Stop dog bites from happening

No matter how you feel about dogs, everyone can agree that dog bites hurt. No one wants their child to be bitten by a dog. There are lots of things you can do to keep that from happening.
Begin by teaching your child about unfamiliar dogs:
•  Don’t approach, touch or bother dogs who are sleeping, eating or chewing on something. This also applies to dogs that are caring for puppies.
•  Never approach a barking, growling or frightened dog.
•Before your child pets an unfamiliar dog, she should do 3 things: 1) Ask the person who is supervising her (parent, baby-sitter, etc.) if it’s okay. 2) Ask the dog’s owner if it’s okay and 3) Let the dog sniff the back of her hand before she pats him.
•  Never try to pet a dog that is behind a fence or in a car. Dogs protect their space and don’t like when strangers intrude.
•  If an unfamiliar, unsupervised dog approaches, your child should not try to run away because the dog will likely chase him. Teach him to “act like a tree and plant his roots” (stand still, don’t run), “fold his branches” (keep arms close to his side) and “look at his roots” (look down, avoid eye-contact). Keep standing very still until the dog goes away.
•  If a dog knocks your child to the ground teach her to “be a rock”. Curl up in a ball; face down, with knees tucked in to protect her chest and stomach. Cover her head and neck with her arms. Stay like this until the dog leaves.
•  If a dog does attack, your child should “feed” the dog anything they have available like a jacket or backpack. Or keep their bicycle between them and the dog until help arrives.
Keep your children safe around your own dog:
•  Think of your dog as part of your family and include it in family activities. Dogs are, by nature, social animals that need to be part of the clan. Dogs who are chained outside feel isolated and vulnerable and are more likely to bite than dogs that feel they belong.
•  Teach your dog good manners. A humane, treat-based obedience class is good no-bite insurance.
•  Teach your kids to recognize dog body language and respect what the dog is trying to tell them.
•  Never leave a baby or young child alone with a dog.
It goes without saying that everyone in the family needs to treat your dog kindly. Your children will watch how you treat the dog and will do likewise.
Any dog can bite — from the smallest to the largest — even the most friendly, cute and easygoing dogs might bite if provoked. The vast majority of dog bites are from a dog known to the person — his or her own pet, a neighbor’s or a friend’s.
Although you can’t guarantee that your dog will never bite someone, there are many ways that you can significantly reduce the risk.
Adopt from a well-managed animal shelter whose staff and volunteers can fill you in on the dog’s background, personality and behavior in the shelter.
Spay or neuter your dog as soon as possible. Healthy puppies can be spayed or neutered as early as eight weeks of age. Spayed or neutered dogs may be less likely to bite.
Socialize your dog. Well-socialized dogs make enjoyable, trustworthy companions. Under-socialized dogs are risks to their owners and to others because they can become frightened by everyday things, making them more likely to aggress or bite.
It’s important for puppies to meet, greet and enjoy a variety of people, animals, places and things. Done properly, socializing helps puppies feel comfortable and friendly in various situations, rather than uncomfortable and potentially aggressive. The main rule for effective socializing is to let your dog progress at her own pace and never force her to be around someone or something when she’s clearly fearful or uncomfortable.
Take your dog to humane, reward-based training classes — the earlier the better. Start your puppy in puppy kindergarten classes as early as eight weeks, right after her first set of vaccinations. Early training opens a window of communication between you and your dog that will help you consistently and effectively teach her good behavior.
Make your dog a part of the family. Don’t chain or tie her outside, and don’t leave her unsupervised for long periods of time — even in a fenced yard. Most tethered dogs become frustrated and can feel relatively defenseless, so they’re much more likely to bite.
Don’t wait for a serious accident to happen. The first time your dog shows aggressive behavior toward anybody, even if no injury occurs, seek professional help from a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB), or a qualified Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). You can visit the Homeward Bound website for information about finding an expert in your area. Your animal shelter may also offer or be able to refer you to helpful services.
Err on the safe side. Be aware of common triggers of aggression, including pain, injury or sickness, the approach of strangers or strange dogs, the approach of people in uniforms, costumes or unusual attire — especially hats, unexpected touching, unfamiliar places, crowds, and loud noises like thunder, wind, construction, fireworks and appliances.
If your dog seems stressed or panicked in crowds, leave her at home. If she overreacts to visitors or delivery personnel, keep her in another room when they come to your house. Work with a qualified behavior and training professional to help your dog become more comfortable with these and other situations.
Always supervise children and dogs. Never leave a baby or child younger than 10 years old alone with a dog. Teach your children to treat your dog gently and with respect, giving the dog her own space and opportunities to rest.
Finally, be sure to fulfill basic animal care responsibilities. License your dog as required by law and provide regular veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations, and don’t allow your dog to roam alone.
Dottie Nelson is a long-standing volunteer and advocate for Addison County’s Homeward Bound animal shelter and writes on their behalf.

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