There seems to consistently be stories in the media about children and babies getting bitten by dogs, sometimes fatally. And cats can also hurt kids. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that half of all kids under 12 will suffer from a dog bite (with the severest injuries occurring in 5 to 9 year olds) and that most of them are from dogs that the child is associated with, such as their family dog or neighbors dog.
This means that dogs are not arbitrarily running up to kids and biting or attacking them. There is an interaction taking place, and it is usually one where the dog is being hurt by the child or approached while it is eating. This is why children and pets should always be supervised and continually trained and taught how to interact with animals. Dogs are less likely to attack a child in the presence of their owner. This is due to feeling more secure when their owner is around them, so fear does not create an impulsive reaction. It is a learning process, and just speaking to your child once about it is not nearly enough. It takes years of reinforcement and supervision. However, this is not at all to suggest that dogs are dangerous. They are in fact less dangerous than common household items, and vastly less dangerous than swimming pools, balloons, cars, guns, ladders, and matches, according to Janis Bradley, author of “Dogs Bite: But Balloons and Slippers Are More Dangerous.”
Here are some things you can do immediately upon bringing your new child home for the first time, to your pet, and throughout her life until you are confident that she fully understands the dangers of interacting incorrectly with a dog or cat:
When you arrive home from the hospital or elsewhere with your baby, have anyone else that is with you go into the house first and give your dog time to greet them in the usual way. Then have someone leash your dog and grab some tasty treats. Walk into your house with your baby calmly and as if nothing has changed. Use your special dog cooing voice and say the same things you always say to your pup. Have your helper give her treats and ask her for basic commands like sit and down, so her attention is divided. Sit calmly with your baby and let your dog approach as long as her body language is calm and happy. Let her have small sniffs, and have your helper call her back and give her a treat. Practice this a few times a day. Make sure to always support and reward your dog with treats and attention when she is around the baby. You are supporting and rewarding her calm behavior. When the baby is sleeping or not around, don’t lavish your dog with attention. Actually, let her think it’s boring when the baby is not around!!
As Your Child Grows
As your baby begins to crawl, totter, and walk, never take your eyes off of them if they are near the dog. You must be an advocate for both your baby and your dog. They both depend on you to watch them acutely and make sure they are being respected.
Teach your dog a “go to bed” command so that you can help them “escape” when you see that tot tottering over to her. If you want to put your full attention on the interaction when your child is tottering over to the dog, hold your child’s hand so he cannot grab and pull, and tell him “Pet the doggy softly on her back” and show him how.
No Touching Times: Children should never be able to approach a dog who is sleeping, eating, chewing on a bone or toy, or caring for her puppies. Whenever these things occur, take the opportunity to tell your child that he cannot touch Doggy during these times. This is where baby gates come in very handy. Have your dog’s bed and food bowl in a place that Toddler can’t get to.
Tell your child as you are out and about that if they want to pet a dog they need to ask the dog’s Mommy or Daddy. If they are given permission, they must hold their hand out flat and let the dog come towards them and sniff their hand. Never let your child pet a dog by putting their hand over their head. Always under, like a horse. They are never to pet a dog without asking permission first. Dogs have teeth that can do damage, and your child’s face is often right at the same level. I have stopped several kids that have wandered up to my dog or client’s dog without a parent watching and proceeded to try to pet or interact with the dog.
Tell your child not to stare into a dog’s eyes.
Tell your child not to scream or run when a dog approaches them.
Tell your child they may only pet a dog on its back and never touch their tail, beard, feet, or ears. Eventually, when they are older and more aware of how to touch dogs, you can teach them how to gently touch these areas.
The general takeaway is:
Always keep a very close eye on your child and dog whenever they are near each other. Teach your child the “No Touching Times” and how to correctly touch when they have permission.