Children can be rambunctious and loud. Their high-energy levels may be misunderstood by a dog they don't know -- and even one they may know. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA), more than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs every year. Almost 1 in 5 people require medical attention, and by far, the most common victims of dog bites are children. In many cases, these incidents could be prevented with better education for children and their parents.
When a dog starts to act aggressively, the act of running away could entice the dog to 'play' even harder. Your child could receive severe bites to the head and neck in the process. So, how can your child actually help calm the dog? Use the SAFE Program. SAFE helps children (and adults, too) learn about dog bite prevention. You can teach these steps to your child in a playful, game-like way so he or she won't be frightened in the event it's necessary to use in real life. SAFE stands for:
- Stay: Be quiet; don't run away from the dog.
- Arms: Keep your arms crossed and close to your body. Never flail your arms as it may excite a dog.
- Face Away: Turn your face away.
- Eyes: Don't make direct eye contact with the dog, since some may take this gesture as a challenge or invitation to pounce.
SAFE emphasizes that your child needs to radiate a sense of calmness through his or hers demeanor during interactions with canines. There are also preemptive ways to possibly prevent hairy situations between dogs and humans:
- Children under age 12 should always have adult supervision while they're near canines. Use fences, crates, or even different rooms in your home for those times when you can't put your full attention into watching child/dog interactions
- You and your child should always ask dog owners if it's okay to pet their dog first.
- Dogs need their space just like humans. For example, instead of getting in a dog's face and trying to kiss or hug them, your child could learn to blow them a kiss.
Teach your child how to gently pet dogs while treating them with respect and kindness. It's imperative that your child stays calm around dogs and remember the SAFE prevention game. This isn't child's play: this game could seriously save lives!