Often dog bites occur because no one noticed and acted on the early warning signs given by the dog. My clients usually say, “He didn’t give us any warning…he just bit.” What is more likely is that the signals that the dog was giving were not recognized. To help with this, I’ve put a list of body language cues and behavior to be aware of that can indicate the dog maybe preparing to bite.
1. Observe the dogs face for early signs of stress and stop child/dog interactions if you see them.
- yawning -when they are not tired
- flicking tongue
- darting eyes – as though looking for an exit
- panting – when it’s not hot
2. If a dog actively moves away from the child or situation, do not let the child pursue them. It’s likely the dog is making a choice to feel safer or more comfortable. If the child continues to pursue him, the dog could feel forced take the next step and say, “Leave me alone!” with a bite.
3. Listen for growling. It may be soft, with no teeth showing, but it should be interpreted as the dog communicating that he wants the attention from the child to stop.
4. Look for an impression that the dog does not seem to be enjoying the attention and the following:
• stiff body – with a frozen stance or hunched back
• hard starring eyes, or half moon eyes – (whites of the eyes are showing)
• tightly closed mouth
If you see any of combination of these signals, avoid the dog as these actions often occur moments before a bite.
Sometimes it’s the children’s behavior that needs to be addressed. Just because a dog seems to tolerate when a child is laying on it, hugging it, pulling ears, legs, or the tail doesn’t mean the dog should tolerate this behavior. If the dog turns to leave or hides under an object, like a table, do not allow the child to grab for them or reach under the object for the dog. Look at the dog for signals they are or are not enjoying the attention and redirect the child. In my Stop, Look & Paws sticker activity, I address these issues in a way that will engage the child to make safe choices before a real life scenario occurs.
If kids are looking to interact with the dog that’s great, so help them find ways that are appropriate to interact. There are ways that children interact that can be fun for both children and the dog. In my future blogs I’ll give suggestions on ways children can interact that is fun for children and dogs.
Now that you have read this blog post, look at the photo of the boy kissing the dog. Do you see any of the signals given by the dog that would concern you?
I hope this information is helpful to keep child/dog interactions safe. Check our other post for body language cues that indicate your dog is enjoying interacting with your child