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How to teach pets and children to coexist

By teaching children and dogs to understand one another, we can ensure they can be together peacefully without the danger of bites

It is essential to instruct children not to harm animals and to approach them calmly. (Unsplash/Annie Spratt)

By Dr Nameeta Nadkarni

LAST PUBLISHED 22.02.2024  |  01:00 PM IST

Recently, there have been multiple videos and posts on social media about children being bitten by dogs, and it has sparked heated debates. Sadly, every year, thousands of children suffer from pet dog bites, and some require medical care. While our furry friends are cherished family members, it’s crucial to understand the risks they can pose, especially around children.

Dog may bite for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is a defensive reaction when a dog feels threatened or provoked by a child. Fear, stress, anxiety and territorial instincts can contribute to a situation where a dog may lash out at a child. Children are especially vulnerable because they move unpredictably, may not recognise a dog’s cues, and often approach unfamiliar dogs without caution.

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If a child is bitten by an unvaccinated dog, there is the fear of contracting rabies. Whether the bite is from a pet or a stray, wash the area immediately with a disinfectant solution and have a physician take a look at it to give the child the necessary shots and medication.

It’s important to educate your child early on about a dog or a cat’s body language. Children often take cues from their parents, so if parents demonstrate empathy towards animals, children naturally develop respect for the personal space of dogs or cats. Teaching children to seek permission before interacting with a dog or cat is crucial. It’s important to note that dogs and cats may not appreciate being petted especially by unfamiliar individuals. Getting too physically close to animals, particularly unknown ones, can be interpreted as a threat by the animal.

Schools should also set up educational sessions with pets so that children learn how to behave around animals.

It is essential to instruct children not to harm animals and to approach them calmly. Loud sounds or sudden movements, especially when the animals are eating or resting, can startle them, increasing the risk of a bite or a scratch. Children should be taught to respect an animal’s space.

Children must also be educated about a dog’s body language when it is agitated. Show them images and videos of dogs baring their teeth or displaying signs of stress, like tucking their tail between their legs, flattening their ears or licking their lips. This visual education helps children recognise signs that they should not approach the dog.

Closely supervise interactions between children and dogs, who may not grasp the importance of being gentle. Never leave them alone together. Also, set clear boundaries for both children and dogs, including designated areas where the dogs can seek refuge if they feel stressed or overwhelmed.

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Dogs also must be trained and socialised from a young age so they learn not to perceive little children as threats. Consider enrolling your dog in obedience classes and exposing them to diverse environments, people and animals early on. Positive reinforcement techniques like praise and rewards are effective in reinforcing good behaviour.

Make regular visits to the vet to ensure your pet stays up-to-date on vaccinations and to address any behavioural concerns early on. Other factors such as pain and any kind of discomfort can also trigger a pet to snap or lead to a sudden change in behaviour.

It’s best to keep the your dog on a short leash in public spaces like parks, lifts or buildings. Teaching your puppy basic commands like “stay" and “come" is essential so they can respond appropriately in different situations.

Preventing dog bites necessitates a joint endeavour involving parents, caregivers, educators and dog owners. Through raising awareness, teaching children and adopting preventive measures, we can establish safer scenarios where children and pets can coexist peacefully.

Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.

Also read: 11 reasons why you must train your dog, regardless of size or breed