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Ask before you pet: Being safe around dogs

There’s nothing better than taking a walk with the family on a warm summer night. And with everyone out, how can the kids resist petting all the neighbor dogs that are on a summer stroll as well?

Many children are natural animal lovers. Between the furry coat and the goofy faces dogs make, who can blame them? But letting your child pet every dog they pass on the street can be a big risk.

Here’s what you need to know about being safe around neighbor dogs.

Why dogs bite

Even when the reason may not be clear, there is always a reason that dogs bite. Often, dogs bite out of some form of fear. Either they are afraid because they feel threatened by the situation, or they fear for the safety of their owner.

Dog may also bite because they aren’t feeling well or they are surprised. This is also a version of the “fear” response. As predator animals, dogs are very capable of defending themselves. Often this instinct is stronger than any desire to “wait and see” if the threat is credible.

Preventing dog bites

The most important step in any dog encounter is to talk to the owner before interacting with their dog. Train children to do the same and to respect whatever answer the owner gives about petting the dog. The owner will know if their dog has had a particularly stressful day and needs to be left alone. Petting a dog that is over-stressed or otherwise not feeling social is asking for a dangerous situation.

Move slowly around unfamiliar dogs. Let the dog have time to see that their owner trusts you and that you are not a threat. Let them smell you before reaching out to touch the dog. Allow the dog the opportunity to agree to interacting with you.

Once the dog and owner have given their consent, don’t try to pet the dog on the top of the head. The dog may see this as a threat as your hand is coming up over their head. Again, a dog may not take the time to figure out if there is a real threat. Instead, begin by scratching the dog under the chin.

Any breed can bite

There are any number of studies and statistics about which breeds are most aggressive. The reality is that the statistics can only tell us so much. Any dog can bite if it feels like it’s afraid or stressed. Treat every dog as though it is just as likely to bite as the aggressive breeds.

Remember that the closer a child is to a dog’s eye level, the more likely that dog is to feel threatened. Dogs are not concerned about asserting their position when children are above or below eye level. It is when an unfamiliar child is at the same level that the dog starts to see the child as a threat to their position. Children also tend to make direct eye contact with dogs which dogs also see as threatening.

Training children how to interact with dogs and taking precautions with every dog every time will help everyone (dog included) have a safe experience.

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