Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dogs and Safety

It's been a crazy long time, people! But I'm back! And I have some really important information for parents:

When I was a year and a half old, our neighbors owned an Old English sheepdog named Piggy. I loved Piggy, and Piggy loved me. Piggy loved hugs, too.

But Piggy, like all good dogs, went to the big dog park in the sky, and our neighbors got another Old English sheepdog, a rescue. As soon as I saw the new dog, I yelled, "Piggy!", ran up, and threw my arms around the dog's neck.

The dog clamped its jaws around my head.

I wasn't badly hurt or visibly scarred, though I still have a dent in my skull, right along the hairline, from the encounter. And it certainly didn't turn me off dogs. But it could have been a serious, even life-threatening or changing injury. I don't blame the dog, since he couldn't possibly have been prepared for a tiny midget to attach herself to its neck like a leech.

I keep thinking about this, though, after several recent encounters between neighborhood children and my dogs, one where a child ran up from behind me to pet my dogs without asking permission, tripped on the curb and fell ON my rescued husky, Dobby. Dobby behaved admirably and even seemed concerned the child had hurt himself, but I have to wonder; are parents still teaching their children proper dog etiquette?

If not, think about this for a minute. Over 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States annually. Most dog bite victims are children, and half of those children are bitten in the face. (source:

Teaching children to safely interact with dogs is like teaching a child to safely cross the street. It's important, and it takes more than one repetition for the lesson to sink in.

Need help? Here's my step-by-step guide to dog/child safety:

Meeting a new dog:

If the dog is on a leash, ask the owner if you may pet the dog. Never run up to a dog with its owner. The dog may think you want to hurt its master, and bite to defend him/her.
If the owner says yes, first introduce yourself by slowly extending a loose fist for the dog to sniff(fingers are easy targets for nips), then pet. If the dog growls or moves away, back off slowly.

If you encounter a stray dog, get help from an adult. Never try to catch or chase a stray. And never, ever, EVER run from a stray dog, even if it is charging you. Running activates prey impulses. Stand your ground and yell, "NO!" Being still and loud makes you look scary; the dog probably won't want to fight you. Wait for the dog to back off, then slowly back away. DO. NOT. RUN. (Case in point: as a child, I was standing at the bus stop with another boy when a neighbor's rottweilers got loose and started charging toward us. I stood still; the boy ran. The dogs ran straight past me and chased the boy until he heeded my yells to stand still, at which point they immediately stopped chasing him and dropped all signs of aggression.)

If you're playing with a friend's dog, or even your own, don't tease. Don't pull ears or tails or try to take away its food. If you did that to a friend, your friend would get mad at you; the dog will, too. And if the dog gets up and walks away, let it go. It'll come back when it wants to play more.

Please understand this information is not meant to frighten anyone. I am a huge dog lover, and firmly believe every child should have a relationship with a dog. But even small dogs can be powerful, and one bad encounter can scar a child physically and mentally for life. Children love water and the outdoors, but must be taught a healthy respect for both. The same goes for dogs.

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