Dogs and children at camp --keeping it a positive experience

Dogs are often a part of camp and, with proper supervision, they can contribute to a positive camp experience. Don’t let a dog bite disrupt that experience. 

According to Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards, bringing animals and children together has both risks and benefits. Pets teach children about how to be gentle and responsible, about life and death, and about unconditional love. Nevertheless, animals can pose serious health risks. 

Camps must be sure dogs are healthy and a suitable pet to bring into contact with children. This starts with an annual check-up by a veterinarian. 

All dogs can display certain behaviors that might give some indication they are about to bite someone. Understanding what may provoke a response should be incorporated into your supervision philosophy when children interact with dogs. Social aggression is one classification that might apply to a camp dog because of its interaction with people on a daily basis. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) outlines several types of aggression that a dog may display before biting. A social aggressive response is usually provoked by things that a dog perceives as threatening or unpleasant, such as:

  • Taking food away

  • Taking a chew bone, toy or stolen object away

  • Disturbing the dog while it’s sleeping

  • Physically moving the dog while it’s resting

  • Hugging or kissing the dog

  • Bending or reaching over the dog

  • Manipulating the dog into a submissive posture (a down or a belly-up position)

  • Lifting or trying to pick up the dog

  • Holding the dog back from something it wants

  • Grooming, bathing, toweling or wiping the dog’s face

  • Touching the dog’s ears or feet

  • Trimming the dog’s nails

  • Jerking or pulling on the dog’s leash, handling its collar, or putting on a harness

  • Verbally scolding the dog

  • Threatening the dog with a pointed finger or rolled-up newspaper

  • Hitting or trying to hit the dog

  • Going through a door at same time as the dog or bumping into the dog

Additional classifications of aggressive behavior can be found at www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/aggression-dogs. Along with maintaining constant supervision whenever children and dogs interact, the CDC recommends teaching children the following basic safety tips and reviewing them regularly: 

  • Do not approach an unfamiliar dog. 

  • Do not run from a dog or scream. 

  • Remain motionless (e.g. “be still like a tree”) when approached by an unfamiliar dog.

  • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and be still.

  • Do not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult.

  • Immediately report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior to an adult.

  • Avoid direct eye contact with a dog.

  • Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies. 

  • Do not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first. 

  • If bitten, immediately report the bite to an adult.

For additional resources, consider contacting your local veterinarian or the ASPCA for assistance at www.aspca.org.

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us or your attorney if you have any questions.

For safety or risk management questions or suggestions, please contact Markel.

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