Recent news from doctors has reported a “surge” in dog bites directed towards children over the last six months. Based on the response from one of the news anchors repeating the story, its easy to see why. Her comment was, “This study is hard to imagine. You would think the dogs love all the extra attention and loving.”
With families opting for distance learning this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, undoubtedly, this trend will continue. As a professional dog trainer for the last 20 years, it isn’t uncommon to see an increase in dog bites during the spring and summer months, but these new statistics are incredibly alarming. The pandemic has already kept millions of American families home either because remote working, lost jobs, and now distance learning. The “shelter in place” has led to dogs and kids being 24/7 and adults juggling multiple responsibilities at home. All while the family dog is just trying to figure out their “new purpose” in the household. The rise in incidents will continue into the fall season with dogs and children spending even more time together if management around the home does not change.
As much as your family’s routine has changed, so has your dogs. Dogs thrive in routine and predictability. That is the opposite of what life with children brings!
Like most news stations, they have no problem reporting the “problems” in the world, but rarely presenting any solutions. So, NO anchor lady, more hugs, and kisses are not what the family pet needs.
Let’s focus on why dogs are lashing out at kids and develop solutions to help educate families.
1. Every Dog Has A Stress Threshold
Dog bites directed towards children in their family are often due to a build-up of stressors over time with no relief. Recognizing your dog’s stressors can help you understand when your dog is reaching their threshold. It is often not an individual stressor that causes your dog to bite. Dog’s rarely bite without warning, but they will bite when all their warning signs go unnoticed or disregarded. Parents need to know what body language cues to look for in their dogs, so you know when to intervene and separate the kids and dogs. Here is a video clip from my film, Dogs to Diapers that demonstrates the warning signs your dog might be displaying around kids. Depending on the ages of the kids in your home, it is just as essential to start teaching them the dog’s body language cues. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9SfmX7Q5NU
2. Dogs Need Mental/Physical Breaks
Like us, we need to have ways to release stress to be a good parent, co-worker, and friend to others. Figure out what exercises stimulate your dog and allows them to disconnect from the kids for a few hours every day. Some examples of physical breaks could be long walks, swimming, playing fetch, bike rides, playing with other dogs. Mental breaks could include quiet time in a room away from the kids, interactive toys to engage with (KONGS, Everlasting Balls, Bully Sticks). Allowing your dog this time can help decrease their stressors built up throughout the day.
3. Parents, Advocate For Your Dog
If your kids are continually poking and pulling at your dog, establish some boundaries, and enforce them. It is not fair we expect our dogs to be so tolerant of our kids. Raising kids and dogs together is hard work. I can relate because I am constantly reminding my kids to leave the dog alone, let the dog rest, the dog doesn’t want a hug right now. If that is what your conversations sound like, then interject on your dog’s behalf and separate them for a nice break. The most common trigger to a face bite towards children is from “hugs and kisses.” Most dogs will tolerate this from family members, but remember everybody has a breaking point.
4. A Dog Without Purpose Is Anxious And Unsettled
Dogs love jobs and leadership. Show your dog what their purpose is by creating new jobs and routines surrounding your new schedules with distance learning. Having obedience commands like “Place” and the “Heel” command gives the dog practical exercises to do around the kids. You can even make teaching fun for the kids by adding new obedience commands to teach the family pet as part of their stay-at-home curriculum.
5. Your Dog Needs To Respect Your Kids
There needs to be a clear distinction in roles between kids and dogs. You earn respect from your dog through being a clear leader and taking ownership of responsibilities surrounding the dog’s needs. There need to be distinct boundaries around the kids. Treating your dog like a human equal gives them the authority to correct your children. Dogs correct by growling, nipping, and biting. We don’t want your dog perceiving your kids as if they were a littermate or another dog. Have your kids play a role in taking care of the family pet. In turn, this also teaches kids responsibility in owning a dog. It doesn’t need to come off as “chores.” Raising a dog in a family is an excellent opportunity for kids to learn to care for and nurture pets. Feeding, brushing, picking up after the pet, and obedience is great bonding exercises.
6. Senior Dogs Tolerance Decreases
It’s essential to know your dog and understand that their limits can change as they age, just like us. You cannot expect a senior dog to tolerate being poked at, stepped on, and hungover continually even if they have experienced that interaction at a younger age. They might have also enjoyed that type of attention, but the dog’s tolerance levels can change with time. Allowing them periodic daily breaks from the kids gives them time to reset and enjoy them even more. Assign your senior dog a room or crate they can go in without being disturbed by the kids and make this a rule for the household. This advice is also accurate for dogs that have underlying health issues.
7. Rescued Dogs During COVID
Reports have shown that “all across the country, animal shelters are reporting massive upswings in the numbers of animals they’ve been able to adopt out or place in foster homes.” Adopting a rescue or foster dog is not something a family with kids should take lightly. According to Karen Delise in Fatal Dog Attacks, “it roughly takes two weeks for a dog to adjust to a new living environment.” It takes time to learn the new dog’s mannerisms and for certain behaviors to surface. Expecting them to fit right into a family with kids is naïve, irresponsible, and not fair to the dog. Make sure to ask the rescue, shelter, or foster specific questions surrounding dogs and kids. Ensure they give you definitive answers before bringing the dog home to your family. Please do not misinterpret my words as anything but caution. When you adopt an animal over a zoom call or other alternative method, you are accepting the risk of bringing them into your home without physical interaction. Remember, these dogs are going through a huge life change, and they will need the proper time to adjust and fit into the family dynamic.
Create A Healthy Environment
It is our responsibility to create a healthy, safe home for both our dog and our kids. Knowledge is the answer. Most families don’t realize the problem until the line has been crossed between the dog and child. Teaching and educating expecting families before their baby enters their home is something I have been passionate about since producing the film Dogs to Diapers. The best solution is to be educated and proactive in your household.