This summer, The Boy was attacked by a dog. He wasn’t injured seriously, just some very minor scrapes, but it was very scary for him, for me, and for the others who witnessed it. We were at the home of one of The Man’s clients. The client/dog owner assured me the dog was very friendly, and encouraged The Boy to pet the dog. Truthfully, the dog looked wary of The Boy to me, and it made me a little nervous. But the dog was on a leash, and was sitting almost directly under its owner, so I thought everything would be fine. The Man, the clients and I were engaging in polite conversation when I heard the dog growl, and watched as it leaped up, mouth open, directly at The Boy’s face. From what we could tell, The Boy, who had been nervous at first, stuck his hand out, attempting to pet the dog near its face, and the dog reacted. The dog’s teeth scraped the boy’s face in a couple of spots, and it could have been much worse, as it was very near The Boy’s eye.
I began to wonder if there were any resources for kids like The Boy about dog safety. I emailed a friend of mine who is a dog trainer, and she directed me to a few sites and resources. But I got the sense that, while generally helpful, kids like mine needed something more. One poster (“How Kids Should Not Interact With Dogs) from Dr. Sophia Yin suggested that dog safety was common sense (“It’s common sense. Just imagine how people should interact with each other.”), and this made me sad-angry: that might be common sense for kids who don’t have a problem with that analogy because they have typical social skills, but it isn’t common sense for kids who have a hard time reading social cues from people, let alone dogs.
I did my own search and came up with this site, which lists a number of resources, many from New Zealand and other countries, and I can’t help but think we Americans are very behind in this area (My favorite from that list is this site). Almost all of the sites I came across had great information, but lists a mile long for kids to remember how to act around dogs – that’s not going to work for my kid! If 1 in every 88 kids has difficulty with social skills with people, might they also need some help navigating what’s OK around animals, and some extra resources and time to make sure they apply their knowledge when they actually encounter a dog?
Finally, at our Fun Fitness Walk this weekend, there was a demonstration by our police department’s K-9 unit. The officer advised kids to ask first if it was OK to pet an unknown dog, and then after getting the OK, make a fist, allowing the dog to smell your fist. Finally when the dog has had a chance to smell you, you can come around the dog’s side and scratch its neck, avoiding the head. These are simple steps that I know my son can remember.
What do you think? Do we need more dog safety resources tailored to our special needs kids?