Happy New Year! My husband would like to give our kids a new puppy, but I have some concerns. I was bitten by the family dog when I was young. I’ve been a little afraid of dogs ever since, and although I have discussed the idea with my therapist and husband and we all agree it would be a great addition to our lives, I just can’t shake the image of one of my kids being bitten like I was. What can I do to prevent history from repeating itself?
Growing up with a dog by your side can be a wonderful experience. It is unfortunate that you were bitten as a child but know that you are not alone. The Center for Disease Control estimates that approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States and of these, 885,000 require medical attention. Conservative annual estimates of the total cost of these injuries range from $235 to $250 million. Not surprisingly, dog bites and other dog-related injuries account for more than one-third of all homeowners liability claim dollars paid out in 2021, according to the Insurance Information Institute, with an average amount of $17,989.
In a study, “Analysis of Pediatric Facial Dog Bites,” conducted by the University of Colorado, Denver, it was found that children are so often the victim largely due to their lack of fear and understanding of the dog. They are more likely to startle the dog, be too rough while playing or petting, or interrupt the dog while eating or sleeping.
In fact, when circumstances surrounding the dog bite were reliably documented, over half of the incidents were deemed “provoked,” as in the child had been playing with, teasing or feeding the dog at the time of the injury. The study concluded that almost 90% of the dogs were known to the children, either as the family pet (51.2%) or through a neighbor (14.7%), friend (12.7%), or relative (9.5%).
I know these statistics are scary, but don’t let them dictate your choice of being a dog owner. Instead, be aware, and be proactive. As professional dog trainers, my husband and I actively work to protect children from being injured by their beloved family pet. Know this; when we can educate and advocate for a relationship based on mutual trust, respect and understanding between the dog and the child, we have had significantly less incidents of bites.
Education and avocation begins with the family, ideally prior to the arrival of the dog. Making certain that your children understand the importance of gentle touch, slow hands and respectful interactions with all dogs that they encounter will aid in keeping them safe. I begin by discussing the difference between our new family pet, and my child. I cover physical differences (eyesight, sense of smell and taste, four legs versus two and the rapid maturation of the dog’s body and mind) and the similarities (neither humans nor dogs like to be startled, scared, teased or handled roughly). I also discuss mental differences (how dogs learn through tactile experiences and how they will be behaving in a natural way according to their psychology) and how we might react (with human emotions such as sympathy, frustration or anger). We cover the importance of gentle touch and slow movements and how dogs might misinterpret sudden movements or sounds. Knowing when a dog is uncomfortable, noticing the body language of fear or overexcitation, and being able to react appropriately will cultivate a more meaningful relationship. I especially focus on how special the role is that the child might play in the dog’s life. Being an elder sibling to a new dog is a wonderful and responsible role.
I encourage families to involve their children in all aspects of the new dog’s life and care, from feeding to grooming to training and exercise. I have found that with guidance, young children can give treats to reward desired behavior, be accomplices to enrichment activities and socialization adventures and administer care such as brushing the dog’s coat. Even if they can’t hold the leash, I always advocate for every single family member to attend obedience classes with their dog. It not only lets me answer any questions and provide guidance on obedience topics, but also gives me the opportunity to observe the dog with the child and provide professional, experienced feedback on their relationship.
Don’t let the past or statistics dictate your choice, but instead educate your children about their new dog and advocate for both human and canine so that a relationship is forged based on safety, trust and kindness.
Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For information go to customk9servicedogs.com or email email@example.com.