School’s out, and summer vacation is in full swing. You and your kids may be spending your break attending barbecues, going to the beach and taking trips to the park.
While you’re out enjoying the weather, it’s likely that your child may encounter a dog. It’s important to teach your child the proper way to behave around dogs in order to prevent a traumatic attack.
Read their cues
Dogs exhibit a lot of different behaviors – and each of these gives you insight into how the dog is feeling. Some behaviors can express a variety of different messages. For instance, when a dog barks or jumps, this could indicate either aggression or excitement. Even growling or certain types of biting aren’t always indicative of a threat. Unless you know a dog well enough to discern these subtleties, you shouldn’t rely on these behaviors as a signal of danger.
However, if you see a dog with tense features – a tense body and tail, furrowed brow, pulled-back ears, exposed teeth or an intense stare – it means the dog is perceiving you as a threat, and you should back off. Even yawning or backing away can be signs of hostility.
Conversely, relaxed features indicate that a dog is open to being approached. Look for a relaxed body, brow, ears and mouth, big, open “puppy eyes,” hanging tongue or a wagging tail. If he rolls over on his back, he’s comfortable around you and wants a belly scratch. In addition, if a dog puts his “elbows” flush with the ground and sticks his rear end in the air, this is a sign that he wants to play.
In addition to teaching your child when it’s safe to approach a dog, you also need to make sure they know the right way to engage with it. If a child is inadvertently too rough with a dog, it may lash out. Teach your child the right way to pet a dog – and to avoid grabbing, prodding or scratching. Pulling on their ears or tail can also lead to problems. Your child should also understand the appropriate areas to pet a dog – typically only the back if the dog is a stranger. If the dog doesn’t know you, they may not want you to stroke their head. Avoid touching a dog’s belly unless they invite it (see above).
Teaching your child how to understand and effectively interact with dogs is an important step in ensuring that everyone has a safe, happy experience.