Dogs and children share something magical between them, but that magic doesn’t happen just by itself. Although many dogs are extremely tolerant to what children do to them – fur and tail pulling, for example – this shouldn’t be seen as the norm, and therefore children must be taught to interact properly with dogs, otherwise they run the risk of getting bitten, sometimes seriously. In fact, the majority of bites children suffer are inflicted by their own dog!

A dog will always emit warning signals when he’s feeling uncomfortable in a given situation, or ‘crowded’. In this article I will mention one scenario, a very typical one, where a dog can bite if all the warning signals go unnoticed.

Whether a dog is resting on his own bed or your sofa, he should not be disturbed. It is hard, especially for a small child, to leave his dog alone while resting, because he looks cute and cuddly and calm, and it’s very tempting to go hug and kiss him. As the child approaches, the dog may try to ‘sink in’ deeper into the sofa, turn his head away from the child, or turn his whole body away from the child. This is the first warning signal, although subtle, that tells you the dog wants to be left alone.

Not knowing to recognize this behavior as a subtle warning, the child continues approaching the dog. At this point the dog may lick his lips, flick his tongue towards his nose, yawn, turn his head away from the child, or turn it slightly while looking at the child sideways. These behaviors clearly indicate that the dog doesn’t want to bite but may do so if the child approaches further.

Then there are the more obvious signals, as the child misses the dog’s message to stay away and moves in for the hug or cuddle, which are growling and baring his teeth. Quite often there is only a split second between these signals and the delivery of a bite. So rather be cautious and keep your child safe by respecting your dog’s need to be left alone when you see those very subtle and first warning signals. Always supervise all interactions between your dog and your child.

– Alexandra Santos –


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