‘Does he bite?’ is usually the first question asked by any child, especially if not familiar with dogs, wishing to stroke your own dog. The answer is almost always ‘No!’ so dog and child finish up enjoying a mutual cuddle, and everybody is happy.
Unfortunately dog bites do occur and in many, if not most, cases the fault is human rather than canine. If any dog is aggressive towards humans there is only one answer, although advice from a behaviourist may be sought first to see if special training might help. On the other hand dogs may be taught by criminal owners to be aggressive – the classic case of abuse by humans! Nevertheless most dogs finish up reasonably well adjusted family pets that intend no harm to their human companions.
However if any biting incident occurs, the dog invariably gets the blame with no consideration being given to the role of its owners. Some bites are accidental, such as sorting out a couple of dogs taking a dislike to each other – they are just like kids having a playground fight! Bites can also happen in other circumstances such as during over-energetic play, foolishly teasing a dog, when fingers can easily get bitten, or suddenly disturbing a dog that is asleep. So many incidents like these can be avoided by proper awareness training of adults and children alike! Unfortunately such training would not seem to be readily available to the man in the street. However help is at hand!
Firstly the Kennel Club, which aims to serve all dogs, launched its ‘Safe and Sound’ scheme last year, offering advice on how to keep children (and adults) safe in the company of dogs, and vice versa of course. It comprises three sections, Sashi the Hound’s 20 Paw Plan giving the safety rules, a quiz - the Safety Factor Challenge and, last but by no means least, Teachers’ Notes. The easiest way to gain access is on-line via the Kennel Club’s web site, www.the-kennel-club.org.uk; go to the section ‘caring for your dog’ and this will give you the link to the ‘Safe and Sound’ site. Alternatively, for anyone without internet access, the Kennel Club can be contacted by phone on 0870 606 6750 for further information.
There is also the Blue Dog scheme which can be contacted on-line at www.thebluedog.org. This is very similar to the Kennel Club’s initiative for preventing bites and, while it originates from Belgium, has British support from the BSAVA and the DogsTrust. Another organisation concerned with minimising bites is the Canine Concern Scotland Trust (www.ccst.freeserve.co.uk) which has produced many helpful leaflets for the public’s benefit, including one on ‘Children and Dogs’.
Many breed clubs have their own sites and, while standards and content may vary considerably, some do include valuable information, and possibly relevant photos, on safety issues. It is certainly worthwhile for anyone interested to do a search on their favourite breeds to see if there is any advice on health and safety.
All involved with dogs, whether just the owner of a single pet or more seriously involved in canine activities such as showing, agility, obedience etc. want, I am sure, things to be a safe as possible in the human-dog relationship and reduce bites to a minimum. It will benefit all owners, and all parents whether dog owners or not, to check the safety measures recommended. However others dealing with children, such as teachers and those involved with organisations such as the Scouts and Guides, could play an even greater role. Teachers, using the notes provided by the Kennel Club and easily down-loaded from the internet, could easily, one hopes, incorporate this into their routine teaching curriculum, as might youth leaders in any social responsibility activities.
To support this, local canine societies (the Kennel Club can supply contact details) and the dog wardens can be invited to participate and bring some friendly dogs for those children who are not used to dogs, or even needlessly afraid of them, to pat and cuddle. It is by working together that incidents involving dogs, often due to human lack of awareness as stated before, can be reduced to a minimum to the benefit of both dogs and humans. The aim is ‘safe and sound’ with no tears of sorrow!