The majority of canine companions deserve the reputation of “man’s best friend.” Yet, in the United States, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 4.7 million dog bites occur annually, with approximately 60 percent of the victims being children. In November, a reporter was bitten by Barney, President George W. Bush’s dog. If you see the video, you can tell that Barney’s posture was tense and the reporter approached very quickly and from above. This maneuver is frightening to a smaller dog. I used to give classroom presentations to elementary schools teaching children how to greet dogs; but as was proven here, even some adults need educating.

How to greet a dog.

Before you reach out to pet a dog, you should always ask permission from the owner. Once you have permission, it’s best to squat down to the dog’s level, and then slowly bring your hand toward the dog from the side, not above. Keep your fist closed and let the dog sniff your hand first. Then pet the dog’s sides or back gently. The entire time you want to remain quiet and refrain from making any sudden movements.

What to do when a strange dog approaches you.

I used to tell children to “stand like a tree” when a strange dogs came toward them. You don’t want to scream and run. Just remain motionless and avoid eye contact. Once the dog loses interest and moves away, slowly back away until the dog is out of sight. If you happen to be knocked to the ground, “be a log” by facing down, keeping your legs together, and cover the back of your neck with closed fists. If the dog does attack, try to put anything you can between you and the dog-your jacket, purse, school bag, etc.

How to prevent your dog from biting.

You can’t guarantee that your dog will never bite, but there are certain things you can do to lessen the chances that your dog will bite.

• Spay or neuter your dog. Spayed and neutered dogs are less aggressive and less likely to bite.

• Socialize your dog. You should introduce your dog to as many people and situations as you can, especially when your dog is young. However, it’s never too late to socialize your dog, but remember to go slowly.

• Train your dog. Accompany your dog to training classes. Make sure the entire household participates in utilizing the training techniques.

• Teach appropriate behavior. Never allow your dog to chase people, even in fun. Seek professional help if your dog ever displays aggressive behavior.

• Be safe. If you aren’t sure how your dog is going to react to a new situation, be cautious. You may want to leave him at home. If your dog overreacts to visitors, keep him locked up when company comes over. You can work with professionals to help your dog become accustomed to these situations.

Share this column with your kids. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.


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