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Teaching your child to be safe around dogs
Tammy Decatur
Tammy, your son shows a natural love for animals that is wonderful to encourage. Animals can bring out children's playfulness, nurturing skills and a sense of responsibility. But when young children get excited, they can be loud and have quick, rough movements, which can startle even the most gentle and friendly dog, and lead to a bite.

Here are some guidelines to teach your son to learn to play safely with dogs:
  • Always ask the dog's owner if it's OK to pet the dog. It may not be OK if the dog is on-duty as an assistance dog, if he is injured or sick, or if he doesn't like being touched.
  • Don't bother a dog if he is eating, sleeping, playing with a toy, fighting, having sex or caring for puppies. It can startle the dog and make him bite.
  • Approach the dog slowly, from the front, so he can see you. Hold your hand out low for the dog to sniff first. Then pet the dog's sides or back. Don't bring your body or face close until he's comfortable.
  • Don't tease, poke, hit or wrestle with a dog.
  • Learn to read a dog's signals. Stay away from one that is barking, growling or showing his teeth, or has his ears back, tail up or hair standing up. These are signs the dog may be angry or afraid, and may bite. Don't scream or stare into his eyes. Just walk away calmly. Don't run, because dogs naturally try to chase you.
  • Keep your child away from stray dogs who are off-leash and without a caregiver, since they are more likely to behave unpredictably and carry diseases. If one approaches you, stand still with your hands at your sides (like a tree) or lie still (like a log) until he walks away.

For more information on dog safety, including links to educational materials for children, visit the Humane Society of the United States website www.humanesociety.org/parents_educators/kids/.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician