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How to Keep Children Bite-Free From Dogs

By: Joan Paylo

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Just about any dog will bite if the circumstances call for it: A dog's eyes and instincts help him determine when he has been unduly provoked. But there are ways to make your dog less likely to bite – and ways to teach your children how to avoid being bitten.

Each year, about 2 percent of the U.S. population is bitten by dogs – by no means always by strange dogs, guard dogs, or poorly bred pit bulls. In 1994, for example, it is estimated that about 4.7 million people were bitten. Of the 800,000 who saw a doctor, more than half were children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 300 people died as a result of dog bite-related injuries between 1979 and 2000. The majority of them were children; the next largest group of victims was the elderly.

Which Dogs Bite?

It's deceptive to go down a list of dogs and check off the breeds that bite. Pit bulls, German shepherds, Rottweilers and sled-dog types lead many lists. But the statistics may conceal as much as they reveal. For example, some owners intentionally choose dogs with "dangerous" reputations, seeking out sellers known for breeding aggressive puppies
and then training the dogs to be aggressive.

On the other hand, there's no shortage of people who claim that their gently bred pit-bull mix has a sense of humor, is smart and eager to please, and makes a good companion for the kids. To further prove that any breed can bite, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association points out that more than 30 breeds have been involved in fatal attacks since 1975, including dachshunds, a Yorkshire terrier and a Lab.

Factors besides breed may make a dog more prone to bite. As a rule, dogs bite out of fear, to defend their territory, or to establish their dominance. By eliminating certain factors, you can minimize the possibility that your dog will bite or attack another person – or another dog.

Helping Your Dog

  • Spay or neuter your dog to reduce aggression. Most dogs that bite are not sterilized.

  • Socialize your dog so he remains calm and confident in many situations, among people of different ages, abilities, and races. Include him in family activities, give him the exercise he needs, and don't leave him alone for long periods of time.

  • Train your dog so he knows how to behave and so you can control him with commands. Watch him closely if he is in an unfamiliar situation. If he protects his territory when someone new visits your home, keep him in another room when you answer the door.

  • Don't teach your dog aggressive behaviors. Don't wrestle or play "sic" attack games. Dogs don't distinguish between play and reality.

  • Teach your dog submissive behaviors, like rolling over and letting
    you scratch his belly.

  • Never leave your infant or young child alone with a dog.

  • Be a responsible dog owner. Obey leash and licensing laws. Vaccinate him against rabies and keep the dog warm, fed and healthy.

  • If your dog growls, nips or bites at people or other animals, consult your veterinarian, a behaviorist, or a knowledgeable trainer immediately.

    Teaching Your Children

    Because their energetic, bouncing movements resemble that of a dog's natural prey, children are particularly vulnerable to dogs. Youngsters also are more likely to be bitten on the face. Here's how children and adults can avoid being bitten and defend themselves if attacked.

  • Teach your kids to stay away from strange dogs. Dogs confined in a yard or chained up are more likely to bite.

  • Never look a dog in the eye.

  • Before you approach a dog, ask the owner if you can pet him.

  • Before you pet a dog, make sure he sees you. Offer your fist so that he can sniff it before you open your hand to touch him. But don't force your hand into his personal space – rather, allow him to approach your hand, that is, if he wants to. Stroke the side of his head. Patting the top of his head can seem like a dominant, threatening action to some dogs.

  • Do not disturb a dog who is eating, sleeping, or caring for puppies. The element of surprise can make a dog afraid or defensive.

  • If an unfamiliar dog approaches you, stand still, with your arms at
    your sides. Never run away from a dog.

  • If a dog attacks you, give him your purse, your bike, or your jacket to chew on. Slowly back away until there is a park bench, a tree, or a car, between you and him.

  • If a dog knocks you down, roll into a ball, protecting your face, and lie still until he goes away.

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