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Nutrition Team Blog

The Fear Factor

Published: Monday, October 31, 2011

If, like me, you have a dog which is fear-aggressive towards other dogs you will know how annoying it is when other dog owners let their dogs run up to him. “He’s only being friendly” they shout, but to my dog, Spencer, dogs that rush up and bounce in his face are scary and a real cause for concern. Unfortunately some owners allow their ‘friendly’ dogs to do the same to children!

When talking to a friend at the weekend, she told me that her two year old daughter is becoming increasingly more frightened of dogs. This is solely due to a few incidences of people letting dogs run up to her uninvited which then jump up and down and bark at her. Of course a scared child’s natural instinct is to scream, run or wave their arms, all of which just gets the dog more and more excited and wound up and creates a situation when the child could get bitten. With my friend’s daughter there is no doubt that the dogs were simply being friendly but it can still be a terrifying experience for a small child and can have unfortunate lasting effects. Incidentally, it also works the other way around. I have seen parents let their toddlers run screaming with excitement up to my dog without muttering a word. This can be quite terrifying for a dog and a scared dog may bite to defend itself from a perceived attack!

Her story reminded me of an American Scheme I heard of a few years ago. The scheme is called “Be a Tree” and teaches children (via teachers and parents) how to read dog body language and stay safe around both family and unfamiliar dogs. The “Be a Tree” programme advises that if a dog approaches you and you are frightened that you should act like a tree; stand still, be silent and look down at your feet (tree roots), i.e. don’t make eye contact with the dog. You can find out all about the scheme here http://www.be-a-tree.com/kid%20main.htm . In the UK, the Kennel Club have a similar scheme called “Safe & Sound” which has a superb 20 point plan (including ‘being a tree’ ) on how to stay safe around dogs www.safetyarounddogs.org.uk/sashi_code

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