7:07 pm   
Dog Tip: Safer Play (Part 1)!

Screaming, laughing children racing about with a dog chasing them. Someone grabs a stick and starts playing tug-of-war with the dog. The dog grabs a sleeve and starts to yank. Another child holds up a ball and encourages the dog to jump for it. Another child snatches the ball and runs off. The dog gives chase, the children scream even more. Then the children "pig-pile" and start to wrestle with the dog.

How often do we see situations like this? Are we aware that all these games can lead to a child being bitten and undesired behaviors in our dog? Playing in the manner these children are encourages jumping, chasing and even biting. The sounds and speed of the children can excite a dog to the point where he forgets not to use his mouth. Play like this can also make a dog feel threatened. Part of having safer children and dogs is playing safer games and knowing the rules of all games.

The Rules of the Game

Human starts the game and human stops the game: Initiating an activity can be a sign of wanting to be in control. In the family pack, humans are higher up in the pack order than the dog. What do you do if Rover asks you to play? Have him work for the privilege to play. Before that toy Rover happily dropped in you lap gets tossed, Rover must sit and/or lie down. His reward is that toy gets tossed. Every now and then, stop play, have Rover do something else and then the game can begin again. The game ends before Rover gets too riled up. Just something as simple as what was just outlined puts human in control and reinforces that control of the game. If a child is playing with a dog, a responsible adult must supervise!

Games to Avoid

Tug-of-War, Chasing, Wrestling, Jumping for toys/food (also known as teasing): These games are based on rough play and can lead to undesired behaviors in a pet if not played with strict rules. A tiny puppy tugging on socks or fingers may seem cute, but the puppy is learning that biting is acceptable behavior and it may be difficult to stop the behavior when the puppy is older.

Games to Play

Hide and Seek: One person takes a toy and hides. Another holds the dog. The hider calls the dog while the holder encourages the dog to go and find. Once the dog finds the hiding person, the toy gets tossed for the dog. This game also encourages the dog to want to come to family members when called.

Find the Treat: Take several solid colored plastic cups (cannot see through them) and hide a treat under one. Have the dog find the treat. The more cups over the more area, the more challenging the game.

Over and Under and Through: Set up low bars, high bars and tunnels using PVC pipe or dowels, books, chairs and large boxes with both ends open. Have the dog follow a child over the low bars (keep them very low -- only a few inches), under the high bar (make sure it is high enough than the dog does not try to jump) and through the tunnels. Have some hula hoops set up and go through them as well.

Fetch: Great game. But do not allow it to turn into a tug-of-war for the toy!

Silly Pet Tricks: Tricks can not only be fun to teach and learn but also can have practical applications. Lifting up feet, rolling over on the back, etc., can be great when grooming. And kids can have fun teaching the pet new things while playing safely!

Parents, children and dogs can have fun creating new and safer games to play. Get creative, get thinking, get safer!

(Part 2) SAFE KIDS/SAFE DOGS: Rules of the Game for Parents

Dogs are born with certain natural behaviors such as chasing, tugging and mouthing. Many dog owners allow these natural behaviors to get out of hand and this can be trouble. Or, dog owners feel that these behaviors are bad and do not allow dogs any opportunity to do what is natural for them in a controlled manner. The dog gets frustrated as his instincts are being squashed. Under certain circumstances, games that encourage tugging and chasing can be great for dogs. Under the wrong circumstances, the games can be bad. The rule of all games with dogs and humans is: Human starts, Human ends.

The rules of the game pertaining to children and dogs are:

1. Children will not encourage dogs to chase them. Children mimic prey with their fast actions, high voices and running. Even in dogs just playing and not perceiving a threat, a tackle and bite can hurt a child. The dogs often pay with their lives or end up being isolated from their pack. The rules to be set by adults regarding chasing games are: Dogs will learn to chase balls, sticks, toys and can run and chase other dogs at dog parks while playing. Dogs will be taught not to fence run at people and other animals walking by. Children will not encourage dogs to fence run.

2. Children will not play games of tug. Children seem too much like prey; they are often are not mature enough to safely reinforce certain rules with tug and let the game get out of control.

Adults must teach dogs to take and release items such as toys when told to. If dog brings tug toy to human, dog must do some obedience work first, then the adult may play tug. Every few minutes, the game is stopped and the dog works a bit, then the game may resume. Another option is to use bungee cords and tie a heavy rope to a tree for the dog to tug against. The bungee cords allow the rope to move and be pulled back as if something else was playing too.

3. Children will not do things that encourage dogs to jump on or potentially nip people. Dangling toys, treats and wiggling fingers and feet in a dog's face can be too much to resist, poking the dog, etc. This can easily end up with the child being seriously injured and the dog being isolated, given up or even dying. Many dogs are gotten rid of because they nipped a child. Many times the child instigated the nip! The dog was just doing what was natural and encouraged by the child's actions. Adults must ensure that children and dogs both learn to play well together and are always supervised!

Dog play can be rough to the casual observer. Two dogs playing can get very rowdy and this is part of normal dog play. They use paws, mouths and their bodies. However, the way dogs play with each other is not a safe way to play with humans -- especially with children.

* Look into alternative and safer games for children to play with dogs. Make certain children do not teach the dog to bite or jump. A child can quickly retrain a dog and teach it undesired actions and behaviors. If these behaviors get out of hand, there can be trouble.

* Pets must learn that mouthing humans is not good. Children see people doing Schutzhund or police work with dogs and like to imitate it. This is very dangerous, and the dogs the children see on TV or sporting events are highly trained. Children must not play these types of games with dogs.

* Dogs need toys that allow them to use their natural behaviors. Buster Cubes encourage them to work for food. Take part of the daily kibble ration on place it in the cube for the dog to work out. Kong toys and natural bones with a bit of cream cheese, peanut butter, canned dog food or semi-soft treats tucked inside encourage chewing behaviors in a controlled manner. The dog can use his mouth on something safely. Hiding these toys allows the dog to hunt and seek. Balls, flying discs, tossed fleece or canvas toys allows the dog to chase and tackle safely.

* [To help socialize dogs,] get a group of friends with well-socialized dogs together once a week at someone's house for a couple hours of dogs being dogs! Allowing dogs to be dogs along with reinforcing the rules of play with humans will go along way in increasing the harmony between us and them and hopefully help decrease the chance of a child being bitten.

(Part 3) BITS ABOUT DOG SAFETY -- AND HOW TO AVOID BITES

75%-85% of all reported dog bites happen from the family pet regardless of breed or cross. Here are ways to avoid bites:

* Never run or scream around dogs. Fast-moving things excite dogs and chasing is an instinctive behavior. No matter how fast you can run or bike, most dogs can go faster than you. Get off your bike if you see a loose dog.

* If you see a loose dog, stop playing and slowly start to walk away. Ask an adult you know to alert animal control.

* If a loose dog approaches you, stand still like a tree and wrap your arms around your chest. Dogs are less likely to be interested in something boring. Do not stare in his eyes; he may think you are trying to threaten him.

* If the dog jumps on you, curl up like a turtle and call for help.

* Never run up to a dog. Never touch a dog without an adult owner's permission.

* Never reach over fences to pat dogs even if the owner is there.

* When dogs are eating, sleeping, chewing a favorite toy, or if they have puppies, leave them alone. Dogs can be possessive.

* Do not tease your dog with food or a toy. Do not pull ears, feet or tail. All these can lead to bites.

* Avoid games based on domination like wrestling and tug-of-war. Many bites are really results of play that gets too rough!

* Make sure your dogs are well trained and socialized.

DOGS ARE MORE LIKELY TO BITE WHEN: scared, not feeling well, feeling threatened, they are unspayed/neutered, have puppies, feeling possessive, hurt, tired, poorly trained or poorly socialized.

ANY DOG REGARDLESS OF BREED OR CROSS CAN AND WILL BITE IF PUSHED TO THE LIMITS OF HIS TOLERANCE. Just because your dog has not bitten someone yet, does not mean he never will.
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Copyright by Karen Peak, The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs
Project. No part may be copied without written
permission.
www.SafeKidsSafeDogs.com

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Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc.
P.O. Box 1074
Greenbelt, MD 20768

Last Updated: June 23, 2013 (LET) PawSupport