Last week’s dog bite incident in the small coastal town of Blyth in Northumberland, England highlights the need for dog bite prevention programs to be taught to children of every age.
Eleven children were bitten, three required hospitalization and two required surgeries. In the aftermath of a traumatic situation like this, there will be many details that emerge to shed light on the causes and contributing factors that led to so many children being injured. Experts in dog bite prevention and awareness agree that educational programs, like SAFE dog bite prevention, are the key to minimizing and hopefully preventing future incidents.
Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Ilana Reisner of the Reisner Veterinary and Behavior Consulting Services in Media, Pennsylvania commented on the incident on her Facebook page: “In an unfortunate example of a vicious cycle, the children’s screaming and running triggered more arousal in the dog, until he was over threshold, physiologically up-regulated, and completely out of control. The bites here were not intended to send a message, but rather were intended to hurt or kill. I know that’s a hard message to read, but between fear-based/defensive aggression or predatory behavior, unfortunately I think it was the latter.”
Dr. Reiser continued, “Although I sometimes question the advice to children to “stand like a tree” when a dog is attacking, because of worries that staring and freezing can aggravate a biting dog’s fear, in a situation like this it would have been so much better for the children to just be still. Maybe there is no safe alternative once a dog is aroused, but the running, screaming and chaos clearly made things much worse.”
The SAFE dog bite prevention program teaches children calm body language of being still, crossing arms, turning their head and avoiding eye contact that may help diffuse a potentially dangerous situation with a dog. The four key postures of SAFE give children practical alternatives to running and screaming.
Founder of Family Paws Parent Education and professional dog trainer Jennifer Shryock agrees, “Dog awareness programs like SAFE can help prepare children by offering behaviors that will decrease interest and excitement of loose or familiar dogs. Kids who “stay still and chill” are boring vs exciting and this can make a huge difference in how a dog responds. Running and screaming can cause dogs to become more excited and reactive.”
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