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Video Shows Kids How Not to Get Nipped

By Suzanne Hively, Newhouse News Service

Several million children are bitten by dogs every year in this country because parents haven't taught them how to play with animals safely, says Dr. Wayne Hunthausen, a former president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

Parents take dogs for granted because "we've been brainwashed by Lassie and Rin Tin Tin," said Hunthausen, of Kansas City, Missouri.

In the movies, the canine stars were highly trained and the children who acted with them were performing on cue. Lassie and other Hollywood dogs didn't have to deal with children who unexpectedly stepped on their tails, pulled their ears, or bothered them when the animals were eating or sleeping.

While parents are often guilty of not telling their children how to act around dogs, pet owners frequently fail to socialize and train their pets, Hunthausen said.

Almost three million children were bitten by dogs last year, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Bites often are on the face because the child and dog are about the same height.

The statistics inspired Hunthausen to narrate a videotape, Learning to be Safe with Animals, Dogs, Cats and Kids, which he developed with Donald Manelli, a filmmaker and former writer for Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. The 30-minute tape is designed for children ages 5 to 12.

"Most of these attacks can be avoided if kids are taught simple safety techniques," Hunthausen said.

The tape shows young viewers how to read dog and cat danger signs, how to handle and play with pets, and why fetch is a better game than tug-of-war, which can encourage roughness and aggression.

Parents should teach children to ask permission before petting someone else's dog, Hunthausen said. "A child can't assume that because it is OK to pet his or her dog it is OK to pet the neighbor's dog."

And kids should also learn never to bother a dog when it is eating or sleeping.

"If it is necessary to disturb a sleeping dog, call its name first to get it to stand up. If it doesn't want to get up, let it alone." Hunthausen said.

The safest area to pet a dog is along its side or back, not on the head. And avoid pulling the dog's ears or tail.

Behavior around the dog should be gentle and not make the animal anxious. Moving too quickly around a dog may scare it, and an animal that is afraid may try to protect itself.

A dog that is not accompanied by a person should be left alone, Hunthausen said.

"If a dog approaches you, become a tree," Hunthausen tells children. "Stand stiff as a board and don't make eye contact with the dog."

If you are in a sitting position and a strange dog approaches, go into a "rock" position, cover your ears with your fists and be quiet, he said.

"The worst thing a child can do is scream and run. A dog sees the child moving and hears the high-pitched voice. This will elicit predatory behavior," Hunthausen said.

Aggression is the number 1 problem in dogs, Hunthausen said. Other serious problems that can lead to bites and injuries include jumping and unruliness.

The videotape Dogs, Cats and Kids is available from Pet Love Partnership by calling 800-784-0979.