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How to Know if a Dog Is Dangerous to Your Child

By Renee Nordstrand on August 11, 2021

A brown and white bulldog sitting on the porch of a houseMany of our friends and neighbors across the country took the time to adopt dogs this past year, and we applaud their commitment to taking care of our furry friends. Unfortunately, most new dog owners discovered the difficulties of training and socializing a pet during lockdown. Dogs, especially ones that were rehomed or rescues, may have a hard time behaving around strangers, loud noises, and in new areas. Poor training naturally leads to more aggressive dogs, and they can be dangerous to children who do not know how to keep themselves safe.

No one wants to demonize man’s best friends, but it is important for parents to teach their children about aggressive dogs to avoid a painful and traumatic bite. At NordstrandBlack PC, we want dog owners and their neighbors to have all the information they need to keep themselves safe, which is why we are here to explain how to spot an aggressive dog and how to teach your kids to be safe.

1. Growling or barking means “stay back”

A dog will let you know when it is dangerous to approach it by baring its teeth, barking, or growling. While you might think that you can calm it down, it is best to keep your distance and let the dog’s owner or trainer handle it. You do not want to find out that the dog’s bite is worse than its bark.

2. Still or rigid dogs are on alert

Sometimes dogs will not bark or growl when they are aggressive. This is common with dogs who have received poor training or live with owners who do not allow barking in their homes. Instead of barking, a dog may appear rigid, stand still, or stand upright when it is agitated. This is because the animal is on alert and watchful for any danger. Remember: an agitated dog is just as likely to bite as an aggressive or barking dog. You should never pet a dog when it is in attack mode.

3. A wagging tail doesn’t always mean happy

Wagging tails are often seen as a sign of happiness or playfulness among pets, including cats and dogs. What most people do not realize is that there are two types of wagging.

Happy wagging occurs when a dog’s entire body is involved in the motion. It may move its head, torso, or walk in place. When a dog is standing still but its tail is pointed up in the air and wagging back and forth, it means the dog is preparing to bite. If you need to know if a dog is agitated, pay close attention to how its tail is moving.

4. Look out for the “white in their eyes”

Dogs normally have big, wide eyes when they are calm, happy, or excited, which may surprise owners when they notice the white in their dogs’ eyes. The white in a dog’s eye will appear as a white crescent moon at the edge of its eyes. This means the dog is feeling anxious or scared and is common in animal shelters. It does not mean the dog is about to bite, but that it is on alert. If you can see the white in a dog’s eyes, make sure to give it some space until it calms down.

5. Dogs pace when they are nervous

Like humans, dogs will pace back and forth when they are nervous or anxious. Owners may notice this during thunderstorms, when fireworks are going off, or if loud music is playing.

6. Give a cowering dog extra space

Just as an angry dog will try to make itself bigger, a scared or agitated dog will often cower away from people. These dogs may be afraid that someone will hurt them and are trying to keep themselves safe. This is common in dogs who are not used to crowds or loud noises, such as at parties or parks. You should never approach a dog when it is cowering, as it may bite to protect itself. If you see a dog cowering out in public, make sure to report it to the owner or, if it is lost or a stray, contact your local animal control so a trained professional can check on it.

What should I tell my child about aggressive dogs?

Children are naturally attracted to dogs of all sizes and will often run to pet a dog the moment they see one. As a parent, you never want to scare your child, but by teaching them how to act around dogs, you can give them the tools to protect themselves.

We encourage you to explain all the tips we shared above with your child and let them know that dogs bite when they are scared or nervous. Just as your child wants to feel safe, so do dogs. You can show them photos of agitated dogs online and point out when a dog is acting aggressively. You can also tell them to:

  • Always give an agitated or aggressive dog space;
  • Never approach a dog without an adult nearby;
  • Avoid touching a dog when it is cowering, pacing, or its fur is raised; and
  • Find a parent, teacher, or police officer if they feel scared.

How can dog owners prevent bites?

The behavior of a dog often comes down to its owner. Owners need to have a firm handle on their dog’s training and be mindful of their behavior, but they should not be too forceful. Yelling at a dog every time it misbehaves can lead to agitation and aggression. Instead, proper instructions from an experienced dog trainer can help a dog learn to behave, manage anxiety, and socialize in public.

Dog owners should avoid taking their dogs out in public until they have had proper training. If you do need to take your dog in public, always keep it on a leash. It is not only good for public safety — it is the law, according to Santa Barbara Municipal Code 6.08.020.

Dog parks, beaches, and other public spaces are not good places to train or socialize untrained dogs, as young dogs may act aggressively in public areas. Owners should only take their pets to off-leash areas when they are trained and ready to be around other animals.

Dog owners should also read up on all local laws when adopting a dog. Dogs who are at least four months old must be vaccinated against rabies, and owners must have a license, according to Santa Barbara Municipal Code 6.12.050. Your local veterinarian may also give you more information about dog training and local programs for new owners.

If you or your child was injured by an aggressive dog, you may be able to recover full compensation for your injuries in a personal injury claim. At NordstrandBlack PC, our Santa Barbara personal injury lawyers have represented multiple clients injured by dogs, including one case where a woman required knee surgery because an aggressive, off-leash dog attacked her dog and bit her when she got in the way at a public park. California law requires dog owners to pay compensation to victims, and we can use our legal experience to get you full compensation for your injuries. Call us today at (805) 962-2022 or contact us online to tell us what happened to you.

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