Before approaching a strange dog, most children know that they should ask a parent and the dog’s handler for permission. But how many think of asking the dog’s permission too?
At Doggone Safe, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing dog bites through education, being a “dog detective” is part of the curriculum. Kids are taught to understand a dog’s body language, including signs that the dog may be fearful or potentially aggressive. If the dog yawns, licks its chops, or turns away, it probably isn’t in the mood for a meeting. If it’s growling or standing stiff with its tail in the air, beware!
“It’s about having empathy for the dog,” says Joan Orr, president and co-founder. “Kids should wait for the dog to approach them and sniff them and show signs of happiness before patting the dog.”
Doggone Safe’s volunteers have educated about half a million children since 2004, mostly through an interactive seminar program for schoolchildren.
“We teach kids that their head contains the tools needed to keep them safe,” Orr says.
Dog safety tips for children
Unfortunately, many kids – like many adults – don’t know how to interact with dogs safely. Any dog that feels threatened may bite. Even dogs who want to play can quickly get over-excited and nip, jump, or knock a child over.
- Dogs perceive many things humans love to do as threatening, including hugging, kissing, and waving our arms around. Kids should not try to hug or kiss a dog on the face; instead, scratch them on the chest or the side of the neck.
- Dogs are attracted by movement, so running away is seen as an invitation to give chase. If a strange dog is approaching, or the family dog is getting over-excited, kids should “be a tree”: stop, fold in your branches (hands), and “watch your roots grow” while counting in your head until the dog loses interest. “How many dogs have you ever seen chasing a tree?” Orr says, adding that this is something families can easily practice at home.
- Dogs who are tied up or cannot get away for any reason may feel threatened. Never tease a dog who is tied up, in a crate, or behind a fence. As well, never disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or protecting someone.
- Kids should avoid strange dogs and strangers with dogs.
Dog safety tips for parents
- Parents should supervise all interactions between kids and dogs, and end the interaction if the dog is getting over-excited or the child is bothering the dog. If there is a lot of noise and activity going on, the dog may be happier in a crate or in another part of the house.
- Parents should make sure the family dog is trained using non-aggressive methods. Dogs who are treated aggressively are likely to become aggressive in turn.
These rules apply to all dogs, not just big ones or strange ones. Even a small dog can do a lot of damage. And many dog bites are inflicted by the family dog.
“Our goal with this program is for the ‘Be a Tree’ message to be as well known as the fire department’s ‘Stop, drop, and roll,’” says Orr.
Each year, Doggone Safe challenges its volunteers to educate 50,000 kids during National Dog Bite Prevention Week, the third week of May. To sign up for a seminar or for more information, including videos of dog body language, visit www.doggonesafe.com.