Dog Bite Prevention

Dog Bite Prevention Week: Body Language

Today marks the end of National Dog Bite Prevention Week.  We’re going to wrap it up with some information on dog body language.

One important key to dog bite prevention is recognizing what a dog is “saying” through their body language. Dogs offer many different stress signals, some of which a lot of people don’t understand.  Obviously, you’re going to proceed with caution if a dog is barking ferociously, but did you know that yawning, scratching and lip licking are often overlooked signs of stress?  There’s also the “whale eye” – where you can see a large amount of the whites of the dog’s eyes – this means “Please leave me alone!”

Here are some drawings which show how a dog might look when they’re stressed, fearful or anxious.  If you recognize that your dog is offering any of these signals, it’s an owner’s job to keep your dog away from potential greeters.  If you’re about to approach a dog, but see any of these signals, stop and let the dog approach at his own pace.

The following illustration depicts what my dogs might look like in many different situations.  We see an awful lot of “Hello I Love You” around here.. ;)

illustrations by Lili Chin (used with permission)

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Dog Bite Prevention Week: How NOT to Greet a Dog

I have to say, one thing that sometimes bugs me is the way most people approach my dogs. Because they’re small, people tend to bend over them and go straight to petting them on the top of their head.  Wally is usually super-friendly with strangers, but Lu tends to get freaked out once they go for her face.  Most dogs don’t like being petted on the head, especially by strangers. Imagine if a complete stranger came up to you and stuck their hand in your face. You’d flinch, too!

I try to ask people to ignore my dogs until my dogs are comfortable and calm.  Then, if they want to pet them, they can pet them on their cheek or back.  Always remember – a dog should be approached with caution and respect, whether big or small, familiar or unfamiliar!

This illustration is the perfect example of how NOT to greet a dog, along with the correct way to approach a new dog.

illustration by Lili Chin (used with permission)

The following video shows how to greet a dog appropriately:

Dog Bite Prevention Week: Rules Your Children Should Learn

The best prevention starts at home.  As parents, we need to teach our children to treat dogs with respect.  Children should never be allowed to climb on, pinch, pull fur, tail or ears, or otherwise disrespect the family dog – even if the family dog tolerates it.  If they’re allowed to do this at home, they are being set up to put themselves in a potentially dangerous situation when it comes to unfamiliar dogs.  Just because the family dog may tolerate it, doesn’t mean their friend Jimmy’s dog or that cute dog at the park will.

We need to teach our children that ALL dogs should be treated with respect, that ALL dogs have the potential to bite if they are startled, frightened or in pain and that ALL dogs should be approached with caution – especially dogs that are unfamiliar to them.

By setting the following ground rules, we can protect our children from putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations.  Early education is the key to prevention!

Rules Your Children Should Learn

  1. ALWAYS ask permission from the owner AND your parents BEFORE approaching or petting any dog.
  2. NEVER pet a dog, even your own, without letting him see and sniff you first.
  3. NEVER disturb any dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
  4. If a dog isn’t able to SIT nicely while being petted, WALK AWAY.
  5. NEVER approach a dog that is behind a fence, in a car, or on a tie out or chain.
  6. NEVER tease a dog by poking at them through a crate, fence or car window.
  7. NEVER pinch, pull, tug at or hit a dog.
  8. Dogs do NOT like kisses and hugs.
  9. ALWAYS pet a dog on the side of his face or under the chin, NOT on the top of his head.
  10. NEVER run away from a dog that is chasing you.  BE A TREE – stand still, fold your hands in front of you and watch your feet.
  11. Do NOT chase after dogs or allow your dog to chase you.
  12. Do NOT scream or flail your arms around a dog.
  13. Do NOT stare into the eyes of a dog.
  14. Just because a dog looks friendly does NOT mean it is friendly.
  15. If you see a stray dog, do NOT approach it.  Slowly walk away and find and adult.
  16. If a dog is injured do NOT touch or try and help it.  Go get an adult.

Dog Bite Prevention Week: Be a Tree

This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for us to teach our children how to behave around dogs of all sizes.  We need to teach our children that all unfamiliar dogs should be approached with caution, even those who look friendly, and that you should never attempt to pet a dog without asking the owner first.

Because my dogs are small, children often approach them quickly.   Luckily, my dogs are friendly, but they do bark and jump when they get excited.  Once they start barking, children tend to scream, run away or flail their arms.  This just makes Wally even more excited and makes Lu very nervous.

I always teach any visiting children to “Be a Tree“.  It seems counter-intuitive to children that they should stand still and be quiet when a dog is barking at them, but that’s exactly what they should do!  If you have children, you can practice the “Be a Tree” method with them and encourage them to teach their visiting friends.

The following information can be found on Doggone Safe’s website, along with information for teachers and parents.  You can also find a local “Be a Tree” presenter or get instructions on how to become a “Be a Tree” presenter.


Trees are boring to dogs.  Be a Tree and a dog will just sniff and then go away.  When was the last time you saw a dog chasing a tree?

Be a tree in any of these situations:

  • A strange dog comes near you (even if he seems friendly).
  • Any dog is making you feel uncomfortable, worried or scared.
  • A dog is chasing you.
  • Your own or a friend’s dog is acting too frisky or excited.

Count in your head to the highest number you know and then start back at 1 again until the dog goes away or help comes. Most dogs do not intend to scare or bite people, but they do like to investigate new people. Most dogs will chase a person who runs and will get more and more excited the more the person runs.  Shouting or screaming is also exciting to dogs and can frighten some dogs.  Being still and quiet is the best way to show a dog that you mean no harm and that you are not going to play with him or threaten him.

You may have heard about other ways to be a tree, that involve tucking your hands under your arms, folding your hands across your chest, placing your hands at your throat or even in your pocket. Doggone Safe does not recommend any of these, because sometimes kid’s hands smell yummy to dogs and raising your hands may cause the dog to be interested in checking them out because you moved them and/or you still have traces of lunch on them. Folding your hands keeps them still and if the dog does want to sniff or lick them he won’t need to jump on you to do it. He will soon tire of this if you stay still and then he will wander off.

You may also have heard that you should turn your back on a dog who may be planning to jump on you. This may lead to you turning more and more while the dog gets more and more excited about trying to jump on you or to get in front of you. This is strange behavior to a dog and he could become more, rather than less interested in you if you play a turning away game with him. Standing still is always the best thing to do if you want a dog to go away.

If a dog does happen to jump, just stand still until he gives up. If he knocks you over, curl up on your tummy with your hands over the back of your neck and be still like a rock until he goes away.


Watch a video to see how being a tree works with a very playful dog:

Here is an example of what can happen if you raise your hands rather than keeping them low and still:


If you have a dog, be a tree if he comes over to you and have your parent give him a treat when he moves away from you. Soon the dog will learn that when you are a tree, you will not be playing with him. If he ever does get too frisky, you can be a tree to show him that you do not want to play right now.

If you have friends, brothers or sisters or adults that will play with you, one of you can pretend to be a dog and the other can be a tree to get the dog to go away.

If you have a stuffed dog, another person can move the dog and you can be a tree to get the dog to go away.

If the Be a Tree program comes to your school you will get practice being a tree.

If you have the Doggone Crazy! board game you will get lots of practice being a tree while having fun learning about dog body language and how to act safely around dogs.

Here are some fun activities you can do with your children to help them remember to “Be a Tree”!

“I’m Safe with My Pet” coloring pages:

Have fun with Diggity The Dog reading a story narrated by Diggity and playing fun interactive computer games:

Kid and K9 Safety Tips Activity Page:

Kid and K9 Safety Tips Coloring Page:

Learn all about dog body language in this “Speak Dog” video slide show:

Lu and Wally say:

“Thank you for being a tree!

We are very friendly and want to say hi, but sometimes
we get so excited that we can’t mind our manners.

When you’re a tree, it helps us to calm down
so we can remember to greet you politely!”


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