Dog bite prevention: planning for success

You can take steps to prevent dog bites and plan for success: educating yourself and your children, zoning your home, and understanding escalating situations can all help lead to prevention.

Educate yourself and any children in your life about how to have a good interaction with a dog. Teach them to respect animals, and to understand that the dog needs time alone sometimes. They should know that it’s not okay to run up to a dog, even if that dog is on a leash and with its owner; let them know to approach dogs calmly. They should also understand what to do if confronted by an aggressive dog, how to tell when a dog wants to play and when it doesn’t want to play, and to ask a dog’s owner for permission to pet it. The owner should always be there and in outdoor settings the dog should be on a leash -- this is the only time it’s safe for them to pet an unknown or semi-familiar dog. Children should also be taught never to approach a strange dog.

As a dog owner, you need to be with you dog when he or she interacts with unfamiliar people, and don’t force people to interact with your dog if they appear reluctant, uninterested or afraid. An interaction can easily and quickly change from play to aggression, especially with kids. However, children should interact with animals -- and they should be taught the difference between having a good interaction and a bad one.

Break your house into zones if you have young children. You should be able to keep the dog in one area and the child in another when you are out of sight or busy, and get your child used to that arrangement from a young age. Allow your children to interact with your dog regularly, but only with supervision and attention to keeping the interactions positive. Baby gates provide simple means of zoning your home. By using a baby gate to separate the dog from a child, the dog can still see and hear what’s happening; isolating your dog from daily activities can cause risky behaviors, and should be avoided. There’s a difference between zoning and imprisonment: with proper zoning, the dog is calm, cooperative, and indirectly involved in certain activities.

By teaching your dog to respect the gate and the zones, (s)he will understand that (s)he won’t be trapped behind the gate for a long time and will be able to interact directly with your family when it’s appropriate. You should start to use zoning when your dog is a puppy as method of managing his/her behavior, not just physically controlling it.

Especially when children are young, you should keep the child and the dog separated unless there is constant adult supervision. If you leave the room even for a short time, the dog and child should be separated. Leaving a baby or toddler alone in the room with a dog just for a minute can lead to tragic results. Also be alert for any signs of aggression from the dog toward the child, or of any situations that could have the potential to escalate (such as a child taking a dog’s toy or food, for example). If you dog seems to be exhibiting fear or aggression that is inappropriate or difficult to understand, seek help from a veterinary behaviorist to resolve the problem.  It may be that the dog perceives the situation very differently from you, and a few simple changes will put him or her at ease again.

Whenever your dog seems to be anxious, agitated or is behaving in an inappropriate manner, it is a good idea to remove them from that situation (especially if the situation is escalating) and put them somewhere safe and quiet. By doing this, you’re not actually punishing the dog. You’re interrupting behaviors you don’t like, and that gives you time to change the situation before bad behaviors become habits.

Your dog is part of your family and wants to be part of family life. But sometimes it’s difficult for us to fully understand how a dog sees the world, and providing your dog with a secure resting space and supervision in risky situation is the best way to plan for success.