Despite the amount of information available on the proper care and treatment of dogs, many pet guardians still have no clue.
They don't bother training their dogs, then can't handle the out of control animal they're left with. That dog is now a perfect candidate to harm one of them, or a stranger.
While the rest of us are preaching responsible pet guardianship, there is a lot parents can do to protect their children, and themselves, from dogs living with those who haven't gotten the message yet.
This information not only applies to unfamiliar dogs you encounter in peoples' homes, or on the streets, but to your own dog as well.
For tips relevant to both kids and adults, I am giving the adults the benefit of the doubt, and listing them under the heading for kids. You'll be reading that section anyway, so you may pick up some information you hadn't been aware of.
Tips to share with your kids
Never run up to a dog you don't know. The dog may or may not like children, be used to being around them, or have behaviour issues that make it unwise, and a safety issue, to interact with them. Approach slowly and quietly, and ask the owner for permission to pet the dog. If the owner says no, make sure your child understands the owner knows his dog's temperament, and is just looking out for the child's safety. If the owner is not there, stay away.
Not every dog likes to be hugged and kissed, so whether it's your own dog, or one you don't know, best to avoid putting your face in his, and teach your kids to scratch a dog behind the ears.
Don't tease a dog, or bother him when he's eating, sleeping or protecting something, her puppies or even a favourite toy, for example.
If an unknown dog approaches, it may seem like instinct to scream or run away, but that could be very dangerous. Stand still, fold your hands, and look at your shoes, avoiding eye contact. He should lose interest, and eventually leave. When he does, slowly back away.
When meeting a new dog, let the dog come to you. Let him sniff either the back of your hand, or present him with your open hand, palm outwards.
Little kids can be rough with their dogs - pulling ears or tails. Even if the dog seems okay with it, one day your child may pull just a bit too hard, or the dog just becomes fed up, and he may bite. Teach your kids to play nicely.
Tips for adults
Always supervise interaction between your children and dogs. Only once the child has shown they can handle the dog, and the dog respects the child, is it okay to leave them alone.
Just because a dog is good natured, doesn't mean he's used to being around children, and may quickly show another side when around them.
Teach your children to respect dogs, and all animals for that matter.
Roughhousing with your dog seems like fun for many, but it's not a good idea. Rough play can lead to aggression, which can escalate to biting.
If your child does get bitten, seek medical attention right away. Let your child know it wasn't their fault, and talk about the importance of training and proper treatment of dogs. Don't let this incident develop into a lifelong fear of them.
Train your dog, but never use methods that call for physical punishment. Involve your entire family, and make sure that training includes getting used to, and enjoying being around children.
Learn to interpret dog body language, and teach your children the signs as well. Dogs will warn before biting.
If your dog seems stressed or anxious, leave him alone.
If you visit a house with a dog, don't leave your child unsupervised.
Don't approach an injured dog, if you have no experience. Contact a vet, or animal control for help.
What dog owners can do to prevent their dog becoming a statistic
Spay or neuter your dog. It makes them healthier, calmer, and eliminates the chance of unwanted dogs ending up in shelters, or in situations where they will be mistreated and become aggressive.
Teach your dog how to live in your world. Dogs should be trained, socialised and exposed to different people, experiences and situations. Get him used to bicycles, strollers, children, the elderly, truck, vacuum cleaners... If you're not confident doing the training, sign him up for obedience classes, or hire a trainer for private lessons.
Supervise your dog around kids. When kids come over wanting to pet your dog, and there are no parents in sight, why not do what their parents should be doing. Tell them to always ask permission from the dog's owner, then show them how to stroke a dog properly. It's better they learn from someone, than not at all.
If you notice aggressive tendencies in your dog, warn anyone who approaches, and walk away.
Always praise your dog for good behaviour.
If your guests' kids are bothering your dog, aside from getting the parents to control them, you can put your dog in another room, or explain why they have to leave. Your house, your call!
Keep up to date on your dog's vaccinations, including rabies.
Never use violence, or get physical in any way, when disciplining your dog.
Keep your dog on a leash, until you are confident he listens to your commands.
How to recognise a dog bite situation
There are so many stories in the news, sometimes it feels like daily, about another kid who got bitten by a dog. What they should talk about, in an effort to educate the public (a great opportunity by the way!), is that dogs usually send off signals, before they bite.
How many signs were ignored, before it escalated to the biting stage? That's because these pet guardians never took the time to train their dog, or understand them.
The most obvious signs are growling and snapping. Others include: hair standing up on their body (hackles raised); licking lips when food is not involved; yawning; turning his head to avoid eye contact, a wagging tail that is pointed high, and moving quickly back and forth.
A fearful dog is one that is cowering, tail tucked between his back legs. He won't necessarily bite, but the chances are greater if he feels he needs to protect himself.
I hope this article hasn't scared anyone away from having a dog, or allowing their children to interact with them.
It's just a way to offer suggestions on how to make dog encounters positive ones.
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