There are 4.7 million dog bites annually in the United States, and the majority of the victims are children. Education is the key to reducing the number of dog bites. Just as parents model behaviors for socializing with people, we should teach our kids how to interact with dogs.
Don’t leave your child unattended with a dog. Tell your kids to never startle or run up to a dog – no matter its breed. All dogs can bite. Instead, approach slowly and ask the owner, “May we pet your dog?” Respect the owner, and realize not all dogs are comfortable with children. Teach your kids to recognize a dog’s expressive body language. A dog that backs away, has its tail between its legs, or hair on its back is raised is telling you it’s uncomfortable and would prefer to be left alone.
A dog that wants to socialize will come forward to sniff and maybe lick a little. Watch the tail. Loose, wagging motions usually indicate, “I can’t wait to meet you!” Let the dog come forward by having your child make a fist with the palm pointed down. This position decreases the risk of finger nipping. Teach children how to pet a dog, with slow gentle strokes along his back, chest or chin. Most dogs don’t like to be petted on the top of their heads, which is unfortunately the first place most children reach to pet.
Teach children never to run away from a dog, or run alongside a dog while screaming. Even with highly trained dogs, this can stimulate the dog’s natural instinct to run and chase. If your child is afraid of dogs, spend some time watching dogs from a distance. Clue your child into the dog’s body language. Does that dog look happy or scared going into the veterinary office? How can you tell? Once they are comfortable at a distance, arrange an opportunity for your child to meet a well-trained dog. Look for events such as the Read to Rover program at local libraries, where children can read to trained therapy dogs.
Before bringing a new baby home to a household with a dog, consider a few steps to ease the transition for the dog. Start using baby products such as lotion and soap. Dogs have a tremendously keen sense of smell, and preparing in this way will help the dog become familiar with the new scents before the baby arrives. When baby comes home for the first time, greet the dog without the baby and present a blanket with the infant’s scent.
If a dog bites your child, immediately wash the wound with lots of running water and soap. If you know the dog’s owner, get the vaccination records to assure the dog has been properly vaccinated against rabies. If the dog is a stray, contact the local animal control. Provide as much information as possible such as color, size, where you encountered the dog, and in which direction it went.
Contact your health care provider to see if antibiotics are recommended. Most dog bites can be attended to by your pediatrician, but if you are unable to control the bleeding head to the ER immediately. Apply pressure and elevate the extremity to attempt to control the bleeding. Deep puncture wounds are the most likely to become infected, and for this reason most dog bites are not sutureclosed. After thoroughly washing out the wound, antibiotic ointment can be applied and covered with a clean dry dressing.