It’s no surprise that households across the U.S. have been under increased stress since the start of the pandemic, with families working and learning from home, quarantines keeping people secluded, and anxiety about exposure to the virus. However, what might come as a surprise is the impact of the pandemic on our dogs, who are exhibiting uncharacteristic behaviors in response to their altered world. Medical professionals are sounding the alarm on a dramatic increase in children experiencing dog bites — a trend that is unfortunately not subsiding as pandemic restrictions ease and families get back to a new normal.
Approximately 82 million U.S. children have been restricted to home to some degree as a result of the pandemic, and 77 million of them have dogs who are feeling the increased anxiety of their owners.
The increase in dog bites — which is currently three times the average rate — is primarily attributed to:
- Increased exposure between kids and dogs as a result of more time at home
- More playtime between kids and dogs as a result of no playdates
- Increased stress in dogs as they feel the impact of heightened household stress
- Decreased supervision of children around dogs as parents juggle work and childcare responsibilities from home
Following are safety tips to help dog owners navigate these unusual times and ensure their children don’t become part of the alarming statistics.
Teach Young Children Proper Behavior Around Dogs
As a parent who is also a dog owner, your child must understand what can prompt a dog to bite, even when they have no such history and have a seemingly calm demeanor. When provoked enough, any dog is capable of biting.
When interacting with dogs, teach your children to:
- Avoid disturbing a dog that is sleeping or eating
- Never run from a dog, as this kicks in their predatory instincts
- Approach their dog slowly and avoid startling them by approaching from behind
- Always keep their face and head away from their dog’s face
- Never reach through a fence to pet an unfamiliar dog
- Never approach an unfamiliar dog without asking for permission from the owner
- Recognize dog behavior, both verbal and non-verbal, such as growling, ears pinned back, wide eyes, and hackles raised
Of course, you want your children to play with your dog — but have them do so with caution during these stressful times. It’s entirely normal for your dog to playfully bite during playtime, called “mouthing,” but it’s also essential to know when they’re going too far. The ASPCA offers insight regarding playful mouthing versus biting during play.
Be a Responsible Dog Owner
As a dog owner, there are several steps that you should take to ensure your dog keeps their typical calm demeanor around children. However, you should always be prepared that they might lash out and bite under stressful circumstances.
To avoid the harmful effects of dog bites, make sure your dog is:
- Up-to-date with vaccinations, especially rabies, in the event they are provoked to bite
- In good health and routinely seeing your veterinarian for wellness exams
- Properly trained to respond to basic commands that could help avoid a dangerous situation
- Socialized adequately so they don’t act aggressively around unfamiliar people or in strange places
- Receiving adequate quiet time to help alleviate stress and anxiety
- Always on a leash when outside or in public
- Getting enough exercise to release energy and allow calm behavior at home, especially for young dogs and puppies
While the above tips will help, the golden rule is to always supervise children around dogs. Regardless of your dog’s protective nature with your children or their sweet personality, any dog is capable of biting if poked and prodded enough. Remember that biting is an instinctive behavior for them when they feel threatened or fearful.
Families with both children and dogs have experienced unique challenges due to the pandemic. As the virus subsides and we get back to a somewhat normal life, your dog will revert to its loving, calm demeanor. They absorb the environment around them, so as your stress and anxiety are slowly alleviated, theirs will be as well. Dogs are creatures of habit and thrive on a predictable schedule. Making sure they have their needs met will also relieve stress and anxiety in your dog. If you know your dog is showing signs of stress, remove them from the situation before they react aggressively. Our children’s safety is the number one priority.
If you have any further questions about how to prevent dog bites in your home, please feel free to reach out to your primary veterinarian.