This is advice I hope you never need, but should know.
Q: We love dogs in our family, but I know that not every dog is friendly. What should I teach my child about how to respond if she encounters an aggressive dog?
A: Great question! That is important information for every child (and adult) to learn so they can stay safe. Being menaced or even attacked by a dog is frightening for anyone, but knowing in advance what to do can help her stay calm and act appropriately.
It’s instinctive to run or scream in the face of any dangerous animal, whether a bear, mountain lion or dog, but the best thing to do is to freeze in place, sideways to the dog, arms crossed over the body. Motion activates an animal’s chase instinct, and high-pitched screaming can make a child sound like prey.
Instead, tell her to stay still and avoid eye contact (it’s OK to watch the dog out of the corner of the eye, but never stare at him). Don’t say anything. The goal is for the animal to view your child as completely unthreatening. Then she can start to move slowly away — ideally to a spot where she’s more protected, such as behind a wall, fence, door or other barrier. If that’s not possible, she should calmly ask a passerby to help.
If a dog does attack, your child should know how to protect the most vulnerable parts of the body. Have her practice crossing her arms across her body and lifting them to cover her throat and face if the dog lunges forward. If she’s pushed down with her back to the dog, she should curl up into a ball so her knees protect her belly, keep her head down, and cross her hands over the back of her neck to protect it. Learn more about preventing dog bites here.
There’s more – including what you need to know about pet ducks – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.