How would you feel if a stranger greeted you by quickly running right up to your face? Or by hugging you? Or even kissing you? You would most likely want to get away from that stranger as quickly as possible. I know my body would tense up before contact was even made. I would look frantically for an escape route. I would try to defend myself. As humans, this would be a socially unacceptable way to greet a stranger. This is also socially unacceptable with dogs.
Currently there are over 70 million dogs living in the US, and an estimated 4.5 million people will be bitten by a dog this year. Children ages 14 and under are most likely to be bitten by any other age group, and well over half are 4 or younger. Senior citizens are the second most likely to be bitten by dogs.
So why are children more likely to be bitten by dogs? At a very young age, children can be taught that dogs are cute, cuddly, and always want to be their friends. Stories, books, and TV programs can teach children that all dogs are friendly. They may have a dog at home, and they may think that all dogs are going to be open to hugs and kisses. Unfortunately some kids find out the hard way that's not going to be the case.
Dogs will not usually bite without a reason or warning. The key to prevent bites is to learn canine body language. Dogs aren't able to use their words to tell a child to back off, or that they're making them feel uncomfortable. Dogs use their body in lots of different ways to communicate to those around them how they're feeling or what they're thinking. Dogs often will show nervous behavior before a growl is heard. Signs that a dog may be nervous are:
- Avoidance - Dog is not trying to interact with new people or actively trying to get away from them.
- Panting - Dogs will pant to cool down when they're warm, but they also pant when they're nervous.
- Licking lips - Dogs lick their lips when food is present, but if they're doing it when no food is around, it's a sign of nervousness.
- "Whale eyes" - When a dog has what's called "whale eyes," the dog's eyes are wide and fixated on something or someone, but the head is tilted away, thus showing the whites of their eyes.
- Pacing - Just like when we get nervous or have anxiety, dogs will pace.
- Yawning - Dogs will yawn when they're sleepy, but they also yawn if they're nervous or anxious.
If a dog is displaying any of these behaviors, especially around a child, the best solution is to leave the dog alone. Forcing the dog to interact with you or a child dramatically increases the risk of being bitten and causes unnecessary stress to the dog.
One of the biggest problems with dog bite scenarios is the having the assumption that a dog won't bite. Any dog (yes, any), no matter what their breed, size, age, or temperament may be has the potential to bite. Keeping the dog free of stressful situations, socialization, and recognizing what their body language is telling us is the best way to prevent dog bites from happening. Educating our children is incredibly important since they are the age group who is most likely to be bitten. There are tons of great resources out there to educate ourselves and age-appropriate conversation tips to have with our children as well.
To learn more about dog bite prevention and how to safely and respectfully approach dogs, click on the picture below to see our infographic!