Playing Safely with a Dog


With children and dogs out and about as spring approaches, something is bound to happen when the two groups encounter each other, particularly if a child provokes a dog resulting in a dog provoking a child. 

Believe it or not, there are over 4.5 million dog bites that occur each year. If you want to take the bite out of a dog’s bark and enable a child to play safely with a dog, let me provide a few suggestions:

  1. First, teach your child to be careful around pets. They should always ask permission from a dog’s owner before petting the dog and never approach a strange dog they do not know.
  2. A child should not startle a dog, but instead offer an open palm a couple of inches away from the dog – allowing the dog to approach and sniff.
  3. Stroking a dog who has warmed up to a child under the chin is a smart way to pet the dog. The dog can see where the hand is—which makes him or her more comfortable.
  4. Teach your child to think like a dog—meaning asking them if they would like to be poked if they were eating or sleeping. Remind them never to bother a dog that’s caring for puppies, and never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.

How to Protect Your Child

  • Make sure your dog is vaccinated against rabies.
  • If a dog appears threatening, teach your child to stay calm, and avoid eye contact. They should stay still or back away slowly until the dog leaves, but never turn around and run.
  • If a dog knocks a child down, they should curl into a ball and keep their hands over their face and neck.

Treating a Bite

If a bite does occur, apply pressure to stop the bleeding and then wash the wound out under running water for several minutes, ideally using something with some pressure such as a sink hose. The wound should then be covered with sterile gauze or a clean cloth while you call your health care professional for further instructions. 

Hopefully, tips like these will cover any pet-ticular issues you have when it comes to knowing more about what to do if you’re worried about your child getting bitten by a dog.

Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5.

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