Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dog Safety Presentation

My regular readers will remember this post.

The city council knows I'm involved with dogs, so when the local elementary school contacted the city about a possible dog safety course, they suggested that the school give me a call.  I jumped at the opportunity to help teach the kids in my town about dog safety, and enlisted Aryn's help since the plan was to present to all classes individually. I believe they wanted to "keep it local" since the town has been inundated with outsiders attempting to "butt in" on the city's response to the fatal dog attack in April.

On May 29th, Aryn and I spent the entire day at Prairie City Elementary.  We talked to each class individually, which meant tailoring our presentation to preschool through 5th grade audiences. It was a great experience, though we were all very tired by the end of the school day.  Kaylee and Ruby were great, and even did a few tricks to entertain the kids.

Here's a rough outline of our presentation, in case you're curious:

Usually if a strange dog approaches you, it's because they're curious. If you run or scream, the dog will think you're something that would be fun to chase. If you stand still, stay quiet, and don't look at the dog, the dog will most likely get bored and go away.  (We called this "pretending to be a tree" and had all the kids practice their tree skills.  We had Ruby and Kaylee apprach the "trees" to show the kids how dogs are generally not interested in people that don't move or look at them. It worked very well!) 
- Don't run
- Be very quiet
- Don't look at the dog
- If you're holding a toy or food, drop it (don't throw it)
- If you get knocked down, curl into a ball and cover your head with your arms 
 If you see a dog with its owner and you want to pet the dog, always ask before getting too close. If the owner says you can't pet the dog, don't be sad - the dog may be shy, or the dog might not be trained to be polite around children.   

Most dog bites involve dogs you know.  This can include dogs that belong to a neighbor, a friend, or a relative. Even your own dog could bite, even though he or she love you very much.  Dogs don't bite because they're mean.  There are many reasons for a dog deciding to bite.  Dogs bite because: 
- They have a toy or treat, and are afraid you are trying to take it from them
- They are uncomfortable with how close you are to them (personal bubble!)
- They are hurt or sore, and you accidentally touch them in the place where they are hurting
- You run, and they think it's fun to chase you (dogs' instincts tell them to chase "prey")
(Note:  Aryn helped the kids understand personal bubbles by asking for a volunteer, then invaded their space and asked if they felt uncomfortable.  This helped the kids understand how dogs feel when their personal bubbles are invaded.  Also, keep in mind this is a presentation for young children - some of the items mentioned in the next section are ok for adults, but unsafe for kids.) 
To be safe around dogs, including dogs you own, remember: 
- Do not hug, sit on, or lie down on your dog... but it's OK to sit next to them and gently stroke their chest and side of their neck.
- Do not play "chase me" games with  your dog... but it's OK to play hide and seek as long as you don't run when your dog finds you!
- Do not play tug with your dog... but it's OK to play Fetch!  Use two toys, so you can trade one toy for another.
- Do not lean over or step over your dog... but it's OK to walk around, or ask an adult to move the dog.
- Do not bother a dog who is sleeping, eating, playing with a toy, or chewing on a bone... but it's OK to wait for a dog to come to you for attention.
- Do not pull on your dog's neck, ears, legs, or tail... but it's OK to stroke them gently on the "safe zones" (We discussed this as a dog's chest, side of the neck, and shoulders.  We advised never to pet a dog's rear end, since you can scare them if they don't know you're back there.)- Do not poke your fingers into a dog's crate, or stare at him through the bars. Do not tease dogs behind fences or on tie-outs. 
(We were able to get into dog body language with the older kids.  The younger ones really didn't have the cognitive capacity to understand it.)   
Dogs can't speak like we speak, but they do have their own language. Instead of speaking with their voices, dogs speak with their bodies... sort of like sign language.  Dogs tell us to leave them alone by: 
- Turning their heads and/or bodies away from us
- Avoiding eye contact (sometimes you can see the whites of their eyes when they do this)
- Putting their ears flat back on their head
- Yawning when they're not tired
- Licking their lips when there isn't food around
- Walking away
- Hiding from you
- Putting their tail very low, even between their legs 
It's a bad idea to touch a dog when they are focused on something.  Dogs tell us they're concentrating on something by: 
- Standing tall, with their ears facing forward and tail up
- Staring at what they're concentrating on (this could be a squirrel, or a cat, or another dog, or even a person walking by)
- A tense body
- A slow, choppy tail wag

The visit went very well.  We even got to spend some time with the brother of the little girl who was killed by the dog in April. Initially he was very afraid of the dogs, which is sad but not surprising. He did warm up to them though, which is fantastic because without positive experiences with dogs now, there would be a huge chance of him being deathly afraid of dogs for the entire rest of his life. I was sure to tell him that if he ever saw me in town with a dog, that he could come up and ask to pet them. It makes me sad to hear adults admit that they have a fear of dogs, stemming from a bad experience they had when they were young.

The school issued us certificates of appreciation:

And the local newspaper featured us on the front page!

I hope we're invited back next year. I applaud my town for pursuing education instead of legislation, and I an grateful that the school was trusting enough to let us bring Kaylee the "El Diablo dog" and Ruby the "wolf" into the school to help kids learn about dog safety.  

A couple thoughts / observations...

One of the questions I asked every class was, "How many of you have seen a loose dog in town?"  Every kid raised their hand.  This is unacceptable, especially since Prairie City has a leash law.  As a community, we need to make sure our dogs are not running at-large.  It's the law, and it keeps our kids safe.  

Parents seem to think it's ok to not supervise kids and dogs. I know it's easier to assume a dog would never do anything to harm a child, but that's not something you can bank on. Also, there is nothing cute about a kid sitting on a dog, or riding a dog like a pony, or hugging a dog's face and pinning the dog to the ground.  That's a recipe for disaster, folks... even with dogs that are generally good with kids.  Think of dog/kid supervision like a seatbelt - you always buckle your kids in, even though 999 times out of 1000 a car ride doesn't result in an accident.  That one time in 1000, you'll be happy you bucked your kid's seatbelt.  


  1. Sounds like a wonderful program. Love the look of your dogs as they're clearly being well-trained examples of breeds that can be scary when not well-trained.

    My only concern is that there's long been (and still is) a tendency to blame the victim for not doing everything perfectly that someone else thinks could/should have been done. When training has been given, we expect that those who've had it can perform exactly as taught--but that's unrealistic in the case of one brief (one class period) training and with children whose developmental stages are so different. Yes, they need the training. But they also need regular practice to cement those skills and overcome habits (such as meeting eyes) that are crucially important in other situations.

    I think (as you pointed out) that there needs to be better enforcement of leash laws: owners need to be told clearly that they are responsible for their dogs' behavior, and if their dog injures someone, or someone else's properly managed dog, they will be held responsible in law. We have had two dog-attack deaths that I know of in nearby towns since we moved here. In both cases, the dog owners insisted they weren't responsible since the dogs had never killed anyone else. I have friends who have been attacked, or whose dogs were attacked, by loose dogs--and the owners of said dogs invariably claim their dogs are friendly, just want to be friends, won't hurt anyone. When their dog bites, they insist the victims (humans or dogs) provoked it. I myself have had repeated situations where a loose dog threatened me and "standing still and not making eye contact" was not working. The topic of loose dogs, and their danger--and their owners' responsibility for the dogs--needs to be publicized. People walking or riding a bike on public streets have a right NOT to be chased or bitten by loose dogs.

  2. I think this is a wonderful idea, since I, myself, still have trouble with dobermans due to a bad experience when I was about 6. I have written about this elsewhere, but I have a 15 year old longhaired Dachshund who has severe problems with other dogs. Why? When he was less than a year old, I was walking him and his sister, and we were attacked by a large, loose dog. Had I stood still, the dog would have savaged me. As it was, I happened to be wearing a jacket (rare in the Deep South) and shoved my arm in the dog's mouth and shoved him back. At that point. Shadow and Sunny realized this was NOT a friendly dog, and drove it off. (Dachshunds are not small dogs, contrary to popular belief. They were bred to hunt and kill badgers.) To this day, Shadow is hyper any time another dog, especially a large dog, approaches us, and he will lunge and snap. No one will get near his Missy on his watch, ever again. I have to repeatedly tell people to control their dogs, and repeatedly get "Oh, but my dog's FRIENDLY," as their dog is approaching with stiff legs. And rather than argue, I say, through gritted teeth, "MINE is not. Get YOURS AWAY."

  3. That's awesome that you're teaching kids dog safety. I hope a lot more schools follow their example.

  4. Awesome job. I was bitten in the face as a child after I hugged the neighbor's dog (Aussie) and was deathly afraid of dogs until I was an adult. The more education the better, and start 'em young, I say.


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