Tuesday, October 09, 2007

May I Pet Your Dog?

5 million people are bitten by dogs every year. 800,000 are serious enough to require medical treatment. On average, 26 people die from their bites.

50% of those bitten by dogs are children. Half of them are bitten in the face.

Why do dogs bite?

Poor socialization, perhaps. Dogs may bite from fear or because of pain. Female dogs with a litter may bite if they sense that their puppies are in danger.

While not all bites can prevented, knowing and practicing proper doggy etiquette can go a long way.

Most children are fascinated by dogs. And many dogs are fascinated by children. Anyone who has watched friendly dogs and children together will undoubtedly agree with Henry Ward Beecher. "The dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic." Dogs and children are a common sight in downtown Warrenton, and I've yet to not see a child squeal with delight when he/she sees a dog approaching. I usually see a wagging tail too (not on the kid, although hands and feet may be wiggling).

While the child and the dog may be eager to meet, it's vital that the child know how to greet a dog properly. Stephanie Calmenson's May I Pet Your Dog: The How-To Guide for KIDS Meeting DOGS (and DOGS Meeting KIDS) is a terrific introduction to proper doggy greeting etiquette.

May I Pet Your Dog is narrated by a friendly dog (accompanied by his patient human)named Harry. "WOOF! I'm a dog. But I'm not just any dog. I'm a long-haired, chocolate-dappled dachshund. My name is Harry, and I want to be your friend. Do you want to be my friend? Good! I'll tell you how."

Harry explains the basic technique for meeting a dog: ask the owner if you can pet the dog, hold out your hand with fingers down, and let the dog sniff your hand. Then, you can pet the dog. "Please come to me from the side. Don't reach over my head. That scares me." Most importantly, "Always be gentle with dogs."

Harry also shows us how to act when we encounter a friendly, yet hyper puppy, a big yet gentle dog, and a dog that, according to his owner, is not comfortable with strangers.

"Did you hear that growl? That means: Don't come near me. Don't even look at me. We'll turn away our eyes. We'll turn away our heads. We'll stay perfectly still and quiet until she passes."

Harry prompts our young friend to ask his owner if he knows any tricks. (Of course he does!). We see a barking dog in a car. "Some dogs can be unfriendly when they are guarding what's theirs. Never go near a dog in a car or a truck." Harry also explains that we should never interrupt a guide dog or any other working dog. Harry and his new friend say goodbye, and we also get a rundown of basic rules that weren't covered in the book: stay away from a dog without its owner, never put your face near a dog's face, don't run or shout around a dog, and what to do if you feel frightened of a dog.

May I Pet Your Dog is an adorable yet very effective way of teaching children proper manners with dogs. Even if your child is familiar with dogs, this is a great way to reinforce and reintroduce those rules (including rules that you may not have thought to taught).

May I Pet Your Dog is a nomination for the Cybils nonfiction picture book category.

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