A dog can be a kid's best friend. Susan has a dog named Moses. He's a Golden Retriever. Moses was a really cute puppy, and made everybody who saw him laugh and feel good. Now that he's older, he's a good companion for Susan. He's fun to play with, comforting when she feels lonely, and a good protector when she's in the house by herself.
Many dogs are like Moses -- friendly, well-trained, and lovable. But all dogs can bite, and children are most often the ones who get bitten. Often, the bite happens because the kids are unaware of some basic "do's and don'ts" for dealing with dogs, especially dogs they don't know.
Here are some things you should know about how to get along well with dogs, and avoid being bitten. These tips come from the Humane Society of the United States, an organization dedicated to teaching people to be responsible and caring toward animals.
Never go up to a strange dog, particularly one that is confined in a yard or tied up to a fence or a tree.
Never go into a house or a yard where there is a dog if the dog's owner isn't there.
Never pet a dog without asking the owner's permission first.
Never pet a dog without letting it sniff you first.
Never walk up behind a dog and pat it if it doesn't know you're there.
Never run past a dog or turn your back on a dog and run away. A dog's natural instinct is to chase and catch something that runs by. Such play can get out of control.
Never jump around, scream, act wild, or wave your arms around a dog, even in play. That excites the dog, and also makes it want to chase you. Remember that a dog doesn't have hands; one of its way of interacting with other dogs or with people is with its mouth, so rough play can lead to biting.
Don't make fast, jerky movements, particularly toward a dog's head or eyes. If you hold out your hand for a dog to sniff, do it slowly and don't jerk it back all of a sudden. That could seem like teasing, and make the dog snap at your hand.
Don't disturb a dog who is sleeping or eating, or who is taking care of puppies.
Don't pet or pick up an injured animal, even your own. Get help from an adult or someone trained to handle hurt animals like a vet, a police officer, or someone from the Humane Society of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Don't put your face near a dog's mouth when you're playing or if you don't know the dog.
Don't stare into a dog's eyes, particularly a strange dog. That's how dogs challenge each other to fight, and it can cause an attack.
2Don't "sic" a dog, even your own, on a friend while playing. You will be teaching the dog that it's okay to attack sometimes, and may confuse the dog into thinking it's okay to attack anytime.
All those "don'ts" may make it sound like you can never have fun with a dog, or play with it. That's not true. You just have to get in the habit of not doing things that make the dog feel threatened or upset. Your dog will be happier, and so will you. Dogs may bite when: they feel like someone is trying to hurt them; when they are protecting their property or their own territory; when they get over-excited, even in play; when they don't know you; and when your actions trigger their natural instinct to chase and hunt.
Here are some "do's" to keep in mind when you are around a dog you don't know:
Ask permission to pet the dog.
Let the dog sniff the back of your hand. Curl your fingers into your palm when you extend your hand slowly toward the dog's face. The dog may also sniff other parts of your body. That's how they say "Hello," and find out who you are.
Stand quietly as you and the dog get acquainted.
Pet the dog gently and slowly after it has sniffed your hand and seems friendly.
Keep this in mind: A strange dog may see you as an intruder or a threat, so be careful and go slowly.
Dogs are wonderful pets when you treat them responsibly, and respect their needs. When Susan and Moses go for a walk, she is careful to introduce him to other people in a way that won't make him feel threatened or over-excited. Because Moses is such a nice dog, he has lots of friends in the neighborhood. Tips for Parents
Dogs bites are a serious medical problem among children, the Humane Society reports. Each year in the United States more than 1 million bites are reported to public health agencies, and many more go unreported. Kids between 5 and 9 are at highest risk for bites.
The best protection against dog bites is responsible ownership. Dogs are not naturally vicious and aggressive. Ninety-five percent of all bites are caused by dogs that are improperly restrained or supervised.
The Humane Society reminds you to license your dog and have it inoculated against rabies, as required by law. Obey leash laws, and don't let your dog run loose. Don't confine your dog on the end of a long chain. Seek professional advice about good obedience training. A well-trained dog is a happier dog, and makes a better pet.
To help your children become more responsible pet owners, try one of these books about pet care and ownership written especially for kids:
"What Is Your Dog Saying?" by Dr. Michael Fox and Wende Devlin Gates (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, $7.95).
"Your World of Pets" by Susan McGrath (National Geographic Society; $6.95).