A Bite Without Warning

girl and dog

My daughter and her friend (both 10) were playing with our dog, Zorro, the other day. The girls were both petting and hugging him when, without warning, he bit my daughter on the nose! Nothing like this has ever happened before. How can I trust Zorro around kids again? ~ Debbie

It sounds to me like your dog was a little overwhelmed. A common problem in kid-and-dog interactions is that the dog is telling the kids he’s uncomfortable, but since the kids don’t “speak dog,” they miss the warning signs. Very few dogs like to be hugged, and being hugged by two affectionate girls may have been too much for your dog.

Carefully supervise when Zorro is around kids, even when it’s just your own kids. Look for signs of stress, such as yawning, turning away, licking his lips, or panting. When you see any of those signs, separate the kids and dog for a while. Later watch to see if Zorro seeks them out again. The best family dogs really enjoy kids, but all dogs will have moments when they are uncomfortable. With a little space and downtime, many dogs will be eager to rejoin the activity.

Intervene early and often when kids and dogs are playing. It's always better to leave them wanting more than to wait until someone get cranky.

Never punish a dog for giving warning signals, such as snarls, growls, or even snaps. Warnings are valuable information! Parents must immediately intervene and take steps to prevent similar scenarios from occurring (such as allowing a dog to feel smothered by well-intentioned hugs).

If you see many stress signals or early-warning signs, I strongly suggest you have a dog trainer provide some personalized advice. This post has some tips for finding a good trainer.

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About the Author

Living with kids and dogs is a lot of work! But when things are going well, a dog can be your child's best friend. That experience is a wonderful gift for any child and well worth the effort involved. Got a question? Let's talk!

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