Friday, May 25, 2012

Tip of the Day: Learn to Tell the Tale from the Tail

Dogs Talk with Their Tails - But Can We Understand?

One of the biggest misconceptions that we hear about dog body language is that “ the dog must be happy, he is wagging his tail”. In actuality a wagging tail is one of least reliable indicators about how a dog is feeling. There are many different types of wag and there is only one type that indicates a safe dog for children to pet. Let’s start with that one!

The Calm Wag

The calm wag is a loosely wagging tail, with the tail held below the level of the dog’s back. For breeds that naturally curl their tail over their backs, the tail will be held high, but the wag is loose. The whole dog may wag to some degree, but it is not a frantic type of wag. The calm wag, accompanied by a smiling panting face indicates a relaxed dog who may want to meet or interact with a child. If the dog stops panting and wagging, or stops panting and commences a stiffer type of wagging then this is a warning to back off. The dog has become uncomfortable with your approach. The best way to interact with the happy, panting and wagging dog is to invite him over to see you, rather than moving into his space. 

Watch this video to see the difference between a high, stiff wag (as discussed below) and a calm wag. Notice that the white dog holds his tail very high and stiff while he is meeting and sizing up the other dogs, but when he interacts with the child he holds his tail lower and wags loosely. This is an excellent demonstration of what we mean by loose versus stiff. The dog is loose with the child and stiff with the other dogs. His interaction with child is entirely appropriate and this is the type of wag we want to see in all dogs who interact with children. If you don’t see this, then intervene and redirect the dog and child to other activities.

The Propeller Wag

In the propeller wag, the whole tail goes all the way around like a propeller. This is usually reserved for greetings to special people that the dog is particularly happy to see. This dog wants to greet you and this is fine if you are adult. The level of excitement here may be too much for a child and the dog may jump, scratch or knock a small child over by mistake. It is best to wait for the dog to calm down before he is allowed to greet children.

The Whole Body Wag

Sometimes a dog is so happy and excited that the whole dog wags in a frenzy of activity. Again a dog this excited should not be allowed to interact with children until he calms down.

The High Tail

If a dog holds his tail high over his back, whether wagging stiffly or held still, this is a warning to back off. This dog is assessing the situation and is not likely to be welcoming of any invasion of his space. If your dog puts his tail up to you or your children, this could be a sign of impending trouble. He could be issuing a challenge (as seen in the photo) and may bite if further provoked. Find a behavior consultant who will use positive reinforcement-based training to help you make sure that your dog develops a more cooperative relationship with the family. Teach your children to Be a Tree right away if any dog puts his tail up to them, even if it is their own dog or a dog they know.

The Slow Wag

The slow wag, if accompanied by a generally stiff body is also a sign of danger. This dog is making a decision and he may decide that he does not want to meet you.

The Low Wag

Sometimes a dog will hold his tail very low, or between his legs and may even wag just the end of his tail. This dog is feeling very uncertain or even afraid and would prefer to be left alone. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tip of the Day: Learn to Read Dog Body Language and Teach Your Kids

Dogs are giving us information all the time about how they are feeling and what they might do next. If every child and dog owner knew how to interpret dog body language and paid attention to what the dog is saying, there would be many fewer adverse interactions with dogs. Here are the key signals that everyone should know:

Do you love this poster? Get yours today from the Doggone Safe Store for only $5.50 each!

For more information about dog body language, take our online course: Basic Body Language - on sale for $20 until the end of May. CE credits from many organizations.

Check out our Speak Dog slide show:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tip of the Day: Get Off Your Bike if Dog Chases You

Making it Worse?

We are asked this question quite frequently: What should I do if a dog chases me or my kids while we are riding our bikes? Most adults assume that if they have good speed they can outride a dog. A cyclist in our area was badly injured when dog ran down a farm lane barking at him. He sped up to try to get away from the dog, lost control on the gravel shoulder and fell off his bike. The dog sniffed him and walked away.

Avoid a Chase

Kids on bikes should never assume that they can ride faster than a dog can run, because most likely they can't. If confronted by a dog while riding a bike, the best thing to do is to stop and if there is time get off the bike so that the bike is between you and the dog.

The main motivation for the dog is the chase and when there is nothing to chase the dog will lose interest. If the dog does catch a moving cyclist this could result in serious injuries both from the fall and from the dog, whose natural instinct is to bite and shake prey that it has caught. It is best to defuse the situation by removing the dog's motivation to chase.

Some people have been told that they should get off the bike, but keep moving so as to keep the bike between them and the dog. This movement will just keep the dog interested longer. It is best to stand still even if the dog circles around the bike to investigate

Here is a video that shows the wrong thing to do if a dog chases you while you are riding a bike. Notice that when the cyclist moves the bike to try to keep the dog on the other side of it, this just makes the dog more interested in him. As soon as he stops moving the dog loses interest.

Here is a video that shows the right thing to do. Notice how much less interested the dog is when the cyclist stands still, compared to the previous video, when he kept moving around.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tip of the Day: Dogs Don't like Hugs and Kisses

A different kind of love

One of the most important things you can teach your children is that dogs don't like hugs and kisses. This is a tough lesson, because many (if not most) dog owners simply do not believe it themselves.

Children learn early on that giving hugs to parents, siblings, and stuffed animals is a way to show love and affection. The desire to show affection extends naturally to the family dog. To a child, the family dog is just an animated stuffed animal.

Sadly, this desire to show affection to the family dog is a major cause of facial bites to children. Dogs may tolerate hugs from kids, but few actually enjoy this type of attention. If a dog does more than tolerate this inappropriate handling, it is only on the dog’s own terms—when the dog comes to the child for attention, and only if the child does not hug tightly or hang on too long. There is no dog that loves hugs from kids anytime, anywhere, anyhow.

Listen to the experts, including the dogs!

How do we know this? In part it is because every dog behavior expert tells us so. For example, world renowned expert and author Patricia McConnell in her wonderful book "For the Love of a Dog" says that she has at least 50 photos of kids hugging dogs and in not one of them is the dog happy about it. We also know because dogs tell us and dogs don't tell lies.

If your dog is enjoying a hug he will do one or more of the following:
  • Ask for more if you stop
  • Lean into you
  • Relax and close his eyes
  • Pant and wag his tail with a loose body
If your dog is not enjoying a hug he will do one or more of the following:
  • Turn his head away from you
  • Lick your face repeatedly
  • Lick his lips or flick his tongue out
  • Yawn
  • Lick or chew at himself
  • Sneeze
  • Wriggle to get away
  • Hold his body tense
  • Shake off vigorously when you let go
  • Show a half of moon of white in his eye
  • Wag his tail stiffly

Here is a video of a nice dog showing a typical reaction to a hug from a child. He is tolerating, but not enjoying the interaction. 

This is the type of dog about whom the owners will say "he just loves the kids, they can do anything to him". If you hear yourself saying these words, then take a close look and see what the dog is really saying. In the vast majority of cases, the dog will be saying (at least some of the time), "I don't like this, please make it stop".

Prevention is the key

When the dog tells us and we don't listen, eventually he may come to the point that he just can't take it anymore and his only recourse is to use his teeth to say clearly "stop that".

Be an advocate for your kids and your dog, intervene and allow only interactions that the dog truly does enjoy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tip of the Day: Teach Kids to Be a Tree

Dogs are stimulated by movement and noise and children are known for their movement and noise! Still, it is possible to work toward and achieve positive and comfortable relationships between dogs and kids.

One of the most valuable skills that children can learn is to stand still and “Be a Tree” if a strange dog comes near them, or if a dog is bothering them or becoming too frisky.

Here is how to Be a Tree:

  1. Stop
  2. Fold in your branches (hand folded in front)
  3. Watch your roots grow (look at your feet)
  4. Count your breaths in your head until help comes or the dog goes away
"Trees" are boring to the dog and the dog will just sniff and then go away. No matter what the dog does, just stand still, avoid eye contact (by looking at your feet) and stay quiet.

Here is a video that shows how this works. (Please note that other videos that YouTube might display after these videos are chosen by them and may not be related to us or our messages in any way)

And another one. Notice that as soon as the person stops moving the dog loses interest. Please note that this video is for illustration purposes to demonstrate how well being a tree works with a frisky dog (using a teenager and a well trained dog). This is NOT a safe game for a child to play with a dog. If your dog gets too frisky and overly aroused, the kids should Be a Tree and then you should intervene and redirect the dog to another activity where he is no longer around the children.

Practice, practice, practice

It is not enough just to tell your kids about this, they need to practice it in a low stress environment to have the best chance of being able to do it under real life conditions if a dog threatens them. One way to practice is to play the Doggone Crazy! board game. Another way is to play role playing games where everyone takes tuns pretending to be a dog and the others practice being trees when the dog comes near them. You can also practice this with a stuffed dog. If you have a puppy or a small dog, you may be able to play with the real dog. Every one moves around and when the dog comes up to them they assume the tree position. The adult says the dog's name before he gets to the child and gives the dog a treat (or better still, clicks and gives the dog a treat). This way the  dog is rewarded for keeping all his feet on the ground around the kids. He will soon learn that when the kids do the tree that no-one is going to move or play with him anymore and he will see this as a cue to stop chasing or trying to play.

With a larger dog or a very frisky dog, start with the dog on a leash. Approach one of the kids in the game, the child will be a tree and you will say the dog's name, ask him to sit and give him a treat. Repeat until the dog automatically looks at you and sits when he sees a kid being a tree. Keep things calm with the kids. It is not a good idea for them to run around and get the dog all riled up.

It Works!

Here are some testimonials from people who have found being a tree to work in a real life situation with their kids:
Jake jumped back (the dog followed barking) and Jake snapped into the Tree pose so fast I thought I'd seen him turn to stone. I couldn't believe he actually thought to do it - it had been over a year since we've had time to play Doggone Crazy. The dog immediately stopped barking, jumped back into his blankie and further trouble was thus averted.Beth Wheeler, Marblehead MA
One day my [4 year old] son was outside playing, those dogs were in their house, I was standing in our doorway watching Thomas play. Suddenly the back door to the house behind us opened and out flew the dogs. The male spotted Thomas immediately and charged him, clearing the fence easily, Thomas saw this and began to run for me. I yelled immediately for him to STOP and stand like a "tree". Thankfully Thomas did both, for the dog stopped, looked around and then headed back over the fence to his own yard. Another call went out to animal control, and a big hug to my son. Kerry McDonald, Pembroke ON
As an Animal Behaviourist who has testified in numerous court cases as a designated "expert" witness in the field of canine aggression in Ontario, I came accross some information relevant to Doggone Safe when reviewing material for a recent case. The parents of a young child credited this program with saving their [3 year old] daughter's life when she was confronted by a large, aggressive acting dog. According to them, had they not taught her the principles outlined in the 'Be a Tree' program, the results of their daughter's incident with this dog could have been disastrous. This account should tell you everything you need to know about the efficacy of Doggone Safe. Kerry Vinson, Animals Behaviour Consultant, Roseneath ON

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Dog Days: Sharing Sustainable Animal Management Ideas for Healthy First Nation Communities

By Dr. Sally L. Cleland, DVM (ret)

The scenic and sacred Wanuskewin Hertiage Park ( was the venue for Saskatchewan’s first gathering called “Dog Days: Sharing Sustainable Animal Management Ideas for Healthy First Nation Communities.” Wanuskewin (Wah-nus-KAY-win - Cree for “living in harmony” or “seeking peace of mind”) was the perfect setting to bring together about 50 people representing diverse roles from a multitude of FN Communities across Saskatchewan, members of several health regions and government agencies and veterinarians and other experts with a dedicated focus on dog population control, dog bite prevention, animal and human health issues.

This was a two day conference with a treasure chest of speakers addressing a list of topics spanning current trends in zoonotic parasites detected in certain FN Community (dogs), animal population control, Dog Tales/history of FN people and dogs and much more.  A real treat was having guests from Australia who work for the Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC). Geoff Irwin and Sophie Constable gave engaging presentations on the “dog situation” in Indigenous Communities particularly in the Northern Territories of the country and in so many ways parallel the situation and circumstances we see here in Saskatchewan’s FN Communities.  AMRRIC strives to assist the people sustaining on their own their dog populations and health as well as they  continually lobby government for support of their programs, animal clinics, health surveillance, etc..  For information on their objectives and priorities, including their educational strategies and resources, check out

We learned a great deal about the traditional relationship between FN people and dogs, their roles in community life and ceremony.   In addition, we learned of the First Nations Alberta Technical Services Advisory Group (TSAG) which is a not-for-profit organization that provides technical services and training for Alberta First Nations in the Treaty 6, Treaty 7 and Treaty 8 areas. Their goal is to assist First Nation Communities in achieving and maintaining high standards in technology and services.     

TSAG has also collaborated with the Alberta Spay/Neuter Task Force (  The Task Force is comprised of veterinarians, animal health technicians and often hundreds of volunteers. The overall objective is to provide high volume, high quality spay and neuter clinics and education for Alberta’s First Nations by invitation. The volunteer-based group works within the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association by-laws by applying for a Temporary Veterinary Facility license for each clinic. These clinics can be held in community halls, school gyms, etc. They must be repeated to be effective and have the ability to set up a MASH type surgical unit to spay and neuter up to 200 animals over one weekend.  Normally the animals  (both cats and dogs) are vaccinated, dewormed and are tattooed at the same time.  (In Saskatchewan, there is a smaller group of veterinarians and animal health technicians who call themselves the Remote Spay and Neuter Program or Team North providing a similar service on a smaller basis with very little financial support to date).  Here is a short Global News Edmonton news clip about a recent clinic in the Hobbema Reserve (approximately 70 kilometres south of the City of Edmonton)

I am pleased to announce that an organization called The Healthy Aboriginal Network ( is currently working on a comic book about dog bites in FN Communities.  This BC non-profit organization creates comic books on health and social issues for youth thereby promoting health, literacy and wellness.  Here is a link to a You Tube video featuring a draft version of the dog bite comic that was recently used in focus groups comprised of FN children ages 8-12 which was shared at Dog Days. When ready, the comic book will have national distribution.

And I delivered my “A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention” which I believe was well received as quite a few people from various FN Communities approached me about possibly coming to their community to present this concept to their leaders and decision-makers including the FN Community of Pelican Narrows which has the highest incidence of dog bites in the province (111 reported dog bite incidents in 2011).
While in one newsletter article I can’t relay all the information and ideas shared nor all the concerns expressed, obstacles identified (funding be the primary one particularly pertaining to dog population control), I do want to mention one point that was of great interest to me.  Prior to my presentation, several other speakers, not knowing of my relationship with Doggone Safe or on the details of my presentation, made comments that “Be a Tree” or Be a Rock” are inadequate measures to take if surrounded by a pack of dogs who may be intent on attacking!!  My concern is two-fold.  Firstly, these various people who made such comments, DID NOT offer an alternative except to say that these situations would not occur if the dog population was controlled and if people were more responsible pet owners.  Not sure how that helps anyone in the moment of being among a pack of hungry, aggressive, unmanaged dogs.  Secondly, it seemed to me that these people did not understand the “science” of what Be a Tree “says” to a dog (s) in terms of body language i.e “I am not a threat.”  “I am not going to hurt you.” “You don’t have to worry about me.”  So, at the end of my presentation, (which does not usually include a huge focus on Be a Tree and only briefly do I mention the importance of being able to “read” dog body language giving a few examples from the Teacher’s Kit), I said that while several people had commented derogatorily about Be A Tree in this type of scenario, I felt I needed to say something positive and encouraging about Be a Tree and explain why it is effective – which I did.  I also emphasized that I could not with 100% certainty guarantee that if you were in the middle of a pack of dogs growling, with their fur raised and teeth bared that by “being a tree” they would not get bitten or attacked BUT I did say that I believed whole-heartedly that if they ran away, they would excite the dogs further, would never be able to out run the dogs and could quite possibly elevate and escalate the attack.  My professional opinion was that by being quiet, being immobile, by being a tree was their best chance to “calm the waters”, de-escalate the tension and minimize the chance of an attack.  Further, if they were attacked, the protection of their own head/neck/face as in Be a Rock, was the best “defence” at that point.

I would really be interested in comments and input from the Doggone Safe Newsletter readers about the usefulness of Be a Tree in this case and/or if there is a better safety strategy to use when there are multiple dogs. 

If there was only one thing I could share from this conference, is that there is a great deal of work to do in not only the educational aspects of preventing dog bites but in the ongoing and urgent need in our FN Communities to help address the dog population issue – the need for collaboration is paramount and by addressing the issue of dog bites, dog population and dog health, we also address many issues pertaining to human health.  Time perhaps for a National Conference on this topic? 

Final thought from Chief Dan George:
If you talk to animals they will talk with you
     And you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them you will not know them,
     And what you do not know you will fear.
What one fears one destroys.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Challenge 2012 Update Day 18

The International Dog Bite Prevention Challenge is off to a great start. So far 35 presenters from 5 countries, 4 Canadian provinces and 14 US states have educated more than 4000 kids using the Be a Tree dog bite prevention program.

Thanks to all the presenters for their community service efforts and for keeping us updated with results!

Students in Liberia learn about dog bite prevention thanks to Morris Darbo and the Liberia Animal Welfare and Conservation Society

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Babysitter Rules

Parents: how often do you think about the dog when you go out and leave the kids with a babysitter? For most people, the answer is never. They just assume that the dog is part of the family and that the dog will behave as usual even if they are not there and that the baby sitter should be able to look after the dog as well as the kids. The fact is that babysitters do not usually have any training in dealing with dogs or keeping kids safe around dogs. Your dog and your kids may act differently when you are not around (gasp!) and the babysitter may not know what to do if the dog gets too frisky or becomes protective of the kids.

The Babysitter Rules

Here are our babysitter rules. We suggest that you post these on your fridge and go over them with the babysitter and with your kids if they are old enough.
  1. The baby (and other children) are never left alone with the dog even for a second.
  2. In order to gain compliance from the dog the babysitter should use treats rather than force.
  3. Dog should not be bothered when eating, sleeping, chewing on something or in his special place.
  4. Children may not interact with the dog when the parents are not home.
  5. The babysitter has the right to refuse to look after the dog and to ask that the dog be confined or taken with the owners.
  6. If you are outside with the children, never allow them to interact with any dog, even if they know the dog, or the owner says it is OK.
  7. If you are outside with the children and see a loose dog in the distance, take the children back indoors, or leave the area in a calm manner.
  8. If a loose dog approaches, instruct the children to Be a Tree. That is stand still, fold their branches (hands folded in front) and watch their roots grow (look at their feet). The babysitter should be a tree as well. Stay still until the dog goes away or help comes. If the dog returns, resume being trees.
Download the rules 

For Babysitters and Parents

It is important for all visitors of any home to remember that a dog feels very connected to their family. Some dogs may act differently when the adults (leaders) are not present. As you interview and get to know the family, ask about the dog. Meet the dog and be sure it will follow your directions and is friendly. Find out what rules and routines are already in place. Ask about a dog zone or an area for the dog to be where he is comfortable and safe while you focus all of your attention on the children. If you have any fears of dogs or are intimidated by a family dog then ask that the dog be confined or taken with the parents while you babysit. Dogs pick up the body language of fear and this may lead to an uncomfortable experience for all. If there is a dog in the home that you are comfortable with and it is free about the house please keep the following in mind.

  • Some dogs guard items such as food, toys, rawhides and pig’s ears especially.
  • It is NEVER ok to leave a child and dog together alone!
  • Dogs must be on a leash or fenced in when outside.
  • Some dogs are afraid of thunder. They may act differently during a storm. Have a plan!
  • Chasing games with a dog are NOT safe. Children should not play any games with the dog while the parents are out.
  • Dogs get excited by lots of noise and activity such as jumping, dancing and usual toddler activities. It is best to direct the dog to a quiet place with a treat for him to enjoy.
  • Hugs can make dogs uncomfortable. Scratching ears, petting side of head are great alternatives. Observe the dog’s reaction and follow their lead.

Dogs show stress many ways:

  • Pacing
  • Ears flat back
  • Half moon of white showing in his eye
  • Freezing, cowering, moving away, hiding in a corner or under furniture
  • Licking his lips, yawning, sudden scratching or biting at himself
  • Tail tucked between his legs (or wagging tail between his legs)
  • Growling

It is ALWAYS a good thing to know where the dog can go in case you or he becomes uncomfortable. Instead of grabbing his collar, use a treat to lure him to the designated spot. A higher value treat such as cheese or hot dog or a potato chip may work better than a biscuit.

Most dogs are wonderful and very friendly. It is always best to prevent any potentially dangerous situation from happening. Having a plan and understanding dog communication sets everyone up for success.

For further information and to see photos of the dog body language described above please visit . Have fun and stay safe!

Download this information as a handout

Link to this information at our website

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Help Dogs and Kids Build a Lifetime Bond

Reposted from the blog at

by Joan Orr

What could be more delightful than to witness the bond of friendship blossom between a child and a dog? Some dogs naturally love kids. Some kids have a way with dogs. If you are lucky, those are the types of kids and dogs you know or will know. But why leave it to luck? Give your dog and the kids in your life the best chance for a successful relationship by taking deliberate steps to create a kid-loving dog and to develop empathy and respect in children.

For the safety of your dog and the children he will encounter, your dog should never be put in a position where growling at or biting a child becomes the only option. In honor of Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 20-26, 2012), Doggone Safe offers tips on how to promote a safe and happy relationship between dogs and kids.

Defining dog/child relationships
There are three factors to consider with respect to the dog/child relationship: the opportunities they have for interaction, the behavior of the dog, and the behavior of the child. As a parent and/or dog owner, you have the opportunity to influence these factors by managing the environment in which the dog and child interact, training the dog, and teaching the child.

Management means controlling the environment to ensure the safety of both the dog and the child. For example, if you have a dog that fears children, but children visit your home only rarely, you can opt for a management solution to keep your dog happy and the children safe. The simplest thing to do during a visit is to keep the dog away from the children, in a crate or in a room with a long-lasting and tasty chew (a stuffed Kong for example). If you host a big party with lots of kids and you have three boisterous dogs, you might send the dogs to a kennel for the day to ensure that there are no incidents.

Regardless of how wonderful the relationship is between your dog and your own or visiting kids, management is essential when you cannot directly supervise. If the children are very young or if they are likely to want to interact with the dog, put the dog away with a suitable chew or take him with you when you can't supervise. Keep the dog on a leash when you are outside in the yard if he has ideas about chasing the kids.

Careful and thoughtful management prevents situations from arising in which the dog or child gets overly excited or antagonism develops:

"Fido ate my homework!"

"Mary tried to take my bone!"

To encourage a loving relationship that will not require as much management (eventually), start early teaching the child and training the dog!

Dog training
There are two main goals to dog training that focuses specifically on encounters with children. This type of training is important whether or not you are a parent with your own kids, because every dog will encounter kids inevitably. The cuter he is, the more likely he is to attract attention! The first training goal is to ensure that your dog likes kids and enjoys the things that kids do. The second goal is to teach your dog suitable behavior around kids.

Preparing the dog
Doggone Safe co-founder Teresa Lewin says, "You can't prepare the world for your dog, but you can prepare your dog for the world."

As a dog owner you are legally and morally responsible for the well-being and the behavior of your dog. Prepare your dog for whatever the world might throw at him by making sure he has many and varied experiences—and that these experiences are associated with positive consequences. Take treats with you everywhere, and give the treats to your dog as he experiences new places, sounds, and people. If kids come to pet your dog, feed him from your hand or let him lick cream cheese out of a bone that you are holding. These actions give you control of your dog's head and mouth while the kids pet him. Soon your dog will welcome the attention of children.

To accustom your dog to the types of things children or strangers might do, give him hugs, pull gently on his ears and tail, and tug gently on his fur all over his body. At the same time, feed him goodies from your hand or allow him to chew on a yummy bone. Pairing touches with a treat can make even rough handling a positive experience.

It is essential to use the treat in this type of conditioning. Simply doing "strange things" to the dog or puppy, like the pulling, tugging, and touching, will not teach him to tolerate this attention from others. Your dog may even come to feel anxious around you for fear you are going to maul him. If you have associated treats and the good feelings that go with getting treats with these strange and potentially bothersome touches, the dog will be welcoming of touch. When a toddler runs up and yanks on his tail, the dog will be more likely to look at you as if to say "Where's my treat?" than to snap at the annoyance.

Touch desensitization exercises should be done daily with a new dog or puppy, and monthly throughout a dog's life.

Training appropriate behaviors
Children can be very exciting to dogs, and an overly friendly dog can cause injury in his exuberance. There was a story in our local news recently about a man who bent to pet a friendly dog. The dog jerked its head up and the man ended up with a broken nose. The man is suing the dog owner, and he will likely win the case. The dog owner is ultimately responsible for anything the dog does and for any injury the dog causes, regardless of provocation.

Avoid these situations by training your dog to exhibit appropriate behaviors when kids or adults come to greet him. If you teach nothing else, teach your dog to sit for greeting. This is a very easy behavior to teach and it gives your dog predictability and control in situations with new people. It also reduces the chance that he will irritate or injure anyone.

Start working on this greeting behavior at home with family members and friends. Put the dog on a leash, go up to the practice person (but not so close that the dog can reach him or her). Hold a treat over the dog's nose (or just say "sit" if the dog already knows the behavior), click when he sits, and give a treat.

Repeat a few times until the action of moving toward a person, or a person coming toward you and your dog, elicits an automatic sit. Next, allow the practice person to come to the dog, offer a treat, and pet him. Use the food as a lure to keep your dog sitting if necessary. If your dog gets up, simply call him away in a happy voice, circle around, and try again.

When your dog is an expert at sitting to greet in the house, practice outside and in more distracting environments. Work with the practice people and, eventually, with strangers who indicate that they want to pet your dog. Be firm with strangers and explain that you are training your dog; they must wait until he sits before touching him.

Other appropriate behaviors you may want to teach are: lie down, put head on paws, put head on someone's lap, bring a ball, drop it and step back, and go to bed. With these behaviors, you have several ways to instruct the dog in the presence of children, strangers, and/or visitors to your home. There are many articles posted on the Karen Pryor Clickertraining website that explain how to use clicker training to teach basic behaviors.

Training appropriate behaviors differs from the conditioning discussed above. In training, you are reinforcing the dog for specific behaviors. The preparatory conditioning was only associating treats with touch and other environmental stimuli; it did not require any particular behavior from the dog, other than general calmness.

Training games
Training games are perfect tools for encouraging cooperation between dogs and kids and for teaching appropriate behaviors in both. Adults should teach the games to the dog before children get involved. Remember that adult supervision is essential during play sessions, since excitement can lead to over-arousal in either the dog or the children.
Hide-and-seekThis activity is a hit with both two- and four-footed family members. One child distracts the dog, while another hides and calls for him. When the hider is found, he gives the dog a click/treat. Once the dog gets the hang of the game, the hider can make it more challenging by going out of sight or into another room, while the other child encourages the dog to "go find Jordan!" This game provides physical and mental stimulation.
FetchThe primary rule of fetch is that the dog gives back the fetched object and steps back to wait for the next throw. Offer the dog a treat in exchange for the object and click as soon as the dog lets go. If the dog tries to engage in a game of tug, or refuses to give up the object, the kids should end the game and ignore the dog for a while. "Any game that pits the strength or speed of the dog against that of the child could lead to over-excitement and even a biting accident," says Teresa Lewin. "Adult supervision and proper training are essential."
Stay inside the ropePlace a circle of rope on the floor and give each child a clicker and some small dog treats (the kids can make a clicking sound with their tongues if no clickers are available). Toss a treat into the center of the circle to get started. When the dog has eaten the treat, click before he steps outside the rope and toss another treat into the circle. The goal is to click and reward as often as possible while the dog has all four paws inside the rope circle. Once the dog has the idea that the place to be is inside the rope, the children can start moving around the room, still clicking and tossing treats into the circle. Play this game in various locations, and eventually the dog will learn to go and lie within the rope. When that happens, you can take the rope into any situation where you need to establish a boundary for the dog. A rope game is easier and safer than using a rope to tie up the dog!
Sharing and tug gamesDogs need to learn to share, and kids need to learn to respect dogs. Controlled games with two identical items can help accomplish these goals. These games should be established with a dog by an adult to start. When the dog has learned the rules, get the children involved. Play only with children who are over the age of 9 and who can follow directions well.

Teaching the children
To create a successful relationship between children and your dog, teach children how to interact properly with the dog. Getting the kids involved with clicker training is a great way to build empathy and respect. Clicker training is ideal for kids because it is hands-off—so little fingers don't get painful nips from razor-sharp puppy teeth—and there is no physical strength required. The Clicker Puppy DVD shows how children can be involved in clicker training basic behaviors, right from the start of puppy-hood!

Be a Tree
The most important thing to teach your kids is how to "Be a Tree." This means stand still, fold your branches (hands folded in front), watch your roots grow (look at your feet), and ignore the dog or puppy if he gets too frisky or is jumping or nipping. Running away, screaming, yelling "No!" at the dog, or pushing him away may make a dog even more excited or may frighten him. Kids who are "being a tree" are boring to a dog, and he will soon give up seeking their attention.

Speed up the "Be a Tree" learning process by giving the dog a click/treat when he is near kids but has all four feet on the ground. Kids can click/treat, too, whenever the puppy has all feet on the floor.

Small dogs and puppies can safely learn about "Be a Tree" from kids, but if your dog is large or too excitable, it is not a good idea to set him loose with kids. Start with a leash and make sure the dog understands that when the kids assume the tree position, he is to sit. Use the same approach to teaching "Be a Tree" as you did teaching the "sit to greet."

Start teaching children with the dog absent. Have someone pretend to be a dog, or use a stuffed dog. Every time the pretend dog gets frisky, the kids should "Be a Tree." Make this lesson even more fun by introducing TAGteach as part of the game. When a child does the tree pose, you tag (click) and count up the tags/clicks. When the group has earned a set number of tags, reward them by bringing the real dog in to practice. Visit the TAGteach website for more information.

Teach treat delivery
Teach kids how to give food to the dog in a way that keeps the dog from nipping at them. The kids can drop the food on the ground, toss it, or give the food from an open hand. Make a game of treat delivery and practice while tagging for correct technique, using a stuffed dog at first. Again, let the children earn enough tags to bring in the real dog. When the real dog comes in to clean up the treats, the kids can click each time he eats one. The game is fun for both kids and dog, and helps the dog remember to keep his paws on the floor.

Teach proper handling and body language awareness
Children should know the signs that announce that a dog has had enough of something or that the dog is or is not enjoying an interaction. Learn about dog body language yourself and then teach your kids how to pet and touch the dog in a way that the dog likes. You can tell if a dog likes something if he comes back for more when you stop, or if he leans in to appreciate the petting. If the dog turns away, tries to leave, licks his lips, yawns, licks your face over and over, or shows a half moon of white in his eye, he is not enjoying the interaction. If he does a big shake-off when the interaction is over, this may also indicate that he did not enjoy the attention.

Your dog probably does not like hugs and kisses, even if you think he does. Use your observation skills to determine what kind of petting and touch your dog enjoys and teach the kids how to offer that kind of affection. Encourage them to scratch the dog on the neck or chest rather than petting the top of the head or hugging and kissing. Use a stuffed dog and tag for correct interactions before bringing in the real dog.

Talk to your kids about how it would feel if strangers (or even their own family members) came up to them repeatedly to tell them how cute they are, touching and hugging them at the same time. Talk about the fact that there is a time and place for showing affection. For example, would your children like it if you ran out onto the soccer field to give them a big hug and a kiss in the middle of a game? Would they like it if you gave them a hug before bed when they are sleepy?

Dogs have preferences, too. If they are busy watching a squirrel, chewing on something, or sleeping, they do not want affection from kids. Teach kids not to pursue a dog but to give affection when the dog comes for it.

Visit Doggone Safe to find out more about dog body language and for free resources that can help you teach your kids. The Doggone Crazy! board game is an entertaining way to reinforce lessons about dog body language and safe behavior around dogs.

So happy together
Taking the time and thought to set up success for the dogs and kids in your life yields wonderful results. When kids and dogs learn to respect and understand one another, they can create strong bonds of love. Positive reinforcement-based training, fun tools and treats, and an emphasis on safety are the means to a positive end: treasured long-term relationships shared by all of your loved ones, young and old, human and canine.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Dog Bite Prevention Challenge Update - Day 5

The International Dog Bite Prevention Challenge is off to a great start. So far 19 presenters from 5 countries, 2 Canadian provinces and 7 US states have educated almost 2000 kids using the Be a Tree dog bite prevention program.

Day 5 of the International Dog Bite Prevention Challenge

Thanks to all the presenters for their community service efforts and for keeping us updated with results!

Dr Tracy Johnson of Bethany CT with a group of Girl Scouts

Ask a Nurse! Pediatric trauma nurse and Doggone Safe member Kay Thompson gives advice to kids and parents. Kay's wonderful, sweet kid-loving dogs give a good demonstration of what dogs do when they don't want hugs from kids.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Doggone Safe Member Kay Thompson on TV

Here is a follow up to our last blog post about dog bite prevention in San Diego with Rady Children's Hospital. Check out this terrific TV coverage with Doggone Safe member Kay Thompson!