It is important for adults to teach children how to safely approach an unfamiliar dog and how to protect themselves if they come in contact with an unfriendly dog.
According to the Center of Disease Control, 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, many of these involving children, with dog bite related injuries highest in 5-9 year olds. It is important to teach children how to approach dogs to keep children safe, to keep your pets happy, and to avoid becoming one of those statistics.
Many dog bites happen at home with our own dogs. It does not mean a pet is mean or aggressive, often; the dog simply becomes over-stimulated by the activity around it or becomes annoyed with continual harassment.
Teach kids how to read dog’s body language. Dogs use body language to communicate with us how they feel. What they like, what they don’t like.
Friendly postures include:
· Ears forward
· Tail wagging and held up
· Relaxed body
Scared postures include:
· Body lowered
· Tail tucked between legs
· Eyes avoiding yours
Threatening and potentially harmful postures include:
· Lowered body
· Hair on back of neck (hackles) standing up straight
· Tail straight out
By teaching kids the three postures above, you can ensure that in most cases they will have a good impression on whether the dog is friendly and approachable or not.
Common mistakes that contribute to dog bites
· Do Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
There is truth in the old saying, let sleeping dogs lie. A dog that is suddenly awoken may become frightened and bite out of fear. Dogs are also more territorial and prone to aggression if they are feeding or chewing. Female dogs that are caring for their pups are also more likely to be aggressive. Teach your kids to let sleeping (or eating, or nursing) dogs lie.
· Surprising a dog who cannot hear
· Approaching a dog while eating
· Attempting to take a toy or bone away from a dog
· Teach your child not to pull your dog’s ears, tail or hair
It is a natural instinct for a dog to be protective over his food, belongings, beds or toys. It is imperative to teach children to avoid approaching dogs in these situations. If the child is too young to understand then it is best to keep them away from the dog under these circumstances.
· Do Keep Your Hands at Your Sides
Dogs are often intimidated by raised hands, especially if they have been abused. With dogs, fear is often a precursor to a bite attack. Teach your kids to keep their hands down when approached by a strange dog.
· Don’t Tease
Teach your children to not tease or provoke dogs. Dogs can react violently to teasing, even if the child didn’t mean any real harm.
Approaching an unfamiliar dog
When kids see dogs their first reaction is “Look! A dog!” They automatically think of cute and playful.
Teach your kids to quietly walk by without approaching. If there is an owner with the dog, politely ask if it is okay to approach. Many people do not even realize how their dog will act when being approached by a stranger. It is best that the adult approach first just in case this is the case.
· Introduce yourself by approaching calmly and slowly. Extend your hand, palm down, so the dog can sniff.
· Avoid direct eye contact. Eye contact is one of the dominance behaviors used to sort out who is in charge of whom
· Let the dog decide how much contact he wants. If he starts to back away fearfully or anxious, instruct your child to remove their hand, stand up and slowly walk away.
· If the dog is receptive let your child gently pet the dog.
A dog who is giving short, low, repetitive barks while showing a tense or stiff body might be giving an alarm bark. This means the dog is unsure of the situation.
If the dog is doing a mixture of growling and deep barking with increasing intensity and showing aggressive body language, this is a threatening bark.
Do not approach dogs who are exhibiting these behaviors. However, if a dog is barking in a high pitched manner, making eye contact and standing relaxed, or wiggling all over, this dog might be seeking attention or anticipating a fun interaction.
Use the normal precautions such as reading the other body signals the dog is giving, as well as asking the owner for permission, and approach this dog with caution.
What if a strange, ownerless dog approaches you?
· The most important thing is to tell children to stay calm and not to run away, but to act like a tree. Do this by planting both feet on the ground, hold your hands in front of you and look downward. Remain motionless. Stay calm. Do not attempt to run from the dog. Do not raise or flail your arms. Do not shout. Running may trigger the dog to chase as this is their natural hunting instinct, and the child may end up injured even if the dog is just playing. Don’t Run, Don’t Scream
· Though it may seem counter-intuitive, “being a tree” is a child’s best protection against a serious injury. Dogs chase things that move but they rapidly lose interest in a stationary object. By “being a tree,” your child will be of much less interest to the dog and he will go away and look for something more interesting to pursue.
Dogs are descended from wolves, and they still have an occasional need to chase down prey. Although running away may be an understandable reaction to a dog attack, fleeing may provoke a dog to chase. Similarly, screams and shouts excite a dog, and may worsen its behavior. Teach your children not to run or scream around strange dogs.
If the approaching dog is staring with tail wagging slowly and ears up, turn and walk away calmly without making eye contact.
If the dog is standing in a threatening or aggressive posture, tell the dog firmly (without yelling) to “Go Home” and back away slowly, avoiding any sudden moves.
If the dog decides to chase or attack, curl into the turtle position (roll up like a stone) and yell for help.
Kids need to be taught that in the worst case, a dog attack, they can use their backpacks, books, bikes, or whatever else they have, between the dog and themselves. Use your backpack while curled up in the turtle position as a shield.
If they are on a bike they can use the bike as a shield in front and around them. Continue to block each bite attempt with their bike.
Many of these techniques can be practiced with your child. Play a game with your child pretending you are a dog that is chasing your child and then show your child how to “be a tree.” Use flash cards or photos to depict a dog that is showing aggression, fear or annoyance and practice with your child to recognize those signs.
What about CATS?
Did you know that cats can be just as, if not more so, dangerous than dogs? Yep, that’s right! I am a cat lover at heart and own three of my own. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever went a year without owning a cat since I was a very young child! I like to think that I “think” like a cat, more than a dog.
Cats are not a force to be reckoned with when upset! I urge you to be careful around unfamiliar cats and if your cat shows any signs at all, you may need to see the help of a professional Board Certified cat behaviorist.
Please keep your kids safe around pets! Educate yourself however you can! Thanks pet friends!