Some safety tips will help keep your kids safe around dogs.
Even if your children are comfortable around pets, it pays to discuss safety tips as they return to school. Nearly half the estimated 800,000 dog bites that occur each year involve children ages 5 to 9, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dog trainer and TV show host Victoria Stilwell of "It's Me or the Dog" on Animal Planet offers suggestions for what kids need to know about safely interacting with dogs on the way to school.
Not every dog is your friend: Kids often mistake wagging tails for happiness -- and that isn't always the case. Help kids recognize when a dog is showing signs of aggression or fear. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA.org) offers photos that illustrate canine body language and tips to avoid dog bites. There's also a printable handout that kids and parents can share with classmates.
Embrace your inner tree (or rock): Dogs lose interest when they are ignored, so Stilwell tells children to become a tree, standing still and avoiding eye contact when dogs approach. If kids get knocked to the ground, advise them to roll up like a stone on the ground with knees in and hands behind their neck so they protect vital organs. Practice makes perfect.
Avoid running from loose dogs: If possible, slowly walk away from the dog. Avoid making high-pitched noises. Whatever happens, do not run. Remember to ignore dogs by becoming a tree or a rock.
Report loose or stray dogs: If kids see a stray dog during walks to school, remind them to alert an adult.
Be careful when walking on a dog's "turf": Many owners rely on electric fences or shock collars to keep dogs confined to their own yards. But kids and other animals can easily cross those invisible boundaries -- and that's often when the trouble occurs. "Mostly children are bitten on the dog's territory by a dog that they know," Stilwell said. "It's rare for a child to be bitten by a dog that comes out of nowhere and bites them."
Never touch dogs behind a fence: Tell kids to exercise caution and avoid taunting or exciting dogs behind fences. That fence may not be too sturdy, and some determined dogs can jump over fences without any trouble.
Taunting dogs is a form of bullying: "Being kind to animals is much more powerful than teasing, bullying or being rough or unkind to these creatures," Stilwell said. "How would you feel if you were teased or bullied or hit?"