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Canine Common Sense

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How do you teach children how to approach strange dogs, and when should they just stay away? Saturday Early Show Contributor Debbye Turner, a veterinarian and a former Miss America, has some advice.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Out of that number, 800,000 people (most of them children) need medical care. In rare instances, they need plastic surgery. Case in point: 10-year-old Shawn Jones of Richmond, Calif., who was attacked by three pit bulls while riding his bike. They tore off his ears and all the skin on his face. About 13 people die each year as a result of dog attacks.

Here are Debbye Turner's answers to some common questions.

What is the most common reason children get bitten by dogs?

They don't know how to approach a strange or a known dog. Kids approach dogs from behind and surprise them. They pull on the dog's tail and ears, or pick them up by their stomachs.

How should a child approach a dog to pat it?

  • Hold out fist with the fingers closed so the dog can sniff it.
  • Always let the dog see your hand when you are coming up to pat it.
  • Pat the top of the head or along the back.
  • Don't touch the tail, ears, or paws.
What if a child wants to pick up a dog?

Put one arm under the rump and one under the chest. Then lift it.

What if you would like to enter someone's yard that has a guard dog?

  • Don't go on the property.
  • Don't make eye contact.
  • Don't smile at the dog. It thinks a smile is bared teeth, which is a sign you want to fight.
  • Wait till the owner comes and assures the dog that you are OK. (Even then, respect the dog.)
What if you encounter or are attacked by an aggressive dog?
  • If you see a dog that looks threatening, don't approach it. It might think you are pushing for a fight.
  • Talk in a soothing tone to the dog, Don't yell at it. Again, it might think you are pushing for a fight.
  • If you have food or something the dog is interested in, throw it over the dog, then quietly turn around and walk away to the nearest safety spot.
  • If the dog tries to bite you, keep your arms at your sides so it can't bite your hands.
  • If you are on the ground, get into the fetal position and cover your head.
  • If a dog is biting someone, get a stick or broom and jab it in the dog's mouth to make it gag so it will let go. Don't hit or pull at the dog because it might try to bite you.
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