In honor of this year’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week, I’ve got a post for each day! Dog bites are almost entirely preventable – especially bites to children. What will YOU do this week to prevent a dog bite?
Me? I’m going to tell a small child that he or she can’t pet my dog. In fact, I’ve already done it and here’s how it went:
Barely walking baby toddles in my dog’s direction. Mom smiles, “Is your dog friendly?”
I smile back and say, “My dog needs her space. She’s old and her back is sore today. She won’t enjoy being petted.”
Mom clutches her child and sort of glares at me as she walks off.
Wow, that’s pretty uncomfortable for everyone, but I can get over it knowing my response will not contribute to that little boy being magnetized to dogs. Plus, it made the parents around me think twice about their own children rushing up to dogs, too. Who knows? Maybe I prevented lots of bites by introducing the possibility that people might say, “No, you can’t pet my dog.”
Right there is my issue with the focus on telling children merely to ask before touching dogs — people almost always say, “Yes.” Why is that a problem?
- Children (and adults!) no longer wait for an answer because they presume it’s going to be yes. Waiting for an answer drops out of the sequence and you often get kids who parrot, “May I pet your dog?” and then they’re moving right in before you can say anything. After all, why not? They asked, didn’t they?
- Because people expect a “Yes,” they do not know how to respond to a “No” and take it personally or get annoyed. This leads to pet owners giving in to social pressure and feeling like they have to say “yes” when they’d rather say “no.”
(Parents should take careful note of #2! Just because someone says “Yes,” doesn’t mean it’s safe for your child to touch that dog!)
So, here’s my proposal. Pick a day and practice nicely saying, “No” to anyone who asks to pet your dog. Heck, you can even say, “I’m sorry, but it’s National ‘No, You Can’t Pet My Dog’ Day so I just can’t.” Go ahead – blame it on me!
The result of more “no’s” will be more people who stop to wait for an answer and probably less frequent willy-nilly asking because now they’re considering the possibility of a “No” response. I think people will become more discerning and begin to take notice of the signs that someone doesn’t want to let a child pet their dog.
What About Kids That Rush Up Without Asking?
Even if you’re saying “No” to someone asking to pet your dog, please do reinforce that behavior of asking because there are plenty of kid and adults who do not ask.
If you are confronted by a wandering child pursuing your dog, you will need to be very directive. If you have kids of your own, it becomes second nature to boss other people’s kids around, but I know it can feel awkward if you’re not used to it. Expect to use a “stop” hand signal and use very direct language: “Wait. My dog needs more space.” Or, “Stop! Stay where you are.” If you get into the sweet talking, “Wait a minute, honey, I’m not sure my dog is comfortable right now, OK?,” you’re done for.
My rule of thumb is that I will not consider letting a child touch my dog unless he or she is developmentally able to carry on a conversation with me. If all they can do is repeat after their Mom, “Can I pet your dog?,” it’s not going to happen. And, yes, parents are usually annoyed with me, but the more we all set limits for our dogs and children, the more normal it will seem that babies/toddlers should not be experimenting on other people’s dogs.
Below is a series of unused clips I shot for my Dogs Like Kids They Feel Safe With film. The time limit didn’t allow for this segment and the clips are completely unpolished. Watch at least the beginning, though, to see the body posture and words used to dissuade a running child.
Just say, “No,” and see what happens!