It’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week. And, if you have a child in your home, chances are there’s a natural curiosity about most dogs that is only enhanced by a child’s exuberance to make a new furry friend. That mixture could put your child at risk for a dog bite unless you take steps in advance to make him or her more dog savvy.
There are over 70 million dogs in the United States and while most will never bite, there is always potential to be bitten, often by a dog you know. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), dogs bite over 4.5 million Americans each year with at least 1 in 5 of those bitten needing medical attention.
The AVMA also found that children are the most common victims and the most likely to be severely injured. Most dog bites with kids occur during everyday activities while interacting with familiar dogs. Seniors are the second most common dog bite victims. The good news is, with proper training and education, you can lessen the chance of a dog biting your child.
“We teach dogs or train dogs to do this and that. We don’t really train people how to interact and train them on how to respect and react around the dogs,” say Denise Theobald, owner of Canine Massage Chicago. She is working to change that by offering classes to help kids do a better job of interacting with dogs…and their parents a better job of coaching kids on how to act. Classes like this give kids and parents the tools they need for dog bite prevention.
“The kids class is to recognize what happens before you touch a dog,” she says. “You must get permission and communicate with the dog. So much of it is how you approach a dog along with how you touch and communicate with him or her. If you were approaching or greeting another human in this manner, it would be something that no one would tolerate.”
When kids see a dog, often the reaction is to run up and touch the dog – either to pet or hug him or her. If you put yourself on a dogs level, what would your reaction be if someone – at your eye level – ran up to you and did the same thing? The fast motion, swinging of arms, stiff movements and pitch of a child’s voice are also triggers to dogs – even dogs that know that child very well. That type of information goes a long way in dog bite prevention.
Theobald works with kids and their parents to get them on the right track with one-hour sessions at her Oak Park office. The next Safe Dog Handling Classes are slated for June 15 with an hour long class for 3 to 7 year-old kids slated for 8 a.m. and the 8 to 12-year-old class slated for 9:30.
Each class is open to five children and she provides the kid-friendly dogs, and coaching, to get everyone on track for dog bite prevention. The cost per child is $20 each per child and parent. And, a parent must participate. Here are her tips to for kids to forge safer relationships with new dogs.
1) Asking permission – It’s important to teach a child that you never, ever touch a dog without getting permission from pet's guardian first and foremost. If he or she approves, you then get permission from the dog.
2) Getting the dog’s consent – Children need to be less invasive when they approach a dog. Approach slowly and talk quietly, low and in front of the dog instead of reaching over their head. Dogs tend to be reactive and this approach will make them less reactive. They should also learn to read a dog’s body language – if the ears are back, a dog steps backward, the cower, tuck their tail under, turn their head or lick their lips, they are stressed and should not be approached.
3) Rewarding the dog – Many dogs do well with treats as rewards when learning new things or meeting new people. Theobald points out that if it’s OK with the pet’s guardian, children still need to know the proper way to give a dog a treat. It’s fairly common for kids to get bitten inadvertently when handing a dog a treat.
4) Touching the dog – Because a pet massage therapist teaches this class, there is a strong focus on learning the appropriate time to touch and how to touch the dog. If a dog is moving around a lot, the time isn’t right. If a dog is settled, the timing is better and the dog may be more accepting of your touch.
5) Building a relationship – You wouldn’t touch a person you didn’t know without building a relationship first. Think of a dog in the same way. If you don’t know a dog and haven’t built a relationship, give that dog space and respect and build on that.
6) Better safe than sorry – It’s so tempting when you see a dog on the street or in a dog park to want to pet them right off the bat. That is often the worst time to pet a dog because of all the distractions. Always err on the side of caution to be safe before approaching a dog.
“Many people have lived years with dogs, but don’t really know what their dogs are telling them,” adds Theobald. “Dogs communicate through a variety of sensory skills – seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling – they get a lot from our energy before we ever touch them. We really need to focus on how they communicate and understand and be more calm around dogs.”
She recommends that dog owners be firm about their expectations when people approach their dog. Let them know that a dog may be reactive, nervous or unfriendly and don’t be afraid to tell people it’s not OK to touch your dog. There is currently a yellow ribbon campaign in the dog community – if a yellow ribbon is tied to a leash, it warns that a dog should be approached with caution.
The AVMA also has a variety of tips to help keep your child safe, how to read a dog’s body language and to guide dog owners to responsible dog ownership. Other keys are leaving dogs alone when eating and in their crate, don’t pull their ears and tails and don’t take their toys. When a dog walks away, give him or her their space. This is also important information to help in dog bite prevention.
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