My Malinois Ronja and I will be off to the Catholic school in town this upcoming Friday where we have been invited to talk about Dog Safety to the younger students and what Working Dogs do to the older students.
Because I will only have about half an hour per group of students, I’ve created some Dog Safety coloring pages for the little ones that their teachers will be handing out to them in class afterward and that they can color and take home with them. (Hopefully, some of their parents will look at those pages, too – adults are often the first to reach down and pet without asking, figuring a dog wouldn’t be in a public place if it weren’t friendly.)
The kids will be getting the Do’s and Don’ts of petting a dog they don’t know on two sheets, but I’ve also split the graphics up into individual coloring pages that can be downloaded and printed from my Fotki page. These are great for teaching your kids to be safe around strange dogs at home, using in the classroom, or handing out to parents and children at dog-related events, such as adoption days. Their use is free as long as you don’t repost them on your own website or blog, and keep the link to my Fotki page intact.
Please remember that the photo pages should be used along with parent (or teacher) guidance to explain what to do and why you are doing it. I am including some suggestions along with previews of the pages below.
Please teach your children (and please remember as adults) to always ask the dog’s owner before you pet their dog, even if the dog is at a public event, in a pet store, or anywhere else people usually bring dogs that are friendly. The owner is the person who knows their dog best, and they may know that their dog is tired, or not in a good mood, or overwhelmed by the things that are going on around him, and may not want to be petted right then.
To ask someone whether you can pet their dog, you should approach them slowly and from the front or side, so that both the dog and owner can see you. Walking up suddenly behind a dog might scare him and he might bark at you. Running up is never a good idea because the dog might want to chase you. It’s always best to walk up slow and be polite, don’t yell, scream, or run.
Ask the person whether you may pet their dog, and be prepared to just say “Thank you” if they tell you “no”. If the owner tells you “no”, it’s not because they’re mean or don’t like their dog to be petted. They might be in a hurry to get where they are going, or maybe they have another appointment. Or maybe the dog is not feeling well or is overwhelmed and the owner knows that now may not be a good time to pet.
If the owner says it’s okay to pet -
Make sure that the dog wants to be petted by you. Just because the owner says it’s okay, the dog might not feel like being petted right then. It’s important to see if the dog is interested before you start to touch and pet.
The way to ask a dog’s permission is by holding your hand out in a fist for the dog to sniff. If the dog comes up and sniffs your hand in a friendly way, you can pet the dog. Look at the dog in the picture – he is sniffing the child’s hand and wagging his tail happily. It’s okay to pet this dog.
It’s not okay to pet a dog who won’t come up to sniff your hand. The dog might be uninterested, look to the owner, try to walk away or hide behind the owner, or tuck his tail. He might even bark or growl at you if he’s in a bad mood, or is sick, or just isn’t used to being approached by people he doesn’t know. You should not pet a dog that won’t come to you to be petted.
If the dog is friendly and sniffs your hand, it’s okay to pet. You should scratch the dog’s neck and shoulder area gently and in a friendly way. Don’t make any sudden movements or loud sounds – those could scare or bother the dog and he might want to chase you or bark at you. Always pet gently and teach children to pet gently. Some dogs love rough petting, but if you don’t know the dog, you should never assume that he will like rough petting or scratching.
A lot of dogs love to have their face ruffled, their back scratched, or their ears touched. If your dog at home loves to be petted that way, that’s great – but you should never do this to a dog you don’t know. Many dogs are sensitive about having their face or paws touched, or their ears and tail messed with. When you meet a dog you don’t know, stick to safe, gentle petting on the chest and neck unless the owner tells you what the dog likes.
Here are a couple of things you should not do and should teach your children not to do.
Never pet any dog without asking permission from the dog’s owner and from the dog.
This means, you should never pet a dog when you can’t see the owner to ask permission, such as a dog that is playing with other dogs at the park, a dog that is behind a fence, or a dog that is running loose in the street. If you can’t ask a person if it’s okay to pet the dog, don’t touch the dog!
Also never pet a dog when the dog does not know you are there. Don’t walk up from behind and touch the dog because that might scare or startle him, and he might turn around and bite you. Don’t pet a dog that is asleep – as the saying goes, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
And, please, don’t bother a dog that is eating or drinking. You wouldn’t like it if a stranger walked up to you and started touching you while you have lunch or a snack, and most dogs don’t like it either. Some dogs might think you are trying to take their food and react aggressively, too. It’s very important to teach children that eating dogs should be left alone – there are many cases where young children are bitten by the family dog because they were messing with the dog’s food or touching the dog while he was eating.
It’s okay to pet your family dog on top of the head if he doesn’t mind it, but you should never do this to a dog you don’t know. Putting your hand up over the head puts it somewhere the dog can’t see it, and most dogs will turn their heads to see where the hand went, or jump up on you. Some dogs might get really scared, too, because they can’t see what you’re doing, and bite.
Don’t hug a dog that you don’t know, and be careful hugging even dogs you do know.
Hugging is a very foreign concept to a dog – they don’t have an equivalent to hugging in the way they interact, and that makes getting a hug to be frightening to most dogs. They don’t understand why you are restraining them and what your intentions are, and most dogs will attempt to back out of a hug or otherwise get away. When it’s a dog you don’t know, the dog might get scared enough to bite you, instead of just backing away.
And, lastly, please don’t pet or ask to pet a dog that has a job.
Those dogs include Service Dogs who work for disabled people (even if you can’t see the person’s disability), Police Dogs, Military Dogs, Border Patrol Dogs, Customs Dogs, and Search and Rescue Dogs.
Service Dogs help people with disabilities to do normal, everyday things, just like a wheelchair might help a disabled person get around. They have a very important job and need to concentrate on their handlers and what their handlers need at all times. Service Dogs do many different things – they can alert to seizures, guide the blind, pull wheelchairs, pick up items, and open doors. All Service Dogs are trained to do the things their disabled person needs. Most of the time, Service Dogs are identified by capes, vests, or harnesses that say “Service Dog” (or “Service Dog in Training”). Don’t ask to pet a Service Dog – he has to concentrate on what his person needs.
Police Dogs, Military Dogs, Border Patrol Dogs and Customs Dogs are working to protect all of us. They do jobs such as finding bombs and drugs, or chasing down the bad guys if they don’t stop for the police officer. Most of these dogs are very protective of their handlers and might think you are trying to attack their handlers if you come very close or reach out to touch the dog, and the dog might act very aggressively and try to bite you. You should not come up and ask to pet a Working Dog.
There are situations when it’s okay to pet a Working Dog: some dog events will have Police Dogs that are safe for people to pet, and Service Dog organizations have dogs in training and young puppies that haven’t started training yet that might be out in public and at events. If the trainer or handler says it’s okay to pet the dog in those situations, ask the dog if it’s okay (see above) and pet gently.