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Research shows that children having pets or contact with someone else's pets has many benefits, both physical and emotional. Learning how to care for an animal and understanding the responsibility involved is invaluable. Children can even learn how to cope with loss when the time comes for their pet to leave them. And dogs have their own special virtues: companionship, playing together and even therapeutic support in times of trouble or illness. Sadly though, there are those tragic occasions when children get injured by dogs, whether their own or someone else's. Some of these situations can be prevented when certain rules and guidelines are followed. There need to be boundaries for both the child and the dog. Never, ever leave dogs and children together unsupervised. It only takes a second for a situation to change and if no responsible adult is present, that's when tragedy could strike. Respect each other's personal space. Dogs have personal space just like we do. Always invite a dog to you for fuss, treats or play, whether it's a dog you know or one you don't and whether it's at home or out in the street. If the dog chooses not to take that invitation, leave him be. Do not approach any dog when he is asleep or eating, or any dog that you haven't met before - even if he looks friendly. If it's someone else's dog, ask first if it's OK to say hello. Remind children that not all dogs are the same. They may be familiar with a dog at home who allows them to pull his tail, jump on him, ride on his back or whatever -but not all dogs will tolerate this. In fact, even the most placid dog shouldn't be expected to put up with that - one day he might just get fed up with it, or accidentally get hurt during rough play and protest with a snap, snarl or bite. Teach children about dog body language. For example, a wagging tail does not automatically mean a dog is happy, it means he is in a "heightened state", which could be excited, fearful or any number of emotions. The rest of the body language tells the full story eg ears, panting, stance, hackles. A survey once took place where children were shown a picture of a snarling dog baring its teeth. A worryingly high number of the children believed the dog was smiling and it would be OK to approach. Read more about understanding dog's body language. Don't stare at dogs directly in the face. Dogs use eye contact so much for communication and a friendly, curious or anxious stare from a child can be interpreted in different ways. It could be taken as a threat, provoking the dog to attack. Or it could be seen as an invitation to play, leading an over-enthusiastic dog to accidentally bowl over a small child. For a child who is afraid of dogs, the best advice is not to make direct eye contact when they meet. Never ignore a growl. It's a warning and means: do that again and I will bite. Take notice and back off, calmly and quietly. Never tease a dog. Whether with toys or food, this is guaranteed to backfire eventually and lead to problems. Don't encourage a dog to jump up - at some point he will get carried away and accidentally hurt someone or do some damage. Then he'll probably get told off and that's not fair. And if there's a favourite toy you don't want the dog to get hold of, the obvious but simple solution is to not leave it where the dog can get it! Keep calm. If play is getting out of hand, calm things down without shouting or panicking. When a dog is already hyper and wound up, don't do anything that will make him even more excited. A stressed out dog is far more likely to calm down if everyone else is calm too. And if a dog has a repetitive habit such as tail-chasing, this may well be a sign of stress and something that needs help, not something to be encouraged for entertainment purposes. By following a few simple rules and understanding dogs and their nature, accidents can be avoided and dogs and children can get along, have fun and be the great friends they deserve to be. In fact, when you think about it - the same applies to adults too!
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