It’s National Bite Prevention Week and that makes me reflect on why I wrote Please Don’t Bite the Baby, and Please Don’t Chase the Dogs.
I wrote Please Don’t Bite the Baby in the hopes that if every parent with kids and dogs read it, we would see a reduction in the annual 4.5 million dog bites in this country—about half of them to kids and almost 800,000 of them requiring medical attention.
- Too often, the response from doctors, family, friends and even trainers is to advise the family to get rid of a biting dog.
- Too many dogs who have made a bad choice around a child lose their lives every year or become relinquished to a shelter who then has the daunting task of rehoming a dog with a bite history.
- Too much pain and sadness comes from assuming our dogs will react like humans and not understanding that no matter how much we love them, our dogs are dogs with all the ups and downs that goes with that.
We as their caretakers need to accept that any dog can bite.
- If we understand our dog’s body language (even a little bit), we will be able see the dog signaling that the situation is building to his break point and then be able to prevent the eventual bite.
- If we have trained decent basic skills, we can redirect our dog before a bite occurs.
- If we have good management strategies in place, we can keep our dog out of a situation that may be just too much for her.
- If we guide both our dogs and our kids as to how best to interact with one another, we can eliminate many of the reasons kids and dogs get into trouble with each other.
I would never recommend that any family keep a dog whom they have become afraid of, or is a danger to them or their guests. However, with a little training, management and guidance we can usually keep our dogs and our kids safe around each other and keep the family we hoped for together and happy.
Many of us have elements in our lives that may be considered dangerous for our children, like heating our home with a fireplace, or having a backyard swimming pool, or, as in our case, having a dog with a bite history living with a young boy (we also have the fireplace). In Please Don’t Bite the Baby, I broach this subject:
People will often scratch their heads in amazement over what dog folk will go through for their dogs, asking, “Is that normal?”
But in everything, including dog ownership, there is no normal.
I thought about other professionals whose work might generate lifestyles that others don’t consider normal or safe. No one balks at police officers who keep their service weapons at home with small children. The officers are taught how to manage their guns by locking the guns and ammunition up separately. It is becoming more and more common for contractors and other tradespeople to sometimes bring their children onto a job site with all the dangers lurking there. Management and training keep these kids safe. As professionals, we accept these risks and realize we, as the parents, have to take steps to keep our children safe around these dangers. The police officer doesn’t quit her job when she has children—she gets a gun safe. The contractor doesn’t get rid of her business when she has to take care of children—she gets a hard hat for her child.
There is no such thing as normal across the board. There is only the individual normal that each of us creates, just as we create our families. In our home normal is a dog who 98 percent of the time is smart, funny, and affectionate but who, during the 2 percent, has to be managed and watched to prevent him from doing harm.
Because I live with a biting dog and a child, I know what levels of management, training and guidance it takes to maintain safety. I also know that although Pinball loves my son and visa versa, my husband and I will always be vigilant no matter how good Pinball is with my son, because all dogs can bite…
- No matter who they are
- No matter how long it’s been since their last bite, or that they’ve never bitten before
- No matter how much we trust them and how much they love us. Because…
They are dogs who interact differently with the world around them and who are very often not listened to when they need help and are warning us in a fearful or stressful situation.
To prevent bites we all need to…
- Listen to our dog’s boy language.
- Teach both dogs and kids simple things to do around each other like: teaching kids to be a tree and call for help, and teaching our dogs a simple lock-down sit or out-you-go command, and more.
- And, never be afraid of managing your dog when having guests or events in your home. Your dog dose not need to be with your guests 100% of the time and will probably be more than happy to go into a separate room with a stuffed puzzle toy and relax when there is a lot of commotion in the home.
We human adults must be the responsible ones. We made the choice to bring a dog into our home. Rarely does a dog come knocking on our door saying, “I did a lot of research online, and yours is the home I want to live in.” We made a commitment to care for the animal we brought into our home and a large part of caring for anyone is making sure that we set them up for success.
Please do yourself, your dog, and any kids in your home a favor and Train your dog, Manage the time and interactions between your dog and younger kids, and Guide them all to the best interactions you can.
It’s all worth it!