Dog Bites Child, or Not: Don't let your kid be among the 386,000 bitten each year

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When I was a kid, I used to go up to every dog I’d see and put my hand out.

It wasn’t wise. I was a kid and I was lucky. Today, I’ve taught my own child to ask all pet owners first if it is okay to pet their dogs, since not all animals welcome the attention and can lash out.

Dog bites are preventable if parents and children follow a few basic rules.

Training should start as soon as you get a dog, and that training is for everyone in your family, not just for the dog. The first rule is to never leave your dog — no matter how well trained it is — alone with a small child. Some kids may roughhouse with a family dog, and the dog may not like it. In that case its only defense may be to bite.

“Dogs bite for a host of reasons,” said Sherry Woodard, an animal behavior consultant at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. “They may feel protective of you. They may be scared. Even a smell could trigger that reaction.”

A dog may be feeling ill, or the person could be sick, Woodward explained. "Dogs may smell a chemical imbalance in the people they bite. Or they may be reacting to rapid movements that frighten them."

Children need to understand how to behave around dogs. "We need to empower them with the knowledge they need to keep themselves safe," advised Joan Orr, founder of Doggone Safe, a nonprofit organization focused on dog bite prevention. "We teach children to stand still, like a tree. We tell them, 'Fold your branches (hands folded in front); watch your roots grow (look at your feet); and count to yourself over and over to the biggest number you know until help comes or the dog goes away.'"

Woodard of Best Friends suggests these pointers to prevent dog bites among children.

1: They should learn the proper ways to pet a dog. They should always ask permission first before starting to pet a dog.

2: They should never hug a dog. That type of confinement can be scary to a dog and it brings the child’s face close to the dog’s face, which can make the animal uncomfortable. They should also never tug on a dog's ears or pull its tail.

3: They should not run, jump or scream around an unfamiliar dog.

4: They should not stare at a dog. It makes the animal feel threatened.

5: They should never wake up a sleeping dog. The animal may get jittery and may bite.

6: They should be gentle around all dogs. Kids shouldn't climb on top of dogs or try to ride them.

7: They should never take toys or food out of a dog’s mouth or from its paws.

If you need to buy a muzzle for your dog, purchase a basket-shaped one, as it's more comfortable than other models. Basket-shaped muzzles allow dogs to receive treats, drink water, and pant. Since panting is a dog’s way of cooling down when overheated, a too-tight muzzle would prevent it and isn’t good for a dog.

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