I learned two valuable lessons about dogs at a young age. The first is that there are some people on this Earth that actually don’t like dogs. In fact, some people are even scared of them. This was shocking news to 9-year-old me. My new friend Trisha came over to my house after school to play. When she rounded the corner to the kitchen, she shrieked at the sight of Tonka, my family’s German shepherd. I couldn’t understand why; Tonka was the nicest dog. She ran for the dining room; Tonka ran after her. She motioned to kick him, and he bit her foot. Second valuable lesson learned: any dog can bite, even my gentle-hearted Tonka.
Dog Bite Statistics
Trisha isn’t alone. According to American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), about 4.5 million people get bitten by dogs annually in the United States. Of the close to 360,000 children bitten each year, 37% of them are between the age of 5 – 9, like my childhood friend was. What can we do to prevent so many dog bites?
The Scapegoat Solution
Many local, provincial, and state governments have taken the route of passing breed-specific legislation against breeds like pit bulls (American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers). The intention being that banning these so-called “dangerous” breeds will keep the public safer. Scientists out of University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society showed in a 2008 study that pit bulls are below average or average in aggression towards humans and other dogs, respectively. The study shows that statistically smaller dogs, like Dachshunds and Chihuahuas, tend to be more aggressive. Both were in the top percentiles for exhibiting serious aggression (bite or bite attempts) towards strangers and owners. Of the 120 Dachshunds in the study, 1 in 5 were reported by their owner to have bitten or have attempted to bite a human. The bottom line of the study: labeling a breed as dangerous or aggressive is naive. Within any breed, you’ll find dogs that are aggressive and dogs that are laidback. Passing legislation to ban breeds will not prevent dog bites.
Education, a Preventative Measure
Educating our children, on the other hand, is a key component in preventing dog bites. Many dog bites occur from young children inappropriately playing or petting a dog, including barking in dogs’ faces or pulling their tails. K9Kindness’s Kids 4 Kindness program is a pet responsibility curriculum developed for 4th graders. One of the lesson plans within the course is how to be safe around dogs including bite prevention. Teaching children at a young age to be responsible pet owners and to be safe around pets should be in each school’s curriculum. These children will be exposed to lessons that will help them become responsible and safe adults.
The 4th graders at Hillsborough Elementary School in Orange County, North Carolina, included the program in their curriculum earlier this year. In March, I had the pleasure of being the keynote speaker at the closing ceremony. The students had fantastic dog science questions to ask me. What a joy seeing young children exploring science through Dognition and seeing that science can be fun! If Kids 4 Kindness curriculum was taught in my elementary school, Trisha would have had the knowledge of how to act around a dog in a safe manner. Whether or not your school adopts similar curriculum, if you are a parent, take the time to teach your kids to be safe around pets. Doing so could save your child from harm.