Yesterday my kids were throwing a toy for the dog and the dog was grumbling in excitement. Suddenly, my 4 year old said, “Stop. He growled. Step back”. I wasn’t afraid of his noises, but I was so proud of her for being safe and protecting her little brother. I told her she was smart for stopping the game when a dog growled. She said, “Yeah, he growled. That means he’s going to spit.”
Sorry, kid. Close, but I think you’ve mistaken our dog for a llama. This experience made me realize that I had no idea what my kid did or didn’t know about being safe around dogs. I’m taking a few minutes to draft my talking points, and sharing them with you, so that you too can have a conversation with your kids about dog bite prevention and safety.
Kids understand best in absolutes. So it’s best to set rules in clear parameters that they can understand. I find myself using the word “never” a lot when it comes to safety talks, so I think we’ll start with 5 easy “nevers.”
Never ignore a growl. It may mean a dog is frustrated and warning you before a bite, which is actually the right thing for a dog to do.
Never touch an animal while they are eating. They may be protective about their food and a child at their flanks is likely going blind side them.
Never pet a dog you don’t know without talking to the owner first. Ask clearly, “Is it okay if I pet your dog?”
Never pet any dog that is tied out or chained up. But what if they know the neighbor’s dog? Nope. Petting the tied-out Shih Tzu next door when I was 7 or 8 is how I got my first trip to urgent care. I wasn’t alone. 25% of dog bites are inflicted by chained dogs, probably because they’re unable to flee.
Never sit, step, or stand on a dog. Not only is that rude and could hurt the dog, but it’s a good way to get bitten. Dogs are not riding toys. Stay off the dog.
By now, after hearing all the “nevers,” I expect my 4 year old to check out completely. But, I’ve got some activities for her (and for you) to extend the dog safety talk.
Play and Practice: If your kid sees a loose dog, they should stand still, with arms down and hands folded, “like a tree.” Pretend you’re a loose dog and your kids need to “freeze” like a tree so the dog will lose interest.
Color!: There are dozens of coloring sheets about dog bite safety, with lots more do’s and don’ts. Additionally, the visual images help to illustrate the differences between a friendly dog and a fearful dog.
Treat: Take a second to help your kid give your dog a treat. I know, this has nothing to do with dog bite safety. But, after all this doggie danger talk, I think it’s a great chance to remind your kid that dogs are actually our friends and not something to fear.