Your little one might love Fido, but she has a funny way of showing it. Teasing, taunting and hurting the dog with rough play are just some of the ways children can provoke dogs into potentially dangerous behavior. While many dogs are tolerant of feisty children, even the most patient pooch can have a breaking point. Approximately 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites per year and half of those treated are children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teaching your child to interact safely with the pup can help protect her from possible serious injury.
Immediately separate your child from the dog when she begins teasing or hurting him. Avoid waiting to see if she stops teasing the dog on her own -- an upset dog can lash out with a bite in a matter of seconds. Place the dog in a crate or separate room of your home. Explain to her that teasing, taunting and hurting the dog is dangerous because it can make the dog angry and cause him to bite, possibly causing her serious injury. Stress that animals aren't stuffed toys and need to be handled with care and treated with respect. Inform her that she'll no longer be allowed to play with the dog if she doesn't begin treating him gently with love and kindness.
Nurture your child's instinctual capacity for empathy by teaching her to consider the dog's feelings, recommends the American Humane Association. Explain that animals have feelings and feel pain when they become hurt, just like people do. You might ask, "How do you think Fido feels when you shout at him, pull his tail and try to scare him?" or "How do you feel when the children at school tease you?" or "How would you like it if somebody jumped on you while you're asleep?" Praise her when she answers each question by showing empathy for the dog. You might say, "I know you love the dog and don't want to hurt him."
Forbid your child to be alone with the dog, even for a moment. Closely supervise their interactions until she learns to stop teasing and hurting him. If you need to use the bathroom or answer the door, take your little one with you or place the dog in a secure room or crate. Eighty-eight percent of child fatalities from dog attacks occurred when the child was without supervision, according to the American Humane Society. If she begins teasing or hurting the dog under your watch, continue to enforce time-outs by separating them. You might say, "You pulled the dog's tail after I told you not to. So you won't be allowed to play with him for the rest of the day."
Teach your little one how to read the pup's body language. Explain that because dogs can't talk, they communicate with their bodies to indicate when they're upset with a person or situation. Teasing, taunting and annoying the dog can lead him to reveal his resulting stress through body language. Instruct her to pay attention to signs that indicate the dog dislikes the way she's interacting with him, such as growling, lip smacking, lifting his tail as she approaches or standing very still or stiffly, according to the website Caesar's Way. Warn her to avoid direct eye contact with the pup during those times and slowly move away from him. Advise her to never to follow or chase the dog if he retreats from her.
Items you will need
- Dog crate
- Warn your child never to approach, pet or attempt to play with the dog while he's eating, sleeping, caring for puppies or chewing on a bone or toy. Dogs tend to bite more when they're frightened, startled or protecting their young.
- HealthyChildren.org: Safety Around Pets
- Partnership for Animal Rescue: Dog Tip: Safer Play
- American Humane Association: Kids Interacting With Dogs Safely
- Cesar's Way: How to Prevent Your Child From Being Bitten by a Dog
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Dog Bite: Fact Sheet
- American Humane Association: Dog Bites
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images