The number of dogs who end up in shelters, rescues or re-homed each year because of the arrival of a human baby is probably in the tens of thousands. Walk through any animal shelter at almost any time and it’s likely at least one of the dogs is there because a woman found out she was expecting or a couple surrendered the dog a few weeks after the new baby arrived.
In the majority of these surrenders, the new parents feel it would be unsafe to keep the dog in the home with an infant. The news is filled with stories of dogs attacking children and family members may pressure couples to give up their dog because of perceived threats to the baby.
The truth is, however, that the baby, toddler or child is many times more likely to be harmed or killed by a family member than a dog.
According to Janis Bradley’s 2005 book, “Dogs Bite, but Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous,” a human is 5 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightening than to be killed by a dog. Considering the amount of our lives we are exposed to dogs compared to the amount of our lives we are exposed to lightening, it’s clear that dogs rarely bite and when they do, it’s rarely fatal.
That said, children are more likely to be bitten by dogs than are adults and when a dog does bite a child, a child is more likely to be bitten in the face than an adult is. Dog bites are the third most common reason children visit emergency rooms.
What this means is that parents, grandparents, dog guardians and other adults who are responsible for the care of children and dogs must take steps to protect both the child and the animal. This means educating and training for both.
Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “The dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic.”
Dogs and children can have beautiful relationships that are of incomprehensible value to both child and animal. It’s up to adults to ensure that both child and dog know how to behave with each other to have the safe, joyous companionship that led Thornton Wilder to write, “Many who have spent a lifetime in it can tell us less of love than the child that lost a dog yesterday.”
What can you do?
• Have your dogs spayed/neutered. Males that are not altered inflict more bites on humans than any other dogs. Females that aren’t altered come in second.
• If you have children or are planning to have children and you are considering adopting a dog, consider carefully what you are looking for in your canine companion. Research breeds and breed mixes to see what type of dog will be the best match for what you are seeking in a dog. Don’t make your decision based upon seeing a dog in a TV show, movie or advertisement. Base the decision–for your family’s sake and the dog’s sake–on what type of animal will be a good fit for you and your family.
• Be consistent in rules for dog and child. Ensure the dog follows the same rules for the child that the dog follows for you. Ensure the child follows the same rules when she is alone with the dog that she does when you are present.
• Ensure your dog is trained and that your child understands the dog’s training and when and how to give commands, if the child is old enough. It’s also important that the dog is properly socialized to other dogs, children and all different types of people. Training classes and socialization classes are a great asset for both puppies and adult dogs, especially if you can involve older children in the dog’s training.
• Keep your dog healthy. Ensure that your dog has annual checkups, is kept up-to-date on vaccinations and any possible medical issues are promptly addressed. A dog that is hurting or ill is more likely to bite.
• Provide the dog with a safe place to get away from children if the dog doesn’t to be bothered or wants to rest. Crate training is a great way to provide this to your dog. Teach children that when the dog is in the crate they are to leave the dog alone.
• Train children in proper behavior with dogs. Teach children to:
— Never run up to a dog.
— Never scream around a dog.
— Not sneak up on dogs from behind and not to approach a dog who is sleeping or eating.
— To let a dog sniff before trying to pet him and not to stare into a dog’s eyes.
— Pat the dog under the chin or on the back, but not to touch the top of the dog’s head.
— Not put hands through fences or car windows to pet a dog.
— Not approach a mother dog with puppies.
— Not wrestle or play tug-of-war with dogs.
— Not take a dog’s food or toys or encourage a dog to jump for a treat.
— Not tease a dog, or pull on a dog’s ears or tail, and never to hit a dog or pretend to hit a dog.
The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project
Can We Help You Keep Your Pet?
Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous