Dogs don’t speak our language and it is very important that we learn how to look out for the signs they give us. Children often get bitten by the family dog ‘out of the blue’, but the dog has probably been giving signals for a while that he is not comfortable.
Most dogs feel vulnerable when their personal space is invaded by another dog or human. Signals indicating stress include yawning (when he is not tired), panting, not accepting treats, showing the whites of his eyes and urinating. You can summarise it all into two emotional states – tense or relaxed. Neutral, calm and friendly signals always go together with a floppy body, a tail that wags together with the hips, as well as soft eyes and ears.
- When choosing a puppy, do your research about the different breeds and consider size and energy levels that will not only match that of your child’s but also fit into your family’s lifestyle.
- A dog who is aggressive due topain or fear is frequently associated with biting toddlers between 18 and 36 months of age. These children could inadvertently hurt a pet by grabbing areas that can be painful. Keep in mind that even if the dog is on pain medication, he can still feel anxious around sensitive areas on his body.
Management and knowledgeable supervision, especially with toddlers, are critical. Remember that your dog needs to feel safe at all times. Create a safe space for him away from the kids – this can be done by installing baby gates or barriers that allow the dog to escape but limit the toddlers’ movements. Teach children to respect and stay away fromthe dog’s safe zones, which are places and spaces where the dog sleeps, rests and eats.
Teach children how to interact appropriately with dogs. Keep in mind that even if your dog appears to be fine with close encounters, your child might visit another dog who is not so comfortable with space-invasive interaction.
Children should never be allowed to approach a dog, but rather first ask the dog’s owner for permission to do so. Ideally, allow the dog to make the choice to approach the child or move away.
- When visiting unfamiliar places with your dog, especially when he is a puppy and where children might be, keep your dog on a leash. That way you will have some control over him.