STUDY – OPINION: A study dated 25 June 2020 tells us that during the coronavirus lockdown there was a surge in dog bites on children in the US. You can see where the problem comes from. The children are at home far more than the would be normally. Carelessness may enter into their lives with respect to their interactions with the family dog.
In America children have the highest risk of dog bites. The severity of the injuries are greater with respect to children according to this study. Of the more than 900 admissions into hospital emergency departments per day, more than 40 percent of the victims are children and adolescents.
With children staying at home for months on end and 24 hours a day seven days a week it is no surprise to me that dog bites on children have increased. Perhaps also children become overly energetic (naughty due to boredom) with their dog companions because lockdowns force them to be inside the home.
It is also said that dogs can experience “emotional contagion”. This is when dogs reflect or mirror the emotions and stress levels of their human caregivers. So dogs may become more stressed and agitated. In a previous article I wrote about the high percentage of dogs who are anxious, fearful and stressed. It seems that it wouldn’t take much to tip them over into a state where they might bite an overexcited child.
Apart from emotional contagion, dogs themselves may become more stressed if there is tension in the household. Family tension may have increased in households because of lockdowns. The author of the study says that “our children’s hospital has experienced an almost 3-fold increase in rates of visits to the paediatric ED because of dog bites since our statewide ‘stay-at-home’ order was instituted”.
No doubt the reasons for the increase in dog bites is as the author said “multifactorial”. What he means is that there are many reasons for it. Another reason would be the increased interactions between children and the family dog. A further reason would be perhaps that adults have been supervising their children less diligently because of “new and competing home responsibilities for parents and caregivers” in the words of the author.
In the US there are 82 million children and 77 million dogs living together, confined to the home during pandemic lockdowns. It is no surprise to me that dog bites on children and adults have increased so starkly.
The authors kindly provide some strategies to prevent dog bites which I will recite here.
Parents should always supervise their infants in their interactions with the family dog. When a dog is caring for puppies, eating or sleeping they should not be disturbed. Do not pet a dog while reaching through or over a fence. Do not run away from a dog or run past a dog. I think this is a reference to the prey chasing instinct of dogs. They are predators and will chase animals that run away from them.
Parents should teach children to move slowly when they are near the family dog. Play with dogs should be non-aggressive and gentle. When approaching a dog that you don’t know you should ask the owner first whether you can touch the dog. I have written about this in a previous post which explains how people should approach a dog they don’t know to avoid being bitten or attacked.
The advice is to never approach an unfamiliar dog and if the dog approaches you should stand still with your arms to the side. Dogs should be socialised, trained and provided with regular veterinary care.