In order to prevent problems, children must be taught how to respectfully handle and care for a dog. Under the guidance of a vigilant parent, both the child and dog can learn how to play constructively with one another and avoid the risk of their playful efforts escalating into aggression.
First and foremost the dog should undergo sufficient training to establish the basic social boundaries: no jump, no grab, no chase, no bolt and no pull. Once these boundaries are set the child can easily interact with the dog on a positive level and reinforce cooperative behavior with affection, food, and toys. The child should participate in the training process and practice with the dog on a daily basis.
In addition to training, the child should be taught to avoid engaging the dog in improper and provocative play like rough housing, chase and evade jousts, and inappropriate tug of war games.
Children constantly teasing, screaming, and running wildly through the house are bound to unnerve even the most calm and docile dog. Such behavior on the child’s part increases the dog’s irritability while simultaneously lowering his threshold for aggression.
The child should be instructed to leave the sleeping and eating dog alone and not to tease him with toys or disturb him when he is in possession of one. On the positive side, the child should be taught alternative games like ball play and hide and seek. In addition, the child should be explicitly taught how to gently touch and pet the dog in a calming and reassuring manner.
Profiles of a high and low risk dog for aggression towards a child:
High Risk Profile: A 2 year old male (intact) dog with minimal previous contact with children. When exposed to children the dog exhibits signs of increased irritability and nervousness. The dog has not received significant training, bolts out of control if given a chance, guards (growls and snaps) over food and toys, threatens guests (must be leashed for their protection), and has a history of chasing and killing small animals.
Low Risk Profile: A 1.5 year old female (spayed) with a gentle disposition towards children with whom she has had steady contact. The dog has received 20 weeks of positive obedience (including early puppy) training. She is playful and affectionate towards people and other dogs, enjoys ball play and brings it back, exhibits an enthusiastic greeting towards everyone (animals and humans alike), coming to the door or met on walks. Never guards food or toys.
Obviously, most family dogs fall somewhere between the two extreme profiles, with a few exceptional dogs situated above and below them.
Significant risk factors associated with aggression towards children, include:
- The absence of significant training, especially in highly active, dominant and independent dogs who resist efforts to control them.
- Little or no significant socialization with children, with evidence of fear or past aggression towards children.
- Possession-related aggression over food, toys, and places.
- Dogs that are overly sensitive to touch or exhibit obvious signs of fear when approached with outstretched hands.
- Fearful dogs that are slow to adapt to new situations, especially when avoidance towards non-threatening contact with children.
- Dogs that exhibit a history of predation on small animals, especially in cases where they have actually killed in the past.
- Dogs with a history of dominance-related aggression, especially in cases where the dog exhibits aggression disturbed from sleep.
- Dogs kept outdoors or chained most of the time.
- Dogs who react to frustrative experiences with aggression.
Animal Behavior Tips
Protecting Dogs from Children & Children from Dogs
A friendly neighborhood dog, having never been observed exhibiting any signsof aggression towards children or adults, is tied in front of his house. One afternoon, the dog is teased, taunted and called by two young girls across the street. Thinking they want to play, the dog breaks free from the tie-out and bounces across the street to be near them. The girls become fearful and slap the dog in the face. In all the commotion, one girl sustains a scratch on her arm from the dog’s teeth that requires a few stitches. As a consequence, the dog and owner are ordered to appear in court, and arepetitioned by most of their neighbors to get rid of the dog. A warning was given by the court because this was a first-time offense, but if it happened again, the dog would be destroyed. The owner decided to place the dog with a relative until she could move.
The story above is commonly heard at the SPCA. When a seemingly unassuming, sociable dog suddenly has an aggressive outburst, especially when a child is involved, the finger of blame is often pointed at the dog with no real understanding of why the dog reacted the way he did. It is easier to assume he has an aggressive nature than acknowledge that he might have been provoked, causing an instinctive reaction. By learning how to keep an incident like this from occurring, you can keep everyone involved, including the dog, safe from harm.
Owning a dog is a reciprocal relationship; both the owner and the dog have to understand the boundaries they face when it comes to the prevention of attacks. Teaching the dog to control his behavior is imperative, but teaching others how to act around your dog is just as important. The greatest single cause of a dog biting is not poor temperament, but mistreatment by misinformed owners. No dog is immune to biting. Recognizing the dangers and taking action to correct them before a bite occurs is the key to this preventable problem.
Children need to learn how to interact with dogs that they don’t know. Being taught to avoid engaging dogs in improper and provocative play like roughhousing, chase and evade jousts, and inappropriate tug-of-war games will keep the dog’s irritability down. Children teasing, screaming and running wildly through the house are bound to unnerve even the most calm and docile dog, lowering his threshold for aggression. Instead, children should be instructed to leave the sleeping and eating dog alone. They should be taught games like ball play, hide and seek, and how to gently touch and pet the dog in a calming and reassuring manner.
Dogs must be taught as well. They should undergo sufficient training to establish the basic social boundaries: no jumping, grabbing, chasing, bolting, or pulling. Once these boundaries are set, the child can easily interact with the dog on a positive level and reinforce cooperative behavior with affection, food and toys. Keeping the kids involved in the training process and practicing these techniques with the dog on a daily basis is a great way to acclimate your dog to the children. It is a mutual learning process that takes place over time, but the rewards far outweigh the effort needed to properly train a dog.
Most adults, let alone children, aren’t well versed in canine body language either. By recognizing the body posture and stance of a dog, you can make a reliable determination of how the dog is feeling and what his next move might be. Relaxed dogs wag their tails fast, holding them straight out or a little low, and keep their ears relaxed. Frightened dogs have their tails tucked between their legs, ears down, hackles up, and they shake their bodies while backing up. Angry dogs growl, bark, bare their teeth, have their tail sticking up moving slowly back and forth, ears up and forward, and they stare at the people near them. When encountered by an angry or frightened dog:
- Stand still with your back very straight, hands at your side, keeping your feet together.
- Avoid looking at the dog.
- If the dog manages to knock you down, be a “rock” and curl up tight with knees at your chest, fists over each ear, elbows in, and be very quiet.
Treating children and dogs alike with the love and respect they deserve, while properly training both on how to safely interact with one another, is the best way to prevent an attack, giving you the reassurance needed to feel comfortable when your child is alone with a dog.