BE A TREE--PREVENTING DOG BITES
Communities across the country continue to struggle with the issue of man's best friend becoming a menace. The knee-jerk reaction all too often consists of creating new ordinances, laws, and restrictions supposedly designed to protect citizens from future injury. These rarely work.
In the next few columns I'd like to explore some of these issues: What is a "dangerous dog?" Why does breed specific legislation (BSL) fail? What ordinances and restrictions do work, and why? How can we protect our citizens--and our dogs--from injury or death?
Half of all children in the US experience a dog bite by age 12. Most bites result from inappropriate interaction with the family pet, with a neighbor's or a friend's dog. Any size or breed of dog potentially may bite, even tiny dogs like this sweet-looking Yorkshire Terrier. What saddens me, and other pet professionals, is that the vast majority of dog bites are PREVENTABLED.
It's not the child's fault and certainly not the dog's. Communication is key. Children--and often parents themselves--don't understand the very clear messages that dogs communicate. Canines do not bite for "no reason" and bite victims who claim they did nothing to provoke the bite simply overlooked these cues.
Clearly, educating parents, children, and community leaders to the realities of dog-to-human interaction helps prevent bites, reduces liability issues, save money, and sends a strong message: responsible dog ownership means more than filling the bowl.
But parents and educators don't need to become animal behaviorists to understand and teach some basic doggy safety tips all children should know. Just as children learn to "look both ways" before crossing a street, or to "drop and roll" if they should ever catch on fire, make "Be A Tree" part of their dog safety repertoire.
Eye contact with a dog communicates a challenge; motion (walking, running, arm-waving) and high-pitched voices (loud talking, giggling, laughing) excites the dog even further. Even friendly dogs may bite out of excitement, just as well-behaved children might accidentally strike out and hurt a classmate during play.
Therefore, anytime you are bothered by a strange dog or a dog gets too frisky, "Be A Tree." Stand still, be quiet, and make no eye contact until the dog goes away.
The Doggone Safe "Be A Tree" education program for elementary school aged children provides a teacher kit that can be incorporated into an existing curriculum. There are now school districts in N. America using the program to teach children how to "speak dog" and avoid dangerous encounters.
An interactive board game teaches children and families how to read dog body language and be safe around their own or strange dogs. A children's calendar provides doggy models communicating "unsafe clues" such as the whites of the dog's eyes showing as he guards a toy, compared to "safe clues" when the dog's mouth is open and panting in a relaxed fashion.
Doggone Safe is a non-profit corporation registered in Canada and the US that provides dog bite prevention education and dog bite victim support. In addition to the Be a Tree program, the company offers seminars for parents (Be Doggone Safe at Home), for expectant parents (Be Doggone Smart with Your New Baby), and for workers coming in contact with dogs on the job (Be Doggone Smart at Work).
Any individuals, businesses or organizations that would like to help make this program a reality in the community are invited to contact Ruth Smiler at 1-877-350-3232. More information is available at the website www.doggonesafe.com.
© 2005 Amy D. Shojai
Amy D. Shojai is an IAABC Certified Animal Behavior Consultant. Her most recent book on cat and dog behavior is "PETiQuette: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multipet Household" which includes more information on aggression and preventing bites.
Copyright© 1999-2005 Amy D. Shojai.
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Last Updated: 1/6/2006