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Dogs Like Kids They Feel Safe With (Ask the Dog, Part 2)

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?

Continuing the theme of kids and dogs meeting in public, I have a short film to share.  I started it last summer at the same time I worked with Lili Chin on the informational cards described in the previous post.  I guess there was only so much complaining I could do before I had to become part of the solution.  It was the impetus of the Canis Film Festival that got me going under a deadline and gave some structure to the film: it had to be under seven minutes and showcase an innovative, useful application of reinforcement training with a marker signal – i.e., clicker training. (a)

My plan was to show how both the dogs AND the kids can learn behaviors that will make each other feel more comfortable and, thus, safer.  After all, we’re not going to get too far if it’s just the dog people saying,”Kids shouldn’t do that!”and the parents saying, “Dogs shouldn’t do that!”  It’s a two way street and we can all do better.

The film is essentially the story of two young puppies and some real life kids — some who are scared of dogs (b), some who are middle-of-the road and one in particular who loves dogs so much she can’t stay away from them.  You’ll see how we worked with the puppies and the kids to teach them similar skills before putting them together.

The part that is most applicable here for Dog Bite Prevention Week is a fleshing out of “Asking the Dog.”  Children should be taught to ask 3 times:

  1. Ask Your Parents (if you can ask the owner if you can ask the dog)
  2. Ask the Owner (if you can ask the dog if he or she would like to be petted)
  3. Ask the Dog (with inviting body language)

(Thank you to Kay Thompson for the catchy Ask 3 Times verbiage – it reminds me of the song — “knock three times on the ceiling…”  I love it because it’s simple and easy for parents to teach as a catchphrase and for kids to remember.  Plus, the very first step involves the parents so you don’t get kids running off on their own to visit dogs.)

Take a look:


Did you catch the wording, “Can I ask your dog if he’d like to be petted?”  Yes, it was a little awkward at first because kids are taught only to say, “Can I pet your dog?” but notice how it starts to sound normal after hearing a few kids repeat it.  What’s interesting to me is that it was no problem for the kids, but in real life, they ended up encountering dog owners who didn’t know how to respond – because it never occurred to them to ask their dogs!  Let’s keep working with our children so they can lead us all to a better way by their example.

Next… National “No, You Can’t Pet My Dog” Day


(a) The film shows the technology of TAGteaching for the kids in order to give clear, achievable points of success.

(b) There’s a lot more that can be done to help kids who are afraid of dogs.  I’ll write more on it in the future, but a GREAT resource is Doggone Safe.  You’ll find tons of information and ways kids can practice what to do when they’re worried and how to recognize body language so they can better predict a dog’s actions.

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