For many pets, it is scary to come to the vet. Strange smells, sounds, people, animals, and the stress pheromones are bombarding their senses. There is a lot of attention in the veterinary community to promote ways to decrease the stress and fear associated with vet visits. We have many tools to help a pet feel more comfortable and try to continually improve the experience for pets and their owners when they come in for care.
At one of the “Fear Free Practice” seminars, I attended the speaker showed the participants a very powerful video titled “Stop the 77.” It sheds light on the difference between a child’s and a dog’s point of view. It is worth watching, especially for anyone that has children and dogs. “77” references the statistic that 77% of children bitten by dogs are bitten by a family or familiar dog. So many of my patients are members of families with children, I felt the subject was worth addressing.
Statistics show that dog bites are a serious problem. Dogs bite 4.5 million people each year. Over 350,000 children between the ages of 1 and 14 were bitten between 2010 and 2012. Over one third were between the ages of 5 and 9 and boys were bitten more often than girls. Children under the age of 4 years old suffered injuries to their head and neck a majority of the time. A study was done to establish the risk factors for children being bitten by dogs. The main causes were territorial behavior, anxiety or coping with medical problems.
The best preventative measure you can take to decrease children being bitten is not to leave them alone with a dog. Even the nicest dog can bite when pushed far enough. Every day I see people interacting with their pets in a way that makes the dog uncomfortable. Being able to read a dog’s body language is very important. The same group that produced, “Stop the 77,” produced a video about how to read a dog’s body language. It is great to watch with your children to help them understand what a dog is trying to communicate with their actions.
Educating your children how to appropriately interact with family and friends dogs is so important. I see so many people interacting with dogs in inappropriate ways. Looking them straight in the eyes, towering over them, reaching for them without making sure the dog is comfortable. So many actions we take for granted are very scary to dogs, but most of them tolerate it without showing aggression, lucky for us.
All children should understand they should never: approach an unfamiliar dog, run from a dog, panic or make loud noises around a dog, or disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies. They should not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff them first or encourage a dog to play aggressively.
When approaching a new dog, teach children the acronym WAIT. Wait to make sure the dog is friendly; Ask the dog’s owner for permission to pet the dog, Invite the dog to sniff them, Touch the dog gently on its back, do not touch the dog’s head or face.
I’m a huge advocate of including school-age children in training dogs. If you get a puppy, sign up for obedience classes and bring young family members to join in on the training. It helps build a bond with your new family member, and the child learns a lot about training and interaction with the dog. Some kids even go on to compete in obedience, agility or 4-H.
As usual, if you have any questions or suggestions for articles feel free to contact me at [email protected], or go to our website, wildernessvet.com or check our Facebook page. I’ll put links up to the videos so you can find them easily.
Enjoy your summer, keep your pets safe and cool.