Last September, I wrote a piece titled “Parents/Dog Owners:The Most Important Thing You Can Do When It Comes To Kids And Dogs” in hopes that parents would teach their children to ask to pet a dog before approaching or running up to a strange dog. The reason for this was twofold: 1) to prevent another child from being bitten, and 2) to protect dogs from biting a child which often leads to a dog being put down unnecessarily.
This week, May 15-21, 2011, is Dog Bite Prevention Week so I wanted to again bring attention to this issue by promoting an organization that offers educational programs for school-age children on how to be safe when around their dog, a friend or neighbor’s dog, or a strange dog they do not know. Through their Be a Tree™ initiative, Doggone Safe provides children online courses about dog body language and occupational dog bite prevention. They also provide tools and activities that teachers can use in their classrooms to help educate students on how to be safe around dogs.
And, it’s not just children who should be taking this program or learning about dog body language either. I’ve seen my share of adults put themselves in jeopardy of being bitten simply because they misread a dog’s body language (e.g., a wagging tail doesn’t always mean a dog is friendly) or didn’t know what a dog was telling them. Dogs tell us a lot with their bodies – how they hold their head, how they move, how they look at you, etc. Everyone, adult and child alike, should be educating themselves on the signals a dog gives when playing and when they are about to bite. That’s why I encourage parents and educators to check out the Doggone Safe website.
In the meantime, here are some great safety tips to share with your children.
– Always ASK when you want to pet a dog.
– Remember: NO owner, NO petting!
– Hugs are for people, NOT for dogs.
– NO screaming or running around dogs.
– Never go near a dog that is sleeping, eating or sick.
– Remember that a dog tells you how he feels with his tail, mouth, ears and body.
– Don’t go near a dog in a car, behind a fence or who is tied up – EVEN if you know him.
– Remember, dogs like to chase. If you’re on your bike or your skateboard and a dog runs up to you, STOP and put the bike or skateboard between you and the dog.
– When a strange dog comes near you, be BORING! Stand like a tree!
Please take the time to educate your children about how to be safe around dogs.
About Doggone Safe
Doggone Safe, a non-profit corporation registered in Canada and Ontario, and in the United States, is dedicated to dog bite prevention through education and dog bite victim support.
Dog Body Language Resources
Dogs & Storks™ – Helps expectant families to prepare their home and their dogs for a new baby. (You can also listen to founder, Jennifer Shyrock, share her tips and advice via a podcast interview with Animal Cafe here.)
The Dog and Baby Connection™ - A program that offers positive and practical dog and baby friendly solutions to help increase safety and fun.
Last night our local TV station aired this story “Animal Control Investigates Burnsville Dog Attack” about two Akitas being investigated for biting two children (not the dog owner’s children). Immediately, I wondered about the circumstances. I can’t help it. Whenever I hear of a dog bite I wonder what really happened… what was the back story behind the bite, the dog’s bite history, the dog’s socialization, etc.
In this case, the children were visiting a family friend who was the owner of the Akitas. The kids were playing in the backyard with the Akitas, unaccompanied by an adult, when they were bit. The owner was clear – his dog never should have bitten her in any way, but he also wondered what the children might have done to cause it. He wants his dogs saved. The mother of the children said that her children “would never go up to a dog and aggravate it in any way”. She wants the dogs put down.
It seems like there is little information on either side of this story, since the only ones in the backyard with the dogs were the kids. No adults were even watching the dogs and kids when they were bit. So if you were Animal Control, what would you do?
Just yesterday I saw this important bit of news on children and dogs. It was about the results of a recent study that showed most children often mistake a dog’s bared teeth as a smile. Yikes! That’s not good news!
And yet, it probably shouldn’t be all that surprising to us adults that a child might mistake a dog’s snarl for a smile. After all, how much life experience do most children have with dogs, especially dangerous ones? Most kids love dogs. They love that they’re cute and cuddly, and they’re fascinated by them.
But, as cute and cuddly dogs can be, not all of them are good with kids. The chance of a serious dog bite increases when a child runs up to an unknown dog with the intent on making friends. As a professional dog walker with Mel’s Pet Pals, LLC. it is one of my greatest fears – a child running straight at me (and a client’s dog) with the intent of saying “Hi”. It is dangerous – for both the child and the dog, and yet it happens ALL of the time.
I have learned from all my years of volunteering at an animal shelter that you don’t have a lot of time to stop a child before they get within biting distance of a dog. So, I have learned to say “STOP” very loudly and very quickly. It works most every time. The child stops before reaching the dog, and I have enough time to explain that this is not a dog they can pet.
Parents, you can take a proactive role in preventing your child from being bitten by doing one simple thing. Teach your child to ASK FOR PERMISSION before approaching a dog AND teach her to ask if it is okay to pet the dog first. That’s it. One thing.
Dog Owners, you too can do one thing to lessen the chance a child will be bitten. Reinforce the behavior you want to see. If a child asks for permission to approach or pet your dog, THANK THEM for asking. There is nothing more powerful than praising a child for doing something good. How much better would all of us feel (parents and dog owners) if we could each do our one thing?
Kids and dogs can be great together, but keeping both safe requires a little forethought, training and supervision. If we each do our part, parents and dog owners, we end up keeping both the child and the dog safe. What better outcome could there be?
Hard to believe, but as a child I was bitten twice by two different dogs. The first was by a friend’s puppy and it occurred when I was around 5 years old. He was just playing (like all puppies do) but the interaction left me needing a stitch in my lip “so my lips could look pretty when I wore lipstick”. I was so frightened of getting a stitch to the lip that they had to bind me to the table. Now, you would think that would have been traumatic enough to make me avoid dogs. Nope.
Then, when I was a little bit older, I did what every dumb kid does when they don’t understand dogs. I knelt down and stared the dog in the eyes. Definitely not a good idea. Muffin let me know that she wasn’t happy about it.
Luckily, no stitches were needed that time.
I cannot explain my love of dogs given my past experiences. I have always loved them and I’ve always had a desire to better understand them. That’s why this posting on the Dog Behavior Blog so fascinated me. Thanks to Con for doing the research and sharing it with others like me. I found it interesting to learn which group was more likely to get bitten and what types of dogs were more likely to bite. Check it out. You may be surprised too.