Don’t make the bite worse than the bark

It’s Memorial Day weekend and many will be celebrating at home with friends, family, and of course, the pets.

But there are a few things you need to know as a pet owner or when visiting a home with dogs.

“People don’t realize that kids are bit by dogs they know,” said Carol Everett, humane educator for the Kauai Humane Society . “It could be their dog or their neighbor’s dog — any dog, no matter how old they are, and most people don’t know that.”

When visiting a friend who has a dog, Everett said the first thing to do before having any interaction with the dog is talk to the owner.

“The owner is the best judge,” Everett said. “If you’re going to a party, ask the owner if the dog is friendly. Ask the owner if you can pet the dog.”

Everett suggested to do what she calls the “pet handshake.” Much like how people shake hands when they meet to signal they are friendly, the “pet handshake” is to let the dogs know you’re friendly.

“I tell the students to put their hands in a fist and let the dog smell them,” she said. “That way the dog knows you’re friendly. I tell them to put their hands in a fist because their fingers look like carrots to them. It’s just a target for them. But you can have your hand open, you just have to keep your fingers together.”

Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 400,000 children every year seek medical attention for dog bites.

To prevent frequent dog bites at home and or in public, Kauai Humane Society and Doggone Safe offer the following tips for parents and dog owners to help keep kids safe:


Things to teach kids

• Dogs don’t like hugs and kisses. Teach kids not to hug or kiss a dog on the face. Hugging the family dog or face-to-face contact are common causes of bites to the face. Instead, teach kids to scratch the dog on the chest or the side of the neck.

“The dog may be friendly,” Everett said, “but he might have a toothache or something, so it’s best not to touch the face.”

• Be a tree if a strange dog approaches. Teach kids to stand still, like a tree. Trees are boring and the dog will eventually go away. This works for strange dogs and anytime the family dog gets too frisky or becomes aggressive.

“I teach the kids to stop and be a tree, a rock or get in the fetal position, depending on how old the child is. That goes for all people too, be it postal workers or social workers who go and visit homes,” Everett said.

• Never tease a dog, and never disturb a dog that’s sleeping, eating or protecting something.

Things parents can do

• Supervise. Don’t assume your dog is good with kids. If a toddler must interact with your dog, you should have your hands on the dog too. Even if your dog is great with kids and has never bitten, why take a chance?

• Train the dog. Take your dog to obedience classes where positive reinforcement is used. Never pin, shake, choke, hold the dog down or roll the dog over to teach it a lesson. Dogs treated this way are likely to turn their aggression on weaker family members. Involve older children in training the family dog while supervising. Don’t allow children to punish the dog. Condition the dog to enjoy the presence and actions of children using positive experiences.

“The key is early socialization. You have to go into it slowly,” Everett said.


Things dog owners can do

• Spay or neuter your dog. Neutered pets are calmer, healthier and less likely to be aggressive. Neutering prevents unwanted dogs that may end up in shelters or in less than ideal conditions where they may grow up to be poorly socialized or aggressive.

• Condition your dog for the world. Give your puppy lots of new positive experiences. Train using positive methods, i.e. clicker training.

• Supervise your dog. Watch your dog at all times around children. Do not allow children to hug and kiss the dog; if visiting children are bothering your dog, put the dog away or send the children home.

For more information on obedience or safety classes offered by the Kauai Humane Society, call 632-0610. For information on Doggone Safe, visit www.doggonesafe.com.

• Lanaly Cabalo, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or lcabalo@kauaipubco.com.

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