Taking the teeth out of dog bite fears

My grandchildren will be staying with me for a few weeks this summer. I am excited about the visit but am concerned as well because my dog doesn’t have much experience with children, nor do the children have much experience with dogs, and I am worried that my dog will bite one of the children. How can I best prepare, prevent, and — worst case scenario — treat a dog bite?

Dogs can give children so much — affection, companionship, play — that it is easy for kids to think a dog is just like them. In some ways they are, of course: they eat, play, and sleep, but it is important for everyone’s safety to clearly acknowledge the dog’s boundaries.

An animal can’t speak up and say, “Hey! Let go of my tail! My ears aren’t handles! Enough with the wrestling!” However, dogs do give us signs with their behavior that they aren’t happy or are becoming irritated. When your grandchildren arrive, be sure to sit them down and go over a list of basic behavior rules, and give everyone an opportunity to get to know each other before the fun begins.

For the best chance of a bite-free summer, share these preventative measures with your grandchildren:

• When they approach the dog, they should do so slowly, and give the dog the chance to approach them.

• If the dog is eating, sleeping, or in his crate, leave him alone.

• They should never tease the dog and should never pull the dog’s ears or tail, or climb on or try to ride the dog.

• If they are playing with the dog and then the dog leaves, it means he is done. Don’t try to make him keep playing.

• Should the dog become irritated and act out, tell the children to avoid escalating the situation by yelling, running, hitting, or making sudden movements toward the dog.

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Even the most prepared grandmother can be derailed by surprises, and you should know what to do in the case of a dog bite. First step: deep breath. Assess the bite and, using a towel or wet cloth, apply pressure to the bite area to control bleeding. Then rinse the bite with soap and water, and let water run over the bite to flush out any bacteria. Pat the area dry, apply antibiotic cream, and finish with a sterile bandage.

If the bleeding does not stop after 10 minutes, the bite is on the face, or the bite is from an unfamiliar dog, call your doctor or head for the nearest emergency room. The doctor will examine the bite and determine whether it was deep enough to damage muscles, tendons, nerves, or bones. Then he or she will thoroughly clean the wound and may also remove any dead tissue. Sutures may or may not be needed, depending on the depth of the bite. The doctor may prescribe antibiotics to protect against infection and review whether a tetanus shot is needed.

If the bite came from a stray or unfamiliar dog, or if the owner is unsure about whether the dog has received a rabies shot, please let the doctor know that. Rabies treatment might need to begin.

I applaud you for thinking ahead. Teaching your grandchildren how to understand and respect your dog’s boundaries and behavior should lead to a fun-filled summer for your grandchildren, your dog, and you.