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With the furry face and eyes that seem to say "love me" — it can be hard to resist passing a dog without wanting to stop and pet it. And for kids — some of whom are even the same size — it can be tempting to hug the dog, or even try riding it like a horse.
But it's important to recognize that like humans, even dogs have their limits.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 800,000 people receive medical care each year for dog bites — and more than half of them are children. And while you might think most of those are from strange dogs, actually the majority of bites come from dogs familiar to the person who is bit.
Kids are different creatures to dogs — they're loud, energetic, maybe similar in size and even a little grabby with their hands. While the dogs may be fine with adults, kids may be a different matter entirely so it's important to remember never leave a small child and a dog alone together. Any dog can bite, even if they never have before.
Set the stage for a safe interaction
When kids are going to be interacting with dogs, remind them of a few things:
Always ask permission before petting any dog
Never reach through or over a fence to try and pet a dog
Always bring you hand below the dog's nose and let it sniff your hand before petting it
Keep away from the face and tail, and don't put your face in the dog's face
Be gentle, quiet and slow
Don't play aggressive games with a dog, such as tug-of-war or wrestling
Never bother a dog that is sleeping, chewing on a toy or bone, eating or caring for puppies
Look at the dog's body language — often it will give signals that it is uncomfortable, including:
Backing away from your
Pulled back head or ears
If it starts to growl or bark or if it walks away — respect what it's telling you. If it's growling or barking, remain calm and back away slowly. If it walks away, don't follow it — let it go.
What if you're approached by a strange dog?
When kids are walking to school or just out playing in the neighborhood, they may come across dogs without their owners. If that happens:
Don't yell or run away (a dog's natural instinct will be to chase)
Remain motionless, hands at your sides and avoid direct eye contact with the dog
Once the dog loses interest, slowly back away
If the dog charges, put something between you and the dog — a jacket, backpack, bicycle — anything that will help keep it from you
If you get knocked over by a dog, curl up in a ball and protect your eyes and face with your arms.
If your child (or you) get bit
If your child does get bitten and the owner is around:
Get the owner's name and contact information
Ask for proof of rabies vaccination
Ask for the name and telephone number of the dog's veterinarian who can confirm the vaccination history
If the owner is not around, try to remember where you were when you got bit, what the dog looks like and if it's familiar to you (i.e. you've seen it in the neighborhood before), and what direction it headed when it left. Many neighborhoods have email lists or Facebook groups and you can submit a post asking for the owner to contact you so you can confirm the dog's vaccination history. And if not, that's important information to pass along to your local animal control agency or humane society.
As soon as possible, wash the bite wound with soap and water and call your family physician or pediatrician. The wound may require antibiotics, a tetanus shot and possibly even a rabies vaccination. Your physician can also help you report the incident to your local animal control agency or humane society.
If the injuries are severe, call 911 or take the child to an emergency room. Sometimes, negative interactions between young kids and dogs can set the stage for developing a fear of dogs. Helping kids understand that dogs — like people — have their own personalities, their own likes and dislikes and even their own way of communicating can help keep kids safe and create a positive attitude about dogs for a lifetime.