Be a Tree' and 3 More Ways to Teach Children to Protect Themselves Against a Dog Attack

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Whenever children are walking to school, biking through the neighborhood or just playing with their friends in a yard, they are vulnerable to dog attacks.

To be fair, dogs aren't the biggest risk that children face growing up. Organized sports, for example, are 10 times more likely to result in a child's trip to the emergency room than are dogs.

The good news is that experts say the signs are usually there long before a dog attacks -- and you can teach children to look out for those signals. The dog is typically young, male and unneutered. He is usually unsocialized, a backyard dog with little to no interaction with the family. He is often inadvertently trained to be vicious by being kept full-time on a chain or in a small kennel run.

And although in most cases the dog involved in a serious attack is the family's own, it's also true that many neighborhoods are not safe for walking or biking because of a dog. These animals are accidents waiting to happen because their owners either don't know or don't care that their dogs are a public menace.

Is there a dog like this in your neighborhood -- or in your own yard? If it's the latter, call your veterinarian and arrange for your pet to be neutered, and then ask for a referral to a behaviorist who can help you rehabilitate your pet. Don't put this off: Your dog is a danger, and your own family is at risk.

Of course, you can't control what other people do with their animals. That's why you have to make sure your children know how to behave around dogs to protect themselves. Here's what everyone should know, and what parents need to teach their children:

  • Never approach a loose dog, even if he seems friendly. Dogs who are confined in yards, and especially those dogs on chains, should also be avoided. Many are very serious about protecting their turf. If the dog is with his owner, children should always ask permission before petting him and then begin by letting the dog sniff a leg, shoe, or hand (held at the side -- not extended). Further, they should pat the dog on the neck or chest. The dog may interpret a pat from above as a gesture of dominance. Teach your children to avoid fast or jerky movements around dogs, since these may trigger predatory behavior.
  • Be a tree when a dog approaches, standing straight with feet together, fists under the neck and elbows into the chest. Teach your children to make no eye contact, since some dogs view eye contact as a challenge. Running is a normal response to danger, but it's the worst possible thing to do around a dog, because it triggers the animal's instinct to chase and bite. Many dogs will just sniff and leave. Teach your children to stay still until the animal walks away, and then back away slowly out of the area.
  • "Feed" the dog a jacket or backpack if attacked, or use a bike to block the dog. These strategies may keep an attacking dog's teeth from connecting with flesh.
  • Act like a log if knocked down: face down, legs together, curled into a ball with fists covering the back of the neck and forearms over the ears. This position protects vital areas and can keep an attack from turning fatal. Role-play these lessons with your child until they are ingrained. They may save your child's life.

Discuss safe behavior with your children and role-play how to approach dogs, when not to approach, and what to do if confronted or attacked.

You don't need to scare your children, but you do need to make sure they're ready, just in case. And going over the "what ifs" isn't a bad idea for you as well.

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