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.