Dogs and Children – How to Prevent Dog Attacks

Health officials say dogs bite or attack more than 4.5 million people each year, killing an average of 20 people.

Young children are often the most vulnerable to these attacks.

~~ [Excerpt from CNN.com Health]

Why are children more vulnerable to dog attacks?

  1. Children are smaller. They move faster and more erratically compared to adults, and that may trigger a dog’s prey drive.
  2. Children frequently project excited or fearful energy when interacting with dogs. Excited energy may cause a dog to become overly-hyper, and accidentally hurt the child while trying to initiate play. Fearful energy may cause a dog to become fearful himself, and show aggression because of anxiety and fear.

Always have adult supervision when children and dogs are at play.

Sometimes, children may meet off-leash, stray, or free-roaming dogs in the neighborhood. Many of these dogs have probably escaped from their backyards, and are out on an exciting day of exploration.

However, this is dangerous for the dog, who may be hit by cars, step on broken bottles, or eat something poisonous (e.g. anti-freeze, oleander leaves). This is also dangerous for people, especially children, who may inadvertently trigger a dog attack.

As dog owners, it is our responsibility to ensure that our backyard is secure, and to keep our dogs safe and on-leash while out on a walk.

Provide enough physical and mental exercise for our dog every day, so that he does not feel the need to escape and find adventure on his own.

What Children Should Know About Greeting Dogs

Prevent Dog Attack Tip 1

Always ask the dog owner before greeting a dog.

If a child would like to meet an unknown dog, always ask the dog owner first. Some dogs may be fearful, or unsure of strangers. Others may be too excited, and unfamiliar with children.

Prevent Dog Attack Tip 2

Approach the dog from below the head.

It is natural for children to approach a dog from above, and pet him at the top of his head.

However, some dogs may see this as a threat. Imagine if a really large stranger came up to you, loomed over you, and started to extend his hand over your head. It would be natural to feel threatened, and get a bit fearful.

Because of fear, a dog may try to run away or respond with aggression, especially if he feels cornered.

Therefore, try to approach from below the dog’s head and scratch his chest, rather than pet the top of his head. Instruct a child not to initiate direct eye-contact with the dog, as that can also be seen as a threat.

Prevent Dog Attack Tip 3

Fold our arms and turn away when a dog jumps.

If a dog becomes too excited and starts jumping on us -

  • Stand up.
  • Fold our arms, so that the dog cannot get at our hands.
  • Withdraw our attention by turning away from the dog.

DO NOT move back or away from the dog, as that will encourage him to jump forward.

Prevent Dog Attack Tip 4

Stay calm and try not to be too excited or fearful.

Dogs are very sensitive to our energy. If a child gets excited, a dog can easily sense this, and will likely become excited as well. This can sometimes lead to aggression.

Fearful, frustrated, and angry energy, can bring similar responses.

When meeting a dog, try and get our child to stay calm. If the child starts to feel fearful or stressed, cut the greeting short and leave before an accident occurs.

What Children Should Know About Loose Dogs

Prevent Dog Attack Tip 5

Avoid free-roaming dogs.

Children should avoid loose dogs whenever possible.

Tell a child not to interact with loose dogs, play with them, or try to challenge them. Do not turn his back to the dog and run, as that may trigger the dog’s prey drive. Do not initiate direct eye-contact as that may be seen as a challenge.

Instead, ask the child to stay calm and walk slowly away from the dog, while keeping the dog in his periphery view. A sideways walk usually works best.

Prevent Dog Attack Tip 6

Use the environment.

When a child sees a loose dog, he should create as much space as possible between the dog and himself. Walk behind objects in the environment such as parked cars, and hedges, so that there is a visual barrier between him and the dog.

If our child feels at all threatened, tell him to ring the doorbells of nearby houses and seek temporary sanctuary, rather than risk the longer walk home.

Prevent Dog Attack Tip 7

Never use physical force.

In a physical competition, the dog will always win.

Dogs can run faster, they have much larger teeth, much greater jaw strength, and more powerful claws. In short, dogs have far superior physical kung-fu compared to us humans.

Children should never try to scare off a dog by throwing sticks or stones at him. This will only encourage the dog to engage them physically, either to play or to get them to back off.

Children should never try to beat an approaching dog with a stick or baseball bat, even if the dog is aggressive. Hitting will make the dog feel even more threatened, and cause him to escalate his aggression.

Instead of using physical force, instruct the child to be as boring as possible. Stay silent, and do not move if the dog decides to approach. Dogs will usually leave boring objects alone, because there are more interesting things to do elsewhere.

Prevent Dog Attack Tip 8

Be a ball.

If the dog becomes aggressive and starts to attack, it is safest for the child to curl into a ball, and protect his head and neck with his arms.

Socialize Our Children to Dogs

Fear is our enemy.

Children who are fearful of dogs frequently trigger a dog attack. Fearful energy makes a dog view a child as prey, or makes the dog fearful himself, resulting in fear aggression.

Prevent Dog Attack Tip 9

Socialize our children to dogs.

Children who have greeted and played with many dogs, tend to be more comfortable and less fearful of new dogs.

Start by introducing children to a variety of older dogs, who are calmer, and less likely to jump and bite. Once they are comfortable with that, we can move on to calm adult dogs, calm larger dogs, and so on.

Off-leash hiking parks can also be a good way to meet nice, balanced dogs. Park rules usually require owners to have good voice control over their dogs, before letting them go off-leash.

It is illegal and dangerous to let a dog off-leash if he does not respond consistently to our commands, and especially if he has any aggression issues.

Note that when I say off-leash hiking parks, I do not mean fenced or enclosed dog parks. Enclosed dog parks have a high density of dogs in a relatively small area. Many dogs are engaged in exuberant play, and may be in a highly excitable state. This is a dangerous environment for children.

Most enclosed dog parks do not allow young children to enter, because they may accidentally get hurt by the dogs during play. In fact, I have gotten “swept off my feet” several times in an enclosed dog park, when my dog came running toward me and his playmate accidentally slammed into my legs.

It is best not to bring children to enclosed dog parks.

Prevent Dog Attacks Tip 10

Get a family dog.

If we have both time and money, an effective way to socialize children to dogs is to get a family dog. Only get a dog with a balanced temperament, who will get along with everyone in the family, and whose energy level matches our family’s lifestyle.

Remember though, that even the most well-behaved dog is a big time and financial commitment.

All dogs need daily walks, play sessions with the family, and healthy food. All dogs need to be vaccinated every year, and they also need supplements like HeartGuard to protect them from dangerous dog parasites.

Prevent Dog Attacks Tip 11

Address our own fear of dogs.

When we are fearful of dogs, we pass that fear onto our children.

The first step in teaching our child not to be afraid of dogs, is to deal with our own phobia. One effective way to control my fear of dogs, was to take classes on how to train dogs, and how to deal with bad dog behaviors.

Once I had the tools to communicate with my dogs, and to counter their bad behaviors, I started to more fully enjoy their company. By doing joint training activity, we started building up trust and respect for each other. Once this happened, my fear went away.

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Comments

  1. mary says

    I just got a new dog Bella boxer mix from the pound she is 6
    months old been in a cage the hole time. She was scared of me for a min . That all changed she has anxiety disorder . I have no kids at home my grand kids come over to see me and she was like who are these little people never seen them . She did snap at the one. I had to put her in her cage till dinner was over. So did one on one with her and my grand son and she did well . She will shy a way every time we meet a kid. she’s even scared when a flock of birds fly about took my arm off to run lol

  2. Anonymous says

    Hi,
    I have a dog which has never seen or interacted with children before. A couple of years ago I went to the local sport sitting with my friends with my dog. He was on a tight lead but was able to sit down. He was facing a different direction to me, I felt a huge pull on the lead, turned around and there was a little girl which attempted to pat my dog. My dog had tried to lunge at her, but I pulled him away. Ever since that incident, he now shows very aggressive behaviour when we have children over at house. By barking, growling, fur sticking up, aggressively scratching at the window with lots of force. However, when we walk and walks past children in the street he has no reaction.
    Can you please help.
    Thanks

    • shibashake says

      With dog behavior, context is very important. In a situation involving children, I would get help from a good professional trainer. A trainer can observe our dog, read his body language, learn his temperament and routine, as well as come up with a safe plan for retraining.
      http://www.apdt.com/petowners/choose/

      With my dogs, I always have them on-leash and supervise very closely when there are children around. I do not let them meet fearful children, or overly excitable children. I protect them from negative encounters, and only let them meet calm people that they can greet successfully. The more positive encounters they have with people, the more comfortable they will be around people, and vice versa.
      http://shibashake.com/dog/my-dog-is-friendly

      I also do people desensitization exercises with them, on-leash and in a structured environment, to raise their reactivity threshold, and help them associate people with positive experiences.

      While I am doing retraining, I make sure to always keep my dog below his instinct threshold, so that he does not keep practicing his aggressive behavior. I put him on a leash before guests enter, and I use distance to weaken the “other people” stimulus. Then I slowly practice desensitization in calm, structured, and safe way – using a very secure leash and no-slip collar. Sometimes, people may also use a basket muzzle for added safety.

      When children are involved, it is best to do training under the direction and supervision of a good professional trainer.

  3. Nancy says

    Not all dog owners are as responsible as the people on this page. While walking on a busy street, minding our own buisness, a dog attempted to attack my child. If it were not for people coming to our aide I don’t know what would have happened. My problem now is that my child is absolutely terrified of dogs since the incident, her reaction is to run behind me when she sees a dog and this can sometimes encourage a dogs attention. Can anyone give me any advice? There is no way my daughter will go near the friendliest of dogs now even though I have told her dogs won’t even notice her if she “acts boring”. Can I ask you to bear in mind we live in an area where there are many unresponsible dog owners and being vigilant is of the upmost importance. It really pains me that my five year old has been too scared to skip or run ahead of me for the past two months.

  4. Amanda says

    My dog had developed a habit over the past month of growling at or biting (he’s never broken the skin) my six year old daughter. He is 5 and has lived with us since he was a puppy. He doesn’t do it with anyone other than her and the cat, however my husband is adamant that he has to go. I’m really at a loss as to what to go about his behaviour, the rest of the time he is gentle and well behaved?

    • shibashake says

      Hello Amanda,

      Did something change over the past month that triggered this behavior? Does he growl all of the time when she is near? Does he only growl when there are toys around? Does he only growl when they are playing?

      A sudden behavior change like that usually arises from some trigger – some change to the routine. The more we can understand what the cause is, the better we will be able to retrain and redirect the behavior.

      When there are kids around, I always have my dogs on-leash so that I have good control of them. I only allow greetings when everyone is calm. I also have very clear people-interaction rules that I teach to my dogs, for example no jumping and no mouthing.

      If my dog gets overly excited, and starts to jump, I no-mark the behavior and bring him away. Distance helps to weaken the strength of the stimulus and helps to calm him down. Once he is calm, we can try again. Here is a bit more on people desensitization exercises.

      When it comes to aggression issues though, it is best to get help from a professional trainer. Dog behavior is highly contextual and it helps when a trainer can read the dog’s body language, evaluate his temperament, identify what is triggering the behavior, and come up with a safe plan for retraining the behavior.

  5. eddiesmom says

    awesome advice i always feel like the dog does get the most of the blame even if its not entirely their fault. it reminds me of a story on the news last year lol i always have a story. they said a one year old was viciously attacked by the family pet siberian husky who was 6months old (now remember viciously attacked) the dog jumped on the child, child fell backwards and hit his head on the end table and split it open. the animal control removed the dog and had it evaluated. hhmmmmm maybe your with me on this and maybe your not but husky pups are full of energy the child was prob playing with a toy and the pup wanted the toy too and jumped and thats when the baby fell. now viciously attacked i think not, no bites at all by the way. it really irked me where the hell were the parents they both needed to be supervised especially a baby and a puppy what do you think ms shibashake?

  6. says

    I agree with those. Look at this way, if you don’t know the dog well then better to stay away from him. There are just incidents wherein some dogs become very aggressive at some point while others are naturally irritable to those they do not know. I’m glad that you made a post like this because it’s indeed helpful. Thanks!

  7. shibashake says

    Ok, I’m definitely coming over and letting my dogs hunt you down! My Siberian is quite good at knocking people over and then lick-bombing their faces.

    Actually I could just spray you with watermelon juice and let your dog pack do the rest :D

  8. shibashake says

    Hi Whitney, You bring up some really good points that I will have to add to the article. I think the “be a tree” advice is right on, although it can be difficult for some children to follow :) Also very good advice with hand sniffing. I usually hold the child’s hand in mine to offer added reassurance to the child and to make sure that the child does not panic and make quick hand movements in front of the dog.

    It is very unfortunate that dogs always get the blame in an attack; and often end up paying with their lives. I personally feel that the adult owners of the dog, frequently deserve most of the blame. As was described by Leah Kay, the Pup, when the situation became too difficult, they just moved on to protect their dog from surrounding unpleasantness. True, it can be annoying to have to leave a shared public space, but our laws do little to protect our dogs, so it falls upon the owners to take up the bulk of that responsibility. There really should be better protection laws for dogs and animals though. At the very least there should be more controls at the breeder and sale level.

  9. Whitney05 says

    Children, especially younger children, are also very susceptible to being bitten and attacked because they look, smell, and sound different than adults and even older children.

    Children should be a tree until they know that the dog is friendly; they should ask for permission from the owner to pet the dog, and should let the dog sniff their hand before petting.

    Young children should always be supervised with dogs- even their own.

    I hate how dogs are always blamed for biting a child, when it’s typically the child’s fault. I hate to lay blame, but in many cases it is. Dogs can only take so much rough housing- ear and tail pulling.

  10. shibashake says

    Linda, very good story. Sometimes, I have a difficult time reading Sephy, and his body language changes so quickly, when he is excited that it is difficult to catch it. I think dogs always tell us their intent, but sometimes we just miss it or fail to understand it. Sometimes, things happen so quickly, we are not fast enough to stop it even though we may see it coming.

    This is another reason why I no longer bring Sephy to enclosed dog parks. Some people bring little kids there, and do very little supervision over their dogs or kids. Best not to tempt fate :)

  11. shibashake says

    [Jared] I’m right there with you. My previous neighbor has two girls (5 and 12). They always wanted to meet Sephy so I would only do very short greetings. Sephy responded much better to the older girl. She did not make any fast movements, was very calm, and stopped giving attention to Sephy as soon as he started acting out. Sephy got too excited with the younger girl. I would not trust Sephy off-leash with any kids. Shania is actually worse because she really likes licking people’s faces so she very easily knocks people over in her love-fest. I think it is more difficult to train Shibas to be safe with kids because they are more primal and have stronger prey drives. Sephy’s first reaction is to use his mouth, and he has to actively rein himself back. Also I think older dogs generally have better control, are calmer, and do better with kids.

  12. says

    Oh speaking of dogs and children, I always wondered why some dogs dislike children so much. One of my friends have two shibas at home. A while ago, one of the shibas was playing with a five-year-old girl. Everything was fine until suddenly, her shiba bit the girl’s nose! The girl had to go the emergency room! My friend told me that they’ve been supervising the dog and the child the whole time, but the attack just came out of nowhere. I do know that she never trained her shibas, but again, you never when something will trigger an event like this. We definitely need to be careful!

  13. Jared says

    My wife and I both agree that we wouldn’t trust our Shiba with a child without strict supervision. It seems unfathomable to me that a Shiba could ever be trusted with a young child. I don’t think Mossi would ever intentionally harm a child, but his rough sort of play (mouthing and scratching) would certainly scare and harm a child. But, it may be a matter of socialization, and to that point, Mossi has never really met a baby. For adults, Mossi is all bark and no bite. When he attacks his biggest enemy — the vacuum cleaner — he doesn’t show much aggression. I would be interested to see if anyone has a positive Shiba/Child story and how the achieved harmony in that way.

  14. shibashake says

    [Tom] Thanks for dropping by. I have been having a lot of fun reading your articles. You are like the “Panda” of word kung-fu :)

    [Leah Kay, The Pup] I know what you are saying. I used to bring my dogs to dog parks but sometimes there would be these kids there that would tease the dogs. They would make barky noises at the dogs, and then run away. It was an accident waiting to happen. When I tried talking to the parents, I got scolded by a very large, threatening man :) I have since learnt that, it is easier, safer, and less stressful to be somewhere else. Many people don’t even like hearing “things” about their kids from friends and relatives, so it is best to just steer clear.     

  15. Leah Kay, The Pup says

    Great Article! We just left a campground that we had Leah staked out in her own area and we started to have kids running through our site. Leah is not around children, and she isn’t the most pleasant little girl when it comes to children. So we try to explain to the kids not to run through our campsite for it was upsetting her. They wouldn’t listen, so the next step was to talk to the parents and then we finally had to tell them that if Leah does bite one of their kids, while in her yard and on a leash, we would not be responsible if they do get bit. Situation got a little better. We didn’t let Leah outside unless we were there with her.

    Being full time RV’ers, it was just easier for us to pack up and move on, for fear of something happening.

    Just one question (in general), What ever happen to the word “RESPECT”? It seems that in today’s society, kids are not taught respect for other peoples property….(and I don’t mean all kid’s either…)

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