Dog Aggression with Children

A common occurrence in a veterinary clinic is appointments that are scheduled because “my dog bit someone…”

There are complex emotions at so many different levels during these initial phone discussions between the receptionist and clients – all before veterinarians are even involved.

Did you know statistically that 50% of kids less than 14 years of age are bitten and 65% are dogs that they know.

Dr Lisa Radosta is a behaviorist in the States that I was fortunate enough to hear speak at a conference I was attending for continuing education. It focused on Aggression with children and dogs.

It provided us with the top 7 things to focus on during the initial appointment so that we arm our clients and our patients with the best chance at success over time.

She has a straight forward and no excuse approach to a very serious problem that we believe is appropriate and necessary to provide a safe environment for our children and the children of others.

Here are the Top 7 Focus areas:

  1. Target Situations – know the high risk situations where biting most commonly occurs; playing, hiding, eating, sleeping, approaching
  2. Accept Reality – we need to express and have you as the owner understand that your child is not safe. Understanding that anything with teeth can bite. However, following the guidelines given and training recommendations a successful outcome is possible.
  3. Explain Supervision – the dog and the child(ren) are never alone together again period! The duration of supervision is case dependent.
  4. Confinement – this occurs if owners cannot supervise at all times (it is rarely realistic for an owner to have 100% supervision at all times). You want the pet to still see the family interacting.  But every day and at least once a day they go to confinement with food reward.  So that the confinement area actually becomes a safe-haven for them and an off limit area by children.  Veterinarians help owners work through the confinement phase as commonly medications are required short term to help them settle and have positive results.
  5. Enrichment – ensure that your pet has an outlet for energy, one-on-one bonding, new toys and food rewards – rotate them. Consider doggie day care – a fantastic outlet with dog-dog interactions.
  6. Teach Kids – as much as you need to train your dog, the children in the house and parents are accountable for providing a safe environment – for children AND the pet. Children cannot and should not approach a sleeping dog.  You need to allow dogs to have a personal space – safe spot (dog bed, crate, etc…)
  7. To Go Home – we will provide you with resources, support, time-lines for follow up, tips to help in busy moments of the day – such as in the mornings while getting children ready for school it is the best time to use the confinement approach.

Please know that we cannot predict future behavior on past behavior and so we commonly hear the  statement from clients that “he’s never bitten before”.  Once a bite has occurred it is always warranted to discuss with a professional promptly after the first bite and not wait until the 3rd or 4th or the passage of time for months.

Excellent resources:

Written by: Park Road Veterinary Clinic