BE DOG SMART Teaching children how to behave around dogs means knowing what makes dogs uncomfortable.
Ask the Vet
Esther Van Luipen
Dogs are not like humans. They are very different. They think differently and they act differently. The best relationships are often formed between very smart dogs that can adapt to their owners and people that adapt to their dogs. Even though it is wonderful how people and dogs can form great bonds, we’ll never completely understand what goes on in the mind of our dogs. This is where problems can arise.
The Dogs Trust recently commissioned a study in which it was revealed that even though 82 percent of Irish parents say that they teach their children how to behave around dogs, over 96 percent actually don’t know the signs that dogs show when they may feel uncomfortable.
To try to address this, the Dogs Trust has started a new campaign, ‘Be Dog Smart’. Here are some of the campaign’s main points:
• Never disturb a dog while they are eating or drinking: A dog may think you are trying to steal their food and let you know in a very unpleasant way that they are not happy with that.
• Never disturb a dog when it is sleeping: They might get a fright and bite.
• Never approach a dog that isn’t with their owner: You can never know if it is frightened.
• Never tease a dog or pull its tail for fun: This can anger or hurt the dog, which may make him want to defend itself.
• Never hug a dog tight around the neck: It may think that you are trying to smother it.
• Never kiss a dog on the nose. Apart from the fact that it is unhygienic it is also very dangerous, because the dog may think you are trying to bite him.
The campaign also urges children to move calmly and quietly around dogs, and to remember that you never know how a dog is feeling.
Children are told to ‘do the X Factor’ if they’re uncomfortable around a dog. This involves standing like a statue, crossing your arms against your chest to make an X, staying calm and looking away, then walking away slowly.
Kids are also reminded to always ask the owner for permission before you pet their dog, to let the dog sniff one of their hands (while closed, like a fist), to only walk dogs if they are with an adult, and to treat a dog with respect.
Obviously, adults should pay heed to all of these guidelines themselves too, but the must also ensure that a child is supervised if a dog is present.
Dogs Trust Education and its Education and Community Officers bring free workshops to schools to teach children to stay safe around dogs. The Dogs Trust website also carries several downloadable leaflets, posters, lesson plans and guides for teachers.
The organisation also goes into the community to teach parents how to help keep their children safe around dogs with free family-friendly workshops. It has workshops for expectant parents, toddlers and primary-school-aged children and a workshop for parents of teenagers.
• To find out more about Be Dog Smart or to arrange a workshop in your school, library or community centre, or to find your local Education and Community Officer, visit www.bedogsmart.ie or www.learnwithdogstrust.ie/be-dog-smart. The websites also contain lots of games and age-appropriate downloadable resources for parents, children, teens and teachers.
> Esther van Luipen is a veterinary surgeon in Claremorris Small Animal Practice. She can be contacted at 094 9373955 or at email@example.com.