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We are constantly being warned by Canine Professionals, Vets, the media etc not to leave dogs and children unsupervised. This is sound advice but the reality is that the vast majority of dog bites on children actually occur in the presence of a parent. The real problem is not one of lack of supervision but that no one has taught parents what they should be looking out for.
Parents generally have not received any education on what constitutes good dog body language and what constitutes an emergency between dogs and children. Parents generally have no understanding of the predictable series of canine body cues that would indicate a dog might bite. Complicating matters further, most parents get confused by the good intentions of the child and fail to see when a dog is exhibiting signs of stress. The good new is all of this is easy to learn. We can all get better at this. Some signs to look out for are:
Good dog body language is loose, relaxed, and wiggly. Look for curves in your dog’s body when he is around a child. Stiffening and freezing in a dog is not a good sign. If you see your dog’s body tighten (becoming stiff) or if he moves from panting to holding his breath (he stops panting), you should intervene. These are early signs that your dog is not comfortable.
Puppies, just like children, need their own space sometimes
Intervene if your child climbs on or attempts to ride your dog. Intervene if your child pulls the ears, yanks the tail, lifts the jowls or otherwise pokes and prods the dog. Don’t marvel that your dog has the patience of a saint or if he is willing to tolerate these antics and please don’t videotape it for YouTube. Instead, be thankful your dog has good bite inhibition and intervene before it’s too late.
• Yawning outside the context of waking up
• Whale eye – this means you can see the whites of your dog’s eyes.
• Lip licking outside the context of eating food
I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard parents say, “Oh, he growled all the time but we never thought he would bite.” Dog behaviour, including aggression, is on a continuum. For dogs, growling is often an early warning sign of aggression and one that needs to be taken note of. If growling doesn’t work, the dog may escalate to snapping or biting. Growling is a clue that you should intervene between the dog and the child.