April 23

Prepare for dog encounters - both good and bad

Does your child ever leave the house? Then he or she is at risk of encountering a dog. The overwhelming majority of dog interactions are terrific – most people enjoy petting and playing with a fluffy, polite canine friend.

But every once in a while, a dog encounter goes horribly wrong. For whatever reason, the dog isn’t polite – in fact, it’s especially aggressive. Do you know how to react to minimize a problem? And more importantly, does your kid?

One recent dog attack in Oregon began innocently enough, when an 11-year-old girl went to visit puppies at the home of an acquaintance. The mother dog wasn’t so thrilled with the idea and lunged, damaging the girl’s face. She had to have one surgery already and will need at least one more – there will most likely be permanent scarring.

Was there anything this girl could have done to lessen her risk of attack? It’s hard to say, because the girl’s account of the incident differs from that of the owner. But there are some guidelines that all kids should know about dogs. Make sure you and your children know what to do. Read over this short quiz with everyone in the family and even role-play some situations to better prepare your kids.

Yes or No: Dogs that are caring for puppies are very friendly.

NO! Dogs are most aggressive when they are caring for a litter of puppies, when they are awakened from sleep, or when they are eating. You should never approach a dog, even one that belongs to someone you know, that is doing one of these things. If you want to see the puppies, ask the owner to bring one to you away from the mother dog, or have the owner hold the mother while you look at the puppies. And don’t even bother your own dog when it’s sleeping or eating – wait for it to finish, call it softly to come away from the bed or food dish, or have an adult interact with the dog.

Yes or No: If a dog is little, I can go up to it and pet it without any risk.

NO! Even small dogs bite. They are less likely to do damage to you, but any dog bite can still be very painful and cause scarring. You should be cautious of all dogs, no matter what their size. Never approach a dog you don’t know – always get the owner’s permission and make sure the owner is right beside and can restrain the dog if there is a problem.

Yes or No: Never make direct eye contact with a dog.

YES. Dogs view eye contact, especially from strangers, as a challenge. It would be like telling a human you want to fight with them. The eye contact can be threatening and can actually encourage a dog to attack. When you’re looking at a dog, look at its nose instead of its eyes.

Yes or No: You should always let a dog sniff you before you pet it.

YES. A dog should always have an opportunity to see you and sniff you when you first meet. This is kind of like saying hello and shaking hands with an adult before you start talking to them. Remember, you should not introduce yourself to any dogs without an adult owner present.

Yes or No: If a dog you don’t know does come near you without an adult present, you should run away from the dog.

NO! The dog may think it’s a game and chase you, or your running may encourage the dog to think you can be attacked. If a dog does come close that you don’t know, stand very still like a tree until the dog goes away or the owner comes and gives you permission to pet it. Never pet a strange dog, even if you think it will be safe.

Yes or No: Screaming or making loud noises can make a dog stop chasing or attacking you.

NO! Screaming generally encourages the dog to continue. You should not run from a dog ever because it makes it want to attack. If the dog does make contact with you, such as jumping on you and trying to knock you down, roll up into a ball with your arms over your face and head and one hand on the back of your neck. Practice this and it will be easier if you ever have to do it! Sometimes, the dog might bite anyway, but it will be on your legs or back. Be as quiet as possible until the dog leaves you alone.

Yes or No: If I see a dog knock down or try to bite someone else, I should tell an adult.

YES. Never go up to the dog to try and get it to leave, or it may bite you too. Back away slowly until you know the dog doesn’t see you, then get an adult immediately. If the dog is biting and causing injury to the other person, call 911.

Yes or No: If a dog bites me, but it doesn’t bleed, I should ignore it.

NO! Tell the dog’s owner and your mom or dad about it. The dog’s owner needs to know so he or she can either tell you how to avoid getting bit or supervise the dog more closely. And your parent should know so he or she can check the bite area. Sometimes dogs growl and show teeth as part of their play, but if it’s not your dog, you don’t know if it’s OK or not. You should always stop playing with a dog showing this kind of behavior, and only play with a dog when its owner is close.

Yes or No: If I see a dog that is a certain breed, like a pit bull or a rottweiler, I should be extra careful to leave it alone.

YES. Most dogs are wonderful but some breeds, like pit bulls, can do more damage if they bite. To be safe, never interact with a dog of any breed unless the owner is right there and says it’s OK. And any kind of dog that growls or snaps at you should be left alone.

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