Dog Safety

Last update: January 2, 2008

Dogs = Love

There is no other animal that can bestow love and loyalty like a dog. Well-trained and socialized dogs are helpful to many people in all walks of life. Don't forget seeing-eye dogs, assistance dogs, therapy dogs, and search-and-rescue dogs. Where would we be without them? Most children love dogs and puppies, but how many of us, parents included!, really understand dogs?


Since I had to take Honey, my dog, with me anyways this evening, I used the opportunity to do, what I think, is a REALLY important lesson with the children. Dog bites can be a serious problem, and everyone should know the minimum about dealing with dogs. We teach our children how to act with strangers, we must teach them how to act with dogs too!

It is important to teach our children how to behave around dogs. We have to respect them when they don't want to be bothered. On the other hand, children shouldn't be taught that dogs are things to be feared.

How Dogs Think

There is a lot to know about dog psychology, but the most important thing to remember is that dogs are NOT human.

Remember: dogs are pack animals, and the family dog is still a pack animal.
In every pack, there is always one established leader. If someone in the family is not "the leader," the dog will try to take over this job.
In any human-dog interaction, the dog must NEVER be made to feel that there is a chance that it can take over leadership.

The second thing to remember is that once the dominant member is established, the other members of the pack will want to please the leader. So, your dog will be loyal and loving, and his one thought will be to please you.

Dogs have their own way of thinking, and their own way of showing their feelings, and it is up to us, the humans, to know how to "read" a dog. Just because we love dogs, doesn't mean that we can just run up to them and hug them. Dogs that are frightened may bite, and a dog bite is NOT fun!

What is the proper way to approach a dog?

In our group, we learned the five steps to approaching a strange dog who is accompanied by its owner, and which we would like to pet.
Each child practiced coming up to me and Honey and asking to pat her.

  1. Ask the owner if it is all right to pet the dog. If the owner says "no" respect this decision. Maybe the dog is nervous or sick, or just doesn't like strangers to pat them. If the owner says it is OK, then...
  2. Make your hand into a fist.
  3. Give the dog your fist to smell, so that he can get to know you.
  4. Once you see the dog is happy, scratch the dog under the chin, or at the side of his face.
    DON'T put your hand over his head to pat him on the head, this can be frightening to a dog.
    DON'T put your face down towards the dog.
    DON'T hug and kiss a dog. (Dog's don't really like being squished up.)
  5. Remember to be polite, and thank the owner!
Letting the dog sniff Patting the dog

(Images from

Be a Tree

What should you do if a strange dog comes running towards you? It may be big or small, but a yapping, barking or growling dog, or even a calm and friendly one, if the child is afraid of dogs, can be a frightening thing.

The first reaction a child will have will be to RUN from the dog. This is the WORST thing he can do. Any dog will amost certainly chase after a running child.
If it is friendly dog, it will try to play, and may jump and nip. It thinks we are trying to play with it. If you ever see two dogs playing, you will see that they run and chase eachother, jump on each other and "pretend bite" each other. puppies at playIf the dog thinks you are trying to play, his first idea will be to play like this with you.
If the dog isn't so friendly, he will chase you too!

When a strange dog comes up to a child, and the child is frightened, he should learn how to "stand like a tree." When you have turned into a boring, non-threatening, stationary object, the dog will probably sniff you all over, and then lose interest and go away to find something else more interesting.
Stand Like a Tree
  1. Plant the tree in the ground (stand straight and don't move).
  2. Put your branches (hands) down to your sides or your knees.
  3. Watch your roots grow (keep your head down and look and your feet).
  4. Count to yourself until help comes, or the dog goes away.
  5. When the dog loses interest in you, S-L-O-W-L-Y walk away. Don't run!


See here, also, for what to do if a dog knocks a child over.

How to "Read" a Dog

It is important to remember that even dogs that the children know and love, even the friendliest and gentlest dog, CAN bite if it is stressed, anxious, in pain, or feeling threatened. Dogs don't show emotions like we do. So we have to learn how to "read" the dog. We have to pay attention to his tail, eyes, mouth, ears and body stance, to know what he is feeling.
I brought in a number of drawings and also showed a short "learn to speak dog" movie.
Here are some links:
Learn to speak dog.
From "Love Your Dog"

When NOT to bother a dog

I didn't have time to get into this, but please teach your children NOT to bother a dog when:

  • it is eating
  • it is sleeping
  • it has a toy or bone in its mouth
  • it is a mother dog with puppies
  • it is tied up
  • it is behind a fence
  • it looks sick or injured - call an adult to help!

Know when to leave a dog alone.
Take a short quiz.

Worth reviewing with the children!

These are all safety issues which are VERY important to teach our children.

The same way that we teach our kids what to do if there is a fire, or an earthquake, we should teach them proper behavior with dogs. This will make them more relaxed and less fearful.I hope our little lesson taught the children some lessons for life.

See you next lesson!