Presentations to children about dog behavior and about how to act around dogs provide helpful safety lessons. The basic points I like to make when talking with kids are the things I wish that every child knew for the sake of safety. These include:
Don’t approach a dog who is tied out on a rope or chain.
Dogs don’t like to be hugged.
Don’t kiss dogs.
Don’t stare at a dog.
A wagging tail does not mean that a dog is friendly.
Leave dogs alone when they are eating or chewing something.
Recently, I covered these issues in my son’s first grade class with a combination of photos, discussion, an art activity in which the kids drew a good thing to do around a dog and a bad thing to do around a dog, and a book I read to them. The kids loved the book, which is Wendy Wahman’s Don’t Lick the Dog: Making Friends with Dogs, which is geared towards children ages four to eight.
The book covers many things about greeting dogs such as asking permission to pet a dog; being calm; moving slowly; not patting their heads but instead stroking them on the chin and chest; a few of the visual signals by dogs that indicate discomfort; advising children not to hug dogs or to get right in their faces; and letting dogs approach you rather than the other way around. The whimsical, upbeat drawings captivated the children. I love this book because of the great information in it and because kids like it, which means they are more likely to digest the important messages.
At the other end of the spectrum entirely, veterinarian Sophia Yin warns against the "advice" in Smooch Your Pooch.
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.