Growing up, many of us were surrounded by dogs as small children. Usually, they are a trusted companion ready to embark on adventures in the house, on the grass, and throughout our neighborhood. Although this may be the image some of us have of a child/dog relationship, there is another more dangerous situation that arises when precocious children encounter aggressive dogs. The last thing any parent or dog owner wants is a small child bit by a dog, which can create a medical emergency, lifetime fear of dogs, and liability for the dog owner.
Dogs send signals, justified, or not if they are uncomfortable or feel threatened by their surroundings. Just because a dog does not bark does not mean there will be no indication of future bad behavior and, thus, liability for the owner, especially if he or she is an experienced pet owner with years of knowledge of the dog and its triggers. Some common warning signs include:
- An unusual focus on the child
- Ears in a forward or extended position
- Trying to walk away
- Looking in another direction
- Demonstrating an anxious state or anxiety by widening eyes, yawning, licking its lips, putting its head or body in a lowered position
- Circling a child or jumping up on a child
How to Avoid a Bite
Unfortunately, there is a never a 100% guarantee of safety of anything in life, especially when humans and animals interact, but there are a few steps you can take as a parent or dog owner to look like the reasonable party and mitigate any liability you might have. These steps include:
- Always staying in the same room as a dog and child and helping ensure they are far enough apart that you could intercept the dog if need be
- Stopping children from aggressive play with a dog, even if it is enjoyable for the child. Some dogs will misinterpret this play as an act which necessitates them defending themselves from a threat
- Take time to let a dog sniff you before engaging in play with the dog so they can become accustomed to you. Additionally, pet it gently and do not make eye contact for the first few minutes allowing the dog to socialize itself to you
- Teach your child to move slowly and carefully around dogs to help soothe the nerves of an animal unfamiliar with you
Unfortunately, dog bites may be an occurrence for some, but by heeding some commonsense tips they can be avoided. Dog owners should be careful to have their dog avoid any small children if they are volatile and warn parents about the dog’s possible behavior. By using the strategies outlined above, both parties can avoid an incident that could potentially lead to medical and emotional harm, a lawsuit and an acrimonious relationship.
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