Children seem to love dogs with a passion. They just need to learn to love dogs with some caution.
This lesson is critically important for kids. Each year, about 4.7 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs--80% of them by canines we know and interact with regularly--and it's estimated that more than half of those victims are under the age of 13. What's more, children are at least three times more likely than adults to sustain a serious dog-bite.
The good news is that most bites can be prevented. And during National Dog Bite Prevention Week, May 16-22, the National Association for Humane and Environmental Education (NAHEE), The HSUS's youth affiliate, is spreading the word to do exactly that: prevent children (and adults) from suffering the sting of another dog bite.
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. So what's a child to do? In a nutshell: Speak quietly and move slowly around dogs, and follow these simple rules:
- Before petting someone's dog, ask the person's permission. If it's okay, approach slowly and quietly. Let the dog sniff you first, then pet the dog's sides or back gently.
- Never sneak up on or pet a dog who is eating or sleeping. Animals may bite when they're startled or frightened.
- Never pet a dog who is playing with a toy. Dogs are often protective of toys, and may think a child is trying to take it.
- Never try to pet a dog who is in a car. Dogs will often protect that space.
- Never pet a dog who is behind a fence. Most dogs naturally protect their property and home.
Learning to understand dogs' body language is another important way to avoid being bitten. Teach children that animals use body language to tell us how they feel. When a dog is angry or fearful, she is likely to bite, and should never be approached. Here are the signs to look for:
- An angry dog may try to make herself look big: ears standing up, the fur on her back standing on end, and tail straight up (it may be wagging). She may bare her teeth and growl, and stare straight at whoever is approaching.
- A frightened dog behaves differently, and may shrink to the ground, put his tail between his legs, and fold his ears back.
Although children will most often interact with their family's and neighbors' dogs, they need to know what to do should they encounter an unknown dog, off-leash and without a caregiver. Teach children to avoid such dogs, not make direct eye contact with them, and slowly and quietly walk away. If a strange dog approaches, children should follow these tips:
- If you are walking, stop and stand still (like a tree) with your hands at your side.
- If you are playing on the ground, lie still on the ground (like a log) with your knees tucked into your stomach and your hands over your ears. When you stay still and quiet like this, the dog will most likely just sniff you and go away.
- Never, ever try to outrun a dog. Back away slowly from him instead.
How can you ensure that children learn those valuable lessons, and put them into practice? NAHEE offers the following teaching tools to help parents, teachers, and animal care professionals do just that--in a way that will grab children's attention and make learning fun.
- The B.A.R.K. (Be Aware, Responsible, and Kind)¿ Dog Bite Prevention Program, a video and activity book of lessons, worksheets, and coloring pages proven effective in teaching elementary school-aged children how to behave safely around dogs.
- The Play It Safe with Dogs¿ Spanish-English coloring book, which teaches young children how to avoid dog bites.
- The Doggone Crazy! board game, perfect for teaching the whole family about dog bite safety. Players quiz one another and act out safe behaviors as they race around the board collecting bones. Includes photographs of dogs signaling a range of emotions through postures and facial expressions.
- BOW WOW "OW!": Learning to Be Safe with Dogs, a new 8-minute video with a mix of animation and a real-life setting to hold younger children's attention.
- The colorful "Play It Safe with Dogs"¿ megaposter, a colorful, oversize poster that illustrates dog body language and all the major rules.
"NAHEE is thrilled to offer such a diverse range of dog bite prevention resources," says Executive Director Bill DeRosa. "Teaching children to behave safely around dogs will not only prevent injuries, but also help to enhance the bond between people and pets."
To order NAHEE's dog bite prevention materials for kids, visit the NAHEE web site (http://www.nahee.org/bite.asp) or call (860) 434-8666.
Check out hsus.org during National Dog Bite Prevention Week in May for tips on how to "bite proof" your pooch.