Well, yes. He’s a dog, that’s what they do. My dog is a Siberian Husky and at the time of writing is 10 months old. He’s happy, excitable, intelligent, and also bites furniture, toys, shoes, food – and fingers if they get in the way.
Perhaps a further question might be; Does your dog bite children? Recap: he’s a dog. Not a person in a dog costume. Not a Disney dog who can speak English, capable of love, regret, humour and revenge. He’s a dog. Does he bite children? I don’t know. I won’t be able to give you a definitive answer until the end of his life and only then will I be able to say with confidence;
‘Well he did a lot of things but biting a child wasn’t one of them.’
If you were asked; ‘Does your child hit other children?’ You would probably be able to say; ‘No, I’ve taught him that violence never solves anything and it’s always better to discuss our problems and respect the other person’s point of view.’ What if I asked; ‘Will your child ever hit another person?’ You may pause for a moment and reply; ‘Well I guess if someone made them really angry or jealous – or frightened.. or even irritated, then yes, I guess they might.’ So if we acknowledge that even a sophisticated social being can be provoked to react inappropriately, how did we get to a point where so many feel so confident that a dog, a family pet, will not attack, albeit briefly, a child?
Respect the Dog
Let’s be absolutely clear here; nothing, absolutely nothing is more important than the life and safety of a child. Having established this fact we must also acknowledge that our dogs have rights too. They have the right to their personal space and the right to be left alone when they are tired, frightened, irritated and nervous. Dogs need us, their owner, to help ensure they are not placed in a situation where they cannot walk away from discomfort, alarm, over excitement or fear.
Dangerous Dogs Act
For most of us who own dogs I guess we paid little attention to the press coverage relating to the amended Dangerous Dogs Act. If we don’t own an identified dangerous breed then why should we be interested? Well, in a nutshell, this act recognises that every dog has the propensity to be dangerous in the wrong circumstances.
The amended Dangerous Dogs Act came into effect in England and Wales on 13 May 2014 and applies to all breeds of dogs. There is no distinction made between cute miniature or larger more intimidating breeds. It’s against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control anywhere, eg:
- in a public place
- in a private place (eg a neighbour’s house or garden)
- in the owner’s home
The law applies to all dogs.
Out of Control
Your dog is considered dangerously out of control if it:
- injures someone
- makes someone worried that it might injure them
A court could also decide that your dog is dangerously out of control if:
- it injures someone’s animal
- the owner of the animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog attacking their animal
Note the use of ‘might‘ and ‘thinks‘ here. This should be a cause for concern for any dog owner. The penalties are severe and could result in the dog being destroyed. So we have two tragedies we wish to avoid; the maiming of, or fatal injury to, a child, and the arguably avoidable death of a loved pet because the owner did not foresee the potentially dangerous situation arising.
(update Oct 2016 Dog attacks: When is a fatal dog mauling a criminal offence? Read this BBC article for clarity on your legal position as owner, ‘responsible adult in charge of dog, or victim’)
Two types of dogs.
We can put dogs into two groups; those who are known to the child and those who are strangers. It’s important to help people understand that the challenges and dangers are pretty much the same whether it’s your family pet or a dog you encounter in the street. In both cases there is a need for support and guidance to help adults and children to develop, and use, bite avoidance strategies.
The following facts can be summarised as; all breeds can be dangerous, children are usually bitten by a family pet
‘Young children are often bitten by dogs, particularly boys aged five to nine years old.
Male dogs are usually responsible and are either family pets or dogs that belong to friends or neighbours.
Source: NHS Choices
The Blue Dog website has summarised a range of research in this area.
Adults are also most often bitten by a familiar dog, though the site of injury in adults and older children is more commonly the extremities. Guy et al. (2004)
The majority of accidents involving children are within the home involving a known dog. Horisberger (2002)Kahn et al (2003)
Dog bites in young children often result in facial or neck injuries. Bernado et al (2002), Kahn et al( 2003)
With regard to the incidence of facial bites – this appears unrelated to the size of the dog. The only correlating factor is the age of the child. Bernardo et al (2002), Kahn et al (2003)
It has been shown that young children explore novel objects, especially those that are mobile, with their face. Meints et al (2010)
Young children score badly in discriminating dog body language and look mainly at the face of the dog to make their decisions.Lakestani et al (2005)
Very young children may misinterpret a snarling dog for one that is smiling. Meints et al (2010)
80% of all dog bites occur in the home. Kahn et al (2003)Miller and Howell (2007)Gilchrist et al (2003)
All types of dog have the potential to bite. AVMA (2001), Overall et al (2001), Kahn et al (2003), Reisner et al (2007)
More on this can be found here.
In summary we can see that for many families there is a tacit assumption that a family pet would never bite a family member. The child is cute, the dog is cute so what could possibly go wrong? Things go wrong when the dog has been tugged, prodded, surprised, alarmed, subjected to loud noise, over excitement or may simply be tired and fed up. In these instances the dog will use it’s mouth to protect itself and express its state of mind in the only way it knows how.
There are warning signs though and we can teach children to recognise them. Organisations and canine professionals across the world have developed education programmes and resources to help empower families to recognise the signs and take steps to prevent the potential attack taking place.
Teach Children to Use Their Dog Manners
D: Don’t Tease, Please
O: Only Pet With Permission
G: Give Space
S: Slow Down
A: Always Get Help
F: Fingers Together
E: Even Good Dogs Can Bite
My dog is still a pup. At less than a year old, the world is still new and exciting to him. He can walk calmly on the lead and, through consistent training, there is little (but not no) likelihood he will lunge at passers by and bite them. The likelihood of a bite incident increased when strangers show a disregard for his personal space, thrust a patting hand to his mouth, head and often his back – and are surprised when he looks startled and leaps around on his leash. We need to respect our dogs’ personal space and encourage people to ask; ‘Is it OK to say ‘Hello’ to your dog?’
To encourage this conversation I use this lead when I know we will be walking among crowds or busy pavements. It feels easier and safer for my dog to have the word ‘caution’ emblazoned on his leash. There have been times too when asked if my dog bites I reply with ‘Yes he might.’ Ultimately my responsibility is to ensure my dog isn’t provoked into antisocial behaviour, a child or adult isn’t hurt and neither my dog or I are punished for an event we didn’t cause.
Perhaps a more simple set of messages are more appropriate for your child;
The 3 Most Important Things to Teach Your Kids
- Dogs Don’t Like Hugs and Kisses – Teach your kids not to hug or kiss a dog on the face. Hugging the family dog or face-to-face contact are common causes of bites to the face. Instead, teach kids to scratch the dog on the chest or the side of the neck.
- Be a Tree if a Strange Dog Approaches – Teach kids to stand still, like a tree. Trees are boring and the dog will eventually go away. This works for strange dogs and anytime the family dog gets too frisky or becomes aggressive.
- Never Tease a Dog – and never disturb a dog that’s sleeping, eating or protecting something.
It would be wrong to think only children see dogs as people in fur. Try searching the web for ‘cute kid and dog’ and see how many images are posted, presumably by parents and family members, to show how ‘safe’ their dog is around a child. Within the context of this blog post, consider whether the following images now make you smile – or shudder ever so slightly at what might have been.