Dog Bite Prevention Week #7: So, what CAN we do to help?
All week long we've been discussing dog bite prevention, and how we can handle dogs who are behaving aggressively or biting. And yes, busting myths is critically important so that we are no longer misinformed about why our dogs are behaving a certain way, and how to change their behavior. But more important than anything else is coming up with concrete solutions moving forward to continue preventing dog bites. With some slight changes to our pet guardianship habits we can help to keep people and dogs safe.
So, where to start?
1) Learn dog body language (especially children!)
I cannot express this enough. Normal dogs have many, MANY signs that they offer before being pushed to a bite (I say normal because a dog who was not socialized properly or who was trained with heavily punitive techniques may have a deficit in this area). They may be as subtle as a head turn or a lip lick, or as noticeable as an air snap, but it's critical that we learn warning signs so that we never get to the point where a dog is actually biting. Additionally, teaching our children how to see the warning signs so that if they're interacting with dogs at neighbor's and friend's houses they might be able to pick up on these signs as well(even though we hope a responsible adult is always supervising!). A great new resource for this is a game created specifically to teach kids how to read dogs.
2) Eliminate the use of tie outs
An overwhelming number of dog bites happen when dogs are on a tie out and left unattended. Speaking from experience, seeing a dog throw himself at the end of a tie out as a pedestrian passes with no physical barrier to be seen is a very frightening experience. Dogs who are on a tie-out often feel that they are trapped; they go into fight or flight mode, and when the dog is stuck on a tie out their only option is fight, which can lead to a bite. If your dog is outside they should be behind a physical fence, or if you do use a tie out you need to be present and supervising at all times.
3) Supervise, supervise, supervise children and dogs (AND ensure safe interactions!)
Most dog bites happen to children. We know this. And yet I still see completely inappropriate interactions happening between children and dogs all the time. The first step in safety is supervising kids. Young children should never, ever be left alone with a dog. This is what baby gates, crates, and exercise pens are for. And just visual supervision isn't always enough (see graphic below). If young children (think toddlers who are still refining their fine motor skills) are interacting with the dog you need to be right next to them, guiding interactions and ensuring safety. Is it difficult to manage time and space this way? Yes. But is it worth it? Yes, for the safety of both your child and dog.
One more thing to note about this. When you see your child interacting with your dog, ask yourself if you are comfortable with your child acting that way with ANY dog she meets? Because that is what will probably happen. Maybe your child hugs the family dog and the dog is "fine" (p.s. usually the dog isn't enjoying the experience, merely tolerating it) but what if she does that to the neighbor's dog? Or your aunt's dog who is nervous around children? When your child is old enough, sit down with them and talk about how they should act around dogs, and help them understand how the dog might feel about their interactions.