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Does Your Dog Bite?

National Dog Bite Prevention Week, May 18-24 2008

National Dog Bite Prevention Week, May 18-24 2008
Their love is unconditional, their looks can melt your heart, and their intelligence amazes us to no end. Dogs have long been considered "man's best friend," but even the gentlest of pooches has been known to bare his teeth. And not surprisingly, children are the usual victims.

But blending a household with dogs and children is possible, and begins with teaching your kids to respect the dog's fears and instincts.

As every parent knows, children can get excited when they see a cute dog and their natural tendency is to rush up to the dog, talking loudly, and attempting to touch or even hug the dog. Where humans see these actions as endearing, they mean something quite different to Fido. Sudden movements and loud noises are likely to trigger fear and aggressiveness in even the smallest, cutest, fuzziest, and friendliest of dogs. So what can a parent do to keep the dogs at bay? Teach your kids to speak quietly, move slowly and always follow these simple rules when around dogs:

Don't approach a strange dog.

Ask the owner's permission before petting a dog. If given the OK, approach the dog slowly and quietly. Let Fido sniff the back of your hand, then gently pet the dog's sides or back.

Don't bother the dog while he's eating, and never sneak up on a dog that's sleeping. It may be funny to watch Fido jump 10 feet in the air, laughter quickly turns to tears when he lands with teeth bared.

Dogs are just as protective of their toys as children are, so make sure your kids know not to pet a dog while he's playing with his favorite chew toy.

Never pet a dog who's in a car because he will most likely be in "protection" mode, ready to defend his "space."

Same goes for dogs behind fences. The yard is his space, so don't reach through the fence posts to pet the cute little creature; you just may pull back a hand with a few puncture wounds.

Don't let children play with dogs unless supervised by an adult.

Don't try to pet a dog that's caring for her puppies.

Following all these rules doesn't guarantee Fido won't turn into Cujo, however.

Since Fido usually shows how she feels through body language, teaching your child to watch for signs of fear or anger can stop an attack before blood is drawn. Here are some ways Fido uses his body language to warn of an imminent bite:

Ears standing up, fur ruffled up along his spine and tail up and rigid (it may even be wagging) means Fido feels threatened and is trying to make herself look big. She will probably also be growling, baring her teeth and staring directly in the eyes of whomever is approaching her. Your child should stop moving and avoid eye contact (Fido may perceive the staring contest as a challenge).

Dogs who are scared show their fear by tucking their tail between their legs, laying their ears back and shrinking to the ground. But even though Fido is quivering on the ground, she may still lash out, so she should be approached slowly and quietly.

Unknown dogs or dogs off leashes are the most likely to bite. Your child should know what to do in case of these unplanned encounters. Under no circumstances should a child scream or run; she should stop, stand still, with her hands at her side just like a tree, advises the Humane Society of the United States. If your child is playing on the ground and a strange dog approaches, she should lie still on the ground (like a log), with her knees tucked into her stomach and hands over her ears. The dog will probably sniff the child a couple of times, lose interest and go away.

Of course the best way to prevent a dog bite is to supervise anytime a dog is in the room with a child. Obedience training for the dog and conditioning him to enjoy interacting with children will also help keep Fido's fangs sheathed.

Training for both Fido and your child may take a little time, but isn't the reward of those soft, puppy dog eyes and companionship worth the effort?

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