Morgan Sickles, 12, of Pewaukee, Wis., shares a moment with her dog "George," a cavalier King Charles spaniel, after they were eliminated by the judge from the Junior Show class at the Marshfield Area Kennel Club Dog Shows at the Central Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in Marshfield, Wis., Sunday, Aug. 15, 2004. Kids need to be taught how to deal with dogs to avoid biting incidents.
AP Photo/the Marshfield News-Her
Children naturally delight in hugging, petting and playing with their pets. But unfortunately, many kids grow up believing all dogs are gentle and friendly like theirs may be, and commonly fall victim to a dog attack, simply because they'd never been taught when it's not OK to approach a dog.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has stated that about 4.7 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs 80 percent of them by canines they knew and interacted with regularly. It's estimated that more than half of those bitten are under the age of 13.
Animals are everywhere and though many are domesticated, this does not automatically make them safe. Teaching kids the do's and don'ts regarding animals is among one of the most important lessons you'll ever teach them.
Children should start being taught safety guidelines regarding dogs when they are quite young, and these precautions should be reinforced frequently.
First and foremost, it's important to remember that even the friendliest dogs can be uncomfortable with a child's quick movements and loud tone of voice.
Children tend to get excited around dogs, approaching quickly, talking loudly, sometimes even hugging. Any one of these actions can easily result in a bite.
Make it clear to kids that running up to a dog is a no-no. Children should be taught not to make loud noises or sudden movements when approaching a dog and to speak softly to it. Also, they should never approach a dog without a grown-up's supervision.
It should be explained to kids why they should never attempt to pet strange dogs, such as a stray that comes in the yard, a dog behind a neighbor's fence, or one left in a car while the owner is in the store.
Explain that most dogs naturally protect their property and home and may bite to defend it from a stranger. A dog's property does not just include the area it is living or occupying, but also may include its possessions. Children should be taught to leave a dog alone when it is eating or chewing on a bone, treat or other item it may try to protect.
If a dog is leashed, teach kids to ask the dog's owner's permission to pet the dog first. Even then, teach children to keep their face away from the dog's when approaching or playing with them.
Children also should be taught never to grab at a dog, but rather to hold their hand out first and allow the dog to sniff it. Teach them how to pet the dog gently and make it clear what will hurt the dog and should be avoided, such as touching its eyes or pulling on its fur, ears or tail.
Learning to understand dogs' body language is another important way children can avoid being bitten. Teach kids that animals use body language to tell us how they feel, and that when a dog is angry or fearful, they are likely to bite and should not be approached.
An angry dog may try to make itself look big: ears standing up, the fur on its back standing on end and tail straight up (it may be wagging). A frightened dog behaves differently, and may shrink to the ground, put its tail between its legs and fold its ears back.
Children should be aware that they should never touch a dog that is growling, showing its teeth or barking hysterically.
Kids also should know what to do should they encounter an unknown dog that is not on a leash or with a caregiver. Teach children to avoid such dogs, not make direct eye contact with them and slowly and quietly walk away. Teach kids to never, ever try to outrun a dog.
With a little bit of knowledge, and by teaching children from an early age to love dogs with some caution, many dog bites can be prevented.
Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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