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Health Stories

All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Bitten

Now that the nice weather has arrived, we’re all out a little more. Kids are outside playing, either at home or at the playground, and encountering four-legged friends once again. One of the injuries that becomes more common when the nice weather arrives are dog bite injuries. Surprisingly, they are quite common although most are not serious and will rarely result in a visit to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). The potential for a serious injury, however, certainly exists. Children are much more likely to be bitten, and their injuries can be more severe. With this in mind, here is something to think about as you head out to enjoy the outdoors with your children this spring.

Why are children bitten more often than adults?

Children are drawn to animals, it seems, but don’t always know how to behave around dogs. They can’t always understand that not all dogs want to be petted by a stranger, and don’t recognize risky situations or the warning signals dogs give when they are anxious or about to bite.
Dogs may also have less ‘respect’ for children than they have for adults, seeing children more as playmates of equal status.

Why are children at greater risk for serious injury?

Due to children’s size (or perhaps the way they are interacting with the dog), they are more likely to be bitten on the face or head. A large dog is also a lot stronger and heavier than a small child, so the child could be easily knocked over by the dog.

How can dog bites be prevented?

Adults must recognize that any dog can bite — even the trusted family pet. For this reason, a responsible adult should supervise all interactions between children and dogs. Teach children how to behave around dogs, and to avoid risky situations with dogs.

Children should never:

  • Approach dogs that do not belong to them, dogs that are tied up or in a car;

  • Stare at a dog, or put their face up to a dog’s face;

  • Try to pet a dog through a fence or crate;

  • Climb over a fence into a dog’s yard, even if the dog is usually friendly;

  • Never try to break up a dog fight, or interact with dogs who are play fighting.

Children should always:

  • Let a dog sniff their closed hand before petting the dog. Keep hands low, below the dog’s chin.

  • Touch dogs gently — they usually prefer soft stroking or scratching under the chin, behind the ears or back of the neck. They don’t like to be patted on the head.

  • Stay away from dogs when they are eating, drinking or chewing on something.

  • Leave dogs in peace when they are sleeping, resting, injured or with puppies. People don’t like to be touched or hugged all the time, and neither do dogs.

If you are a dog owner, make sure your dog is getting the care and attention she needs like:

  • Lots of exercise and positive training;

  • Water available at all times;

  • Healthy food in their own bowl (don’t leave food out all day);

  • Their own special place to sleep or rest.

Avoid leaving your dog alone in the yard for long periods of time, and don’t tie your dog up outside. Keeping your dog off furniture and not allowing her to jump on people will help her to get the message that she is lower in status than all the humans in the house.

With your own dog, watch for signs that the dog is feeling stressed and may bite. When stressed, a dog may:

  • Get up and move away from you or your child;

  • Turn away from you or your child; Look at you with a pleading expression (if your child is bothering her);

  • Yawn or lick her lips when you or child approach, or when you are interacting with her;

  • Suddenly start licking or scratching herself.

To prevent dog bites, we must let go of the illusion that dogs are furry little humans. Dogs are a different species entirely. They think, feel and react like dogs, not like people. They don’t speak our language, and can’t always tell what our intentions are. They are not all the same, however. Some are very sociable, while others are not. We must respect the ‘doggishness’ of dogs. By understanding how they communicate and see the world, we’ll be able to raise well-behaved dogs and prevent situations where dogs feel stressed or threatened.

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