Kids and dogs can be a wonderful combination for a multitude of reasons. Dogs are silent teachers of responsibility and compassion, as well as loyal companions. They also make great backyard play pals.
But dogs don’t speak our language and may occasionally misinterpret our movements and gestures -- especially those of children. For this reason, experts say it’s important to take steps early on to prevent the possibility of dog bites.
Veterinarians believe that most dogs bites are preventable. The effort will be a two-way street, but dogs and humans can get on the same page through socialization and education.
Dogs are often considered members of the family, and members of the family should know how to read each other’s body language. But since dogs are an entirely different species, getting to know them can be slightly more complicated.
Taking your dog to obedience classes can help teach it to feel more comfortable around people and other animals. As Dr. Bonnie Beaver, former president of the AVMA and internationally recognized expert in animal behavior says, "Dogs not raised with good social skills can become dogs that bite.”
But even well-trained, kid-friendly dogs can bite if provoked, explains Beaver. She suggests never assuming that a dog won't bite. In addition, it can be helpful to expose kids to resources that can teach them how to safely approach and interact with dogs.
Teaching kids to respect dogs can help prevent bites, which can in turn prevent families from having to give up their dog.
"A dog bite can have a profound effect on the dog's family, especially the children, who, if the dog is euthanized, might have to cope with loss for the first time," said Dr. Amy McCullough, American Humane Association's National Director of Humane Research and Therapy, in a statement.
To help prevent bites and maintain a healthy relationship between kids and dogs, the American Humane Association suggests children be taught to adhere to the following guidelines:
Never approach an unknown dog or a dog that is alone without an owner, and always ask for permission before petting the dog.
Never approach an injured animal -- find an adult who can get the help that he or she needs.
Never approach a dog that is eating, sleeping, or nursing puppies.
Don't poke, hit, pull, pinch, or tease a dog.
The American Human Association also offers a free online book called "Pet Meets Baby," which provides useful information on introducing a new child to a home with a pet (or new pet to a home with a child).