  1. Spay or Neuter Your Dog – Neutered pets can be calmer, healthier, and less likely to be aggressive in some situations.  Neutering prevents unwanted dogs that may end up in shelters or in less than ideal conditions, where they may grow up to be poorly socialized or aggressive.
  2. Condition Your Dog for the World – Give your puppy lots of new positive experiences.  Train using positive methods, e.g., clicker training. 
  3. Supervise Your Dog – Supervise your dog at all times around children.  Do not allow children to hug and kiss any dog.  If visiting children are bothering your dog, put the dog away or send the children home.