Because we love our dogs and our children, we are often blind to some of their weaknesses. So parents might be oblivious to how rough their children may be. Teaching them a gentle hand can be useful in many aspects of life – not just when meeting animals.
It starts with the right way for a child to approach a dog. The first meeting, just like for us, is crucial. The first thing is to ask the owner for permission to fuss the dog. The owner may even introduce you to the dog. This will reduce any fear the dog may have with this strange person approaching him. The child should not run up to the dog, but come slowly and calmly. One should let the dog sniff you, offer your hand palm down and he will decide how close he wants to be. Smell is so important to dogs, being over 50 times more sensitive than humans, and is the reason why they search for drugs. If you offer the hand palm up, he may think you have a treat for him and he is likely to get excited leading to bad consequences.
The child needs to understand that he has to be gentle, he must pet gently, not squeeze, not pull the dog’s ears and leave the eyes alone. Warn them especially to leave the dog’s tail alone – evolution did not put it there to hold or pull him by. The chest, chin and shoulders are good areas to stroke as stroking the head can sometimes be misunderstood by a dog that does not know you. Never put your face near a dog’s as this encroaches on his space and he has sharp teeth. If your child has never met real animals / pets, you can always introduce them to the right way to pet an animal with one of their soft toys.
Dog socialisation is a key part of dog training and will minimise problems with your dogs,but many other dogs will not be at the same level.
One should never approach a dog when he is eating as dogs are likely to be protective of their food although good dog training should try to remove this habit at an early stage.
It is important that you bring up your children to have no fear of dogs. A child with fear of dogs is more likely to react in a way that could make the situation worse.
However, you should make children aware of the dangers associated with lone dogs without an owner. The child, and us, should keep a cool head and not run away from him. He is descended from wolves that chased down prey and he is far more likely to chase and attack. Ask him to “go home” in a firm loud voice. If he doesn’t, remain calm, find out more about the situation. What is the dog doing? Is he just watching you? Is he curious? You can tell this from his posture. Are his ears firm and straight up? Is his tail wagging? Does he have a relaxed look? If so, just walk away slowly, but do not run.
If the dog is not looking like this, does he look threatening? This is often characterised by his ears laid back along his head, a tense body (if he has not much fur, you can see his muscles tighten)and his tail up. Ignore a wagging tail. Tell him to “lay down”, again in a firm loud voice, staying calm and not screaming or yelling at him. Are there any adults nearby who could help? If so, ask them to come over, but be careful about yelling. Walk away from him steadily with no sudden moves. However, if he advances on you and lunges, drop into a “turtle” rolled up body position.
If you find such a dog, do not hesitate to contact animal control. Loose dogs are a menace and make life dangerous for children.
As dog owners, we must never leave a dog unsupervised with children. Accidents do happen with even the best trained dog, for the most obscure of reasons. This is the reason they are called accidents, but one that could have grave consequences.
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