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Man's Best Friend

    HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Dogs are great companions for adults and kids alike.

     Every day, people and dogs spend countless hours interacting with each other.  In fact, the phrase “Man’s Best Friend” is a very common description of the relationship between canines and humans.  Regardless of how “human” many dogs might seem one must always remember they are animals, and animals can be unpredictable in certain situations.  No matter how well dog owners thinks they know their pet, one must always remember that dogs will be dogs. 

     Besides the obvious care and well-being of their pet, one of the greatest responsibilities a dog owner faces is making sure people are safe from their pet’s aggressive behavior.  Pets are usually very friendly, well behaved “members” of the family when everything around them is familiar and they do not feel threatened.   What dog owner has said, “Oh, he never bites,” and later finds out the hard way that he would. 

     No one likes to hear about someone being bitten by a dog.  Especially disturbing is when a child is bitten by a dog.  Studies show that over four million people are bitten by dogs annually and about half of those bitten are children.  Many experts report around half of dog bites children experience are from a dog the child is familiar with, either the family’s own dog or that of a neighbor. 

     Many serious dog attacks occur when a child is visiting the home of a relative or family friend.    Dogs that are not used to young children can be frightened by their screaming, running, and playing.  Many dogs are very protective of their human families and might bite because they think their owners are in danger.  Some family pets are especially protective of the children in the family.  When a child has a friend over, special attention must be paid to see how the pet will react to an unfamiliar child in the home.

     Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog. Because of their size, infants and toddlers are easy for dogs to reach and are dangerously vulnerable to even minor bites. Keep children away from dogs that are eating, sleeping or caring for puppies. These dogs are more likely to be territorial and might instinctively lash out, even if they are normally gentle. Young children are unlikely to be aware of the dangers of disturbing a dog that is exhibiting signs of defensiveness. Teach children to keep their faces away from dogs. The face and neck are very vulnerable to bites and this reduces the likelihood that the child will make eye contact with a dog and seem threatening.

     Dogs are pack animals, meaning they live in a group with a strict social structure. When a dog joins your household, he needs to learn his position within your family “pack.” For safety and comfort, everyone in the family needs to be higher in the pack order than the dog.   A dog that knows “his pack” has a strong leader feels secure, accepts the rules, and lives happily. Children often have a more difficult time establishing their position in the pack—at least in the dog’s eyes. He may view the child as equal to him in height and social position, and feel he has the right to discipline the child when he or she tries to take his food or toy, or plays too rough. Training both the dog and the child is essential to ensure safety and happiness.

     Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because of the breed of a dog. All dogs can bite, and their upbringing plays a much larger role in a dog’s tendency to bite.  Keep children safe around pets by remembering that dogs are animals—though many seem human, they are not. 

By Linda Bates
County Extension Agent - 4-H
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Linda Bates
County Extension Agent - 4-H
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
236 Woodbine Hot Springs AR 71901
(501) 623-6841

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