s a young kid my father taught me to develop a “healthy respect” for things that I needed to work with that had a component of danger about them. Things like using a power tool, shooting a gun, or even driving a car were treated with a respect for the damage that could result from careless interaction with them. Sadly, dogs are often left off the list of things we need to be taught a healthy respect for.
Imagine a snarling dog. Its teeth barred its tail & hackles raised, barking and snapping and growling, and a child running straight towards it laughing all the way. To most people, (but surprisingly not to all) this dog is showing clear signs that almost any animal in the world would recognize as a warning to stay away from it or else! So why does the child (and even some adults) ignore a warning that seems to be hard wired into every other sentient being on the planet? The answer I think begins for many of us the moment we are born.
I would venture to say that from the moment we are born (those born in a hospital) we are surrounded by, taught by, and dressed in, animals. Animals (and dogs in particular,) are used to teach us, engage us, dress us, and make us feel safe and familiar when we are young. Is it any wonder that a young mind would see no danger in a “live” walking talking comfort blanket? The question isn’t why wouldn’t a child be afraid of a dog behaving aggressively, it’s why would they? That is why it is incumbent upon us as adults to teach our children a healthy respect for all animals and in particular any animal that they are likely to come in contact with. And for those of you that may argue that your dog would never bite your children, let me say without equivocation that you are living in a fantasy world. EVERY dog has the POTENTIAL to bite.
With that being said, here are some key points to consider:
ALWAYS SUPERVISE YOUNG CHILDREN AND DOGS
Young children do not have impulse control, even though they may have been taught not to grab at a dogs ears, they might not remember or have the impulse control to stop themselves. Many bites are a result of an unnoticed problem like an ear infection; unnoticed until a child is snapped at or bitten because they grabbed an infected ear.
TEACH CHILDREN THE PROPER WAY TO APPROACH AND PET A DOG
Dogs are best approached calmly from the side, not head on. A child’s arms should be at their side and they should pet under the chin in a scratching motion, not on top of the head in a patting or hitting motion. Many dogs do not like being pet on the head. It’s a good idea to have children practice on a stuffed toy before trying the real thing.
STARING IS NOT GOOD
Especially when meeting a dog for the first time, we need to avoid “locking” eyes with our dog. This is seen as rude and possibly a challenge in doggie parlance.
ALWAYS ASK THE OWNER BEFORE APPROACHING A STRANGE DOG
Always make sure that you ask the owner (I even ask if the person with the dog IS the owner) if it is okay to approach and or pet the dog. Ask if the dog likes to be pet and if so where.
IT’S NEVER OKAY TO STICK YOUR HANDS THROUGH ANYTHING TO PET A DOG
Kids love to explore. They think nothing of sticking their hands through a fence or into a car where and unattended dog may be. These situations could be highly dangerous because unattended dogs are more likely to practice guarding and defensive behaviors and their frustration levels may be higher as a result of being alone.
These are just a few of the ways in which we can help teach our children a healthy respect for animals; we would love to hear of others that you have. Please leave us a comment and help spread the word so that one less child is bitten, and one less dog is blamed for something that wasn’t their fault.
Dog Bite Prevention Resources
- Dog Bite Prevention: Dogs Bite When Humans Greet Inappropriately by Dr. Sophia Yin
- Dog Bite Prevention Week: Poster on the Body Language of Fear and Aggression by Dr. Sophia Yin
This following illustration on correctly and incorrectly greeting a dog is provided by the talented Lili Chin of doggiedrawing.net