Preventing dog bites, one workshop at a time

July 12, 2019

In Canada someone gets bitten by a dog every 60 seconds. And almost 75% of victims are children aged 10 years or less.

Every year in Canada almost 500,000 people report being bitten by a dog. Even though extreme cases are relatively rare, it’s important to prevent as many dog bites as possible—even the more “superficial” ones. The offending dogs usually belong to family or friends of the victim hence the importance of teaching children—as well as adults—to recognize the signs of a potential attack.

This is exactly what Rose Proulx, the founder and executive director of CaniChazz decided to do in Quebec. Proulx is a canine behaviour specialist who recently started organizing workshops in schools to prevent children from being bitten by dogs. This year almost 900 children take part in her workshops which provide training on how to decode canine language. Proulx hopes that her workshop will be offered in all schools across the province in the near future. Similar initiatives, designed to teach children how to behave around dogs, exist countrywide, including Be a Tree, a program that’s well-known throughout North America.

“At first, when I’m standing in front of a class, I ask the children whether they know if dogs can speak,” says Proulx. “That grabs their attention right away. I explain that dogs talk with their bodies and, using illustrations, I teach them about canine body language.”

Canine language

Most children know to ask permission from their parents or the dog’s owner before approaching a dog. But many of them don’t know that you also need to ask the dog’s permission.

“One of our goals is to teach children to develop empathy. Dogs have feelings and deserve to have their personal space respected,” says Joan Orr, president of Doggone Crazy! and one of the creators of the Doggie Detective Teacher Kit. “We teach children to become ‘dog detectives’, to be aware when a dog is showing signs of being calm, afraid, nervous or aggressive.”

Signs that a dog wants to be left alone can include:

  • Tail is between the legs
  • Whites of its eyes are apparent
  • Yawning
  • Licking lips or nose
  • Ears pointing back or down
  • Curved back

If these signals are not respected, the dog may:

  • Growl
  • Bare its teeth
  • Try to bite

“Be a tree”

The Be a Tree technique, which is widely taught to schoolchildren across Canada, was created to help keep children safe around dogs. Stacey Huneke, a veterinary technician and president of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians, has taught “Be a Tree” in numerous workshops and adapted the technique for veterinary technicians who want to teach it themselves.

“We teach children what to do in dangerous circumstances,” says Huneke. “That they mustn’t try to run away if a dog comes up to them. That they need to ‘become a tree’. For a child, this means keeping their feet ‘planted’ in the ground (just like a tree). They must then fold their arms so that the dog has nothing that moves or peaks their interest to grab. And, that they must remain completely still—like a tree—and look down at their feet (or their “tree roots”) and take 3 deep breaths,” she explains.

“If the child is on the ground,” adds Rose Proulx, “We teach them to get into the ‘turtle’ position: curled up like a ball with their hands behind their necks. When the child feels that the dog has left, he or she must head straight to a safe place.”

CaniChazz’s workshop concludes with time for children to pet the dog who’s accompanied the case worker.

What about adults? CaniChazz plans to launch its first adult-focused workshops in select towns across the province of Quebec. Which goes to show that when it comes to preventing dog bites, you’re never too old to learn.

Photo credits : CaniChazz


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