Helping Deaf Dogs and Children Meet Safely
With Geralynn Cada, CPDT, AKC CGC Evaluator
In celebration of National Dog Bite Prevention Week, I’m sharing some ways we can help deaf dogs and children meet each other safely. Keeping children safe around dogs, and deaf dogs safe around children, is a two way street: it requires both responsible pet owners and responsible parents. I’m thrilled to have Geralynn Cada, CPDT, AKC CGC Evaluator join the conversation and offer her professional observations and tips.
NOTE: It’s important to note that while this post is written with deaf dogs in mind, most of the information and tips apply to any dog.
The 1st Time a Child Scared the Bejeezus Out of Me
I remember the first time a child scared the bejeezus out of me. I was walking Edison through my neighborhood when a young girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old, came charging towards us, excitedly screaming, “Doggy! Doggy!”.
Her mother was trailing behind her pushing a stroller, moving faster with each step but quickly losing ground. I knew she was trying hard to catch up and gain control of the little girl, but the girl was closing in faster with every ”Doggy!”.
I knew that I didn’t have much time to jump into action and gain control of the situation.
My mind was racing, quickly assessing our environment and my options to keep both the little girl and Edison safe. I knew she only wanted to meet Edison and make a new friend, but she was doing it all wrong. My biggest fear was that she would startle Edison and and that he would bite out of fear. Each second counted- and I didn’t have many left.
All my options we defensive. So I took a deep breath…
The first thing I did was make sure I had a firm grip on Edison’s leash and began to wrap it around my hand, shortening the length of the leash and keeping him close to my body.
Second, I yelled at her to stop, warning her that he would bite her if she came closer- he probably wouldn’t but I couldn’t risk it and we tell white lies to children all the time, don’t we?
Then I yelled to the mother that Edison didn’t like children. She started yelling at the little girl to stop. She didn’t.
I looked all around to find a safe place for Edison and me. I just needed to buy some time safely away from the little girl until her mother caught up and, grasping her hand, guided her away. Fortunately, just across the street was a small, fenced-in dog park. I got Edison’s attention and we quickly slipped across the street, into the dog park and securely closed the gate behind us.
Safety found…but what if we hadn’t been so close to the dog park? The universe was looking out for us that day, but if that dog park hadn’t been there, things could have gone south, and quickly.Some Facts About Dog Bites
- According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States. Since many dog bites go unreported, this accurate number of dog bites is surely higher.
- Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention. In fact, more than 800,000 people receive medical attention for dog bites each year.
- At least half of all people that are bitten are children.
- By far, children are the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
- Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
- And no, Breed-Specific Legislation is NOT the answer!
Oh, and did you know that most dog bites are preventable?
(Source: American Veterinary Medical Association)
How I Protect My Deaf Dogs (and Other People’s Children)
If you’re anything like me, when you’re out and about with your deaf dog, you’re constantly aware of approaching cars, people, children, dogs and other environmental changes or potential threats.
Deaf dogs are only aware of what they can see, which means they are clueless if any threats or potential dangers are approaching from their side or back. My deaf dogs depend on me to let them know of changes in their environment and I take this responsibility seriously.
Without a doubt, it is children that kick me into hypervigilance fastest and make me even more over-protective. Every preventative measure I take is to protect both my dogs and the child.
Remember, by far, children are the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
Also Remember- If a dog bites someone, regardless of the circumstances and no matter if it was provoked or due to human error, it is nearly always the dog who is blamed and pays the price.
The reason that children concern me the most is not because I dislike children. I promise you, that’s not the case.
Rather, when it comes to unknown children interacting with my dogs, I quickly discover one of four things to be true:
- First, the child has been taught by his or her parents to ask permission to pet my dog and has also been taught the proper way to greet a dog- and the child remembers and follows the rules of dog etiquette.
- Second, the child has been taught these things, but in her excitement, forgets them and charges towards my dog, increasing the likelihood that my deaf dog will be startled and bite out of fear.
- Third, the child has not been taught by her parents to ask permission or the correct way to approach a dog, increasing the likelihood of a fear bite.
- Fourth, parents are completely unaware of my dog AND they aren’t paying attention to their children either.
When I see a child approaching, I usually do one or more of the following:
- I let the parents and child know my dog is deaf and that I need to let him know they are approaching so he doesn’t get startled. This is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to make sure a parent is involved and engaged in their children’s approach and interaction with my deaf dog.
- I let my deaf dogs know that a child is approaching. I get his attention and make sure he sees the child. This prevents startling.
- I make sure I have a firm grip on my deaf dog’s leash without increasing leash tension, which unintentionally increases any stress or tension my dog may be feeling.
- I wind the leash around my hand to reduce the length of the leash and keep my dog close next to my body to maintain better control of him. Because leash tension is likely to increase stress levels in my dog, I only do this when a child is within reach of an extended leash.
- If I feel any uncertainty at alI, I move away from the child by turning a corner, crossing the street or simply waiting a safe distance away until the child passes.
As I said before, keeping children safe from dog bites is a two way street: it requires both responsible pet owners and responsible parents.
Tips to Protect Your Children by Geralynn Cada, CPDT, AKC CGC Evaluator
Does the hair on the back of your neck stand up when you and your child meet a new or unknown dog?
The dog seems nice, your child’s excitement is growing and she or he can’t wait to make a new four-legged friend! But with your heart and brain arguing, you hesitate to allow any interaction. What if your child gets bitten?
Learning and then teaching your child the proper etiquette for meeting and interacting with any dog is key to keeping your child safe and providing comfort to both your heart and brain! Education is power and will go a long way to keeping your child safe when interacting with dogs, whether they are family pets or unknown dogs she or he meets at Starbucks.
So how do you teach your child to approach a dog? And how do you make sure your child remembers- then follows- the proper steps whether you’re around or not?
Here are five tips that will help ensure that when your child meets a dog, she or he will approach and interact with the dog properly, vastly decreasing the chance of your child being bit and becoming yet another dog bite statistic.
- Ask Permission: Before attempting to meet any dog, always ask the dog’s guardian’s permission. Also, it is never appropriate to approach a service animal or a stray dog. Never. They are both off limits, period.
- Check Your Vibe: If you are stressed or fearful, dogs can sense and smell that from many yards away. Dogs are experts at reading your body language and most have a sense of smell that is 20x greater than ours. Body language and biochemistry cannot be hidden. If you feel stressed, it’s best to walk the other direction until you’re able to control your thinking, relax and calm down. This will not be a drill.
- Clean Clothing Free of Food: Make sure your child’s clothes are relatively clean and not covered in food so you don’t temp the dog to want to have a bite of what seems to be a sweet tasting T-shirt snack. Drool, using clothes as a napkin and spills of any sort may be tempting for a food motivated pooch. If your child’s clothes are a proverbial buffet, walk away.
- Give the Dog Space: Always let the dog come to you and your child. Don’t ever allow your child to run up to the dog, especially if he has no idea who you are. You just don’t know what experiences this dog has had and it’s best to be safe.
- Watch Your Hands: Do not under any circumstance lift your hands above the head region or have a hand pointed in any direction around the dog’s face.
Knowing these tips before you allow your children to interact with any dog- whether it is a family pet, a neighbor’s dog or an unknown dog on the street may save you from hospital visits, healing scars, heartache and a permanent fear of dogs.
Practice at home with your own dog or a stuffed animal until your kids can flawlessly demonstrate the correct way to greet any dog and you may help forge a lifelong love affair with dogs. Who knows…one day, you may be beaming with pride as your daughter graduates vet school!