Kid-Safety Tips for a Happy Household
77% of all dog bites are children.
At first glance you might think there must be more dangerous dogs in the world than you thought. But, contrary to popular belief, it’s not “bad” dogs that are biting kids. The bites come from dogs we know and trust around our kids; it’s all too often that we hear “She/He’s never bitten anyone before.” While having a well trained dog can help, dog bites aren’t always due to a training issue.
It’s not just the dogs with behavioral issues or out of control puppies that bite, often bites happen when good dogs are put into bad situations. It's the family's shih-tzu while sharing snacks on the coach. It’s the neighbors’ golden retriever that always played fetch with the kids until the kids played keep-away instead. Or, from grandma’s new cockapoo meeting four toddlers at once.
These dogs aren’t just “snapping” out of the blue, they likely gave the kid and the adults plenty of warning signals that a bad situation was already occurring before they bit. We know that too often these situations are avoidable with education for the adults and kids. To help you safely navigate dogs and kids, Happy Dog’s Head Trainer, Piper, is sharing her advice to clients that want to create an environment that prioritizes kid-safety and keeps your dog happy.
The first step is to listen to your dog. With every move they make, our dogs are communicating their intentions and reactions to the world around them. This can be watching your dog roll around in his new bed, taking great care into getting into the best nap time position. Or, watching your dog stare and lean over their bowl as someone tries to take away their food. When a kid is interacting with your dog, watch for how your dog responds and know what body language signals stress. This skill can help you intervene before an interaction becomes an altercation.
You can observe changes in your dog’s posture which indicates when a situation has turned stressful; such as, turning away from the kid, running away, or their whole body going stiff. You may see your dog give a side eye or whale eyes, where the whites of the dog’s eyes are visible. Your dog may yawn, pant, or push their ears back; all of these are physical reactions your dog is having to a situation that is making them uncomfortable.
All too often adults mistake these behaviors or physical reactions as cute or playful as they watch their kid play with a dog. How could you not think your loving dog giving your toddler kisses was a photo worthy moment? Well, unfortunately this behavior is known as a “kiss to dismiss”, in doggie language it means “go away.” We need to listen when our good dogs tell us something is making them feel uncomfortable, stressed or frustrated.
Our dog’s body language and facial expressions show us a lot about how they feel in any interaction with kids. When you know what to look for you can help keep your kids and dog stay safe. Check out this infographic that shows different facial expressions that indicate your dog is stressed and needs your help managing the situation.
We want our clients to know that there are a few factors that increase the likelihood of a negative interaction between kid and dog including your dog’s stuff, personal space and lack of parental supervision.
When our dogs have an item they find valuable, like their food bowl, favorite bone or dog toy, they want to keep it. If another person or dog wants to take that item away, our dog will signal that they don’t want to give it up. This might look like leaning over their bowl, eating faster or offering some of the other stress signals we mentioned above. By teaching the simple rule of “don’t take your dog’s stuff” you can help your kids make the right choice to stay safe.
Hugs, being laid on, climbed on or constantly pestered are interactions that your dog finds uncomfortable. Your dog enjoys their personal space, and while they will use their body language to signal their discomfort it's best to learn to give your dog space. Whether your dog is in their crate, sleeping on their bed or hanging out in the yard, teach your kid to let sleeping dogs lie.
Kids have a hard time understanding dog’s body language and responding appropriately. Your dog needs you and other adults to step in if a situation is turning bad. We recommend only allowing kids and dogs to interact with adult supervision.
Staying nearby and teaching your kids these two rules about living with dogs is a great start to creating a safe environment. Piper also advises owners to use management tools to lessen the likelihood of stressful interaction and keep your dog happy. When you can, you should learn to avoid any situation that might put your child or dog at unnecessary risk. This means changing your routines, habits or household to encourage safe and positive interactions between your kids and dog.
For example, rather than endlessly reminding your child not to steal the dog's bone or constantly watching your dog steal your toddler’s toy you can create safe spaces where everyone can enjoy their playtime. We can use baby gates, separate rooms or a crate to section off “dog-space” and “kid-space”. This helps eliminate any chance of your kid and dog having an altercation over toys and food.
If you’re having trouble creating a safe environment for your kids and dog(s), please explore the free resources provided by Stop the 77. For more help, you can book a phone consultation here to learn more about how our trainers can help you have a happy household.