One of our most frequent pieces of advice on W&GB when it comes to kids is to always make sure they are supervised when they are around pets. This is important for at least two major reasons, one being avoiding potential high-risk contacts when it comes to infectious disease transmission (e.g. face-to-mouth, hand-to-bum), and the other being reducing the risk of injury (and subsequent infection) from bites and scratches. Children often don't know or aren't aware of the signs that a pet is stressed or uncomfortable, essentially forcing the pet to take progressively more drastic measures to get its message across, potentially ending in a snap or a bite. The problem is a lot of the time the supervising adult also doesn't know these signs, and thus many a bite or scratch may happen even when a parent is watching carefully from only a few feet away.
Yesterday I came across an excellent post on this very topic on another blog written by Robin Bennett, a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA) in Virginia. Her post was very aptly entitled "Why Supervising Dogs and Kids Doesn't Work." Click on the title to see the entire post, but here are a few of the great points she makes:
- Watch for inappropriate child behaviour. In Robin's words, "Don’t marvel that your dog has the patience of Job if he is willing to tolerate [being poked, prodded, yanked, pulled, pushed, etc]. And please don’t videotape it for YouTube! Be thankful your dog has good bite inhibition and intervene before it’s too late."
- Intervene early. If the dog loses that loose, wiggly body posture and starts to stiffen up, don't wait until the animal has to escalate its message to growling or snapping to step in.
- Support the dog's good choices. If the dog chooses to move away from a child because it is uncomfortable, support that choice and don't let the child continue to follow the animal. If the pet can't get away, it may scratch or bite to try to make the child go away instead. Don't force the dog to make that choice. (This applies equally to cats or any other pet!)
It's very important for pet owners to educate themselves about basic pet behaviour, whether they have dogs, cats or other animals, and to teach that same information to their children. Another great program that teaches kids how to behave around dogs, and unfamiliar dogs in particular, is the "Be a tree" program, details of which can be found on the Doggone Safe dog bite prevention website.