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Stop, Look & Paws: Teaching Kids How to Be Safe Around Dogs

We’ve all seen or heard about horrific instances of dog bites to children.  I think most of us believe it will never happen to us.  Until I became a dog trainer and was doing research on children and dogs, I didn’t realize the alarming statistics of dog bites to children.

According to the Humane Society of the United States:

  • Annually there are 4.7 million dogs bites in the U.S., with over half to children
  • 77% of the bites are from dogs that are familiar to the child
  • Children ages 5-9 have the highest rate of dog bites

In my role as a dog trainer, I work with families that have children and dogs.  When I meet with families, I often discover they are unaware of the potential risks when interacting with dogs, and, what dogs are trying to communicate. Specifically, almost without exception, the children really had no idea how to read their dog’s body language or the situations in which the dogs were engaged.  Depending on the child’s interpretation of the dog’s actions, they could easily put themselves in harm’s way. For example, let’s say a child sees a dog, and assumes that the dog looks “lonely”.  Many times people confuse cautiousness/fear with loneliness.  If the child tries to approach and pet the dog to comfort her, the dog may react with a nip to communicate “stay away.”  This is especially true when a dog is hiding under an object or piece of furniture.

To fill this critical gap, I searched for tools and activities that would help teach children about dog body language and safety.  As a former elementary school teacher, I knew the best way to help children learn is to use an interactive activity that is fun and simple to use. Unfortunately, after months of looking, I couldn’t find anything that had these elements for learning.  So, I decided to create my own learning activity called Stop, Look & Paws.

Stop, Look & Paws is a dog safety activity that children play by sorting stickers. Children look at images of dog stickers which either show a common situation (e.g., eating from a dog bowl), or exhibiting specific body language (e.g., tail tucked down between legs). The goal is to ask children to sort the stickers onto an activity board into either the “safe to pet” or “not safe to pet” categories.   Children love the hands on part and stickers.  A “Dog Sticker Guide” is included to assist parents with background knowledge on each dog sticker. There is productive dialogue between the child and adult while playing the activity.  This allows for understanding why the child chose the category they did, and how to correct their decision if needed.  Given the stickers are reusable, they can change their mind, and play the game more than once to benefit from repetitive learning.

Since 2017, when Stop, Look & Paws was introduced to the public, hundreds of parents have used this with overwhelmingly positive feedback.  In addition, veterinarians and educators have been extremely supportive of Stop, Look & Paws™ to effectively teach dog safety to children between the ages of 4 – 10.  While each comment I receive is slightly different, the message is the same: If kids can have fun while learning the all-important lessons about dog behavior and safety, there is a better chance of preventing future dog bites.

My hope is that families use Stop, Look & Paws to educate their children before a dog bite occurs.  Help your child understand that every dog is unique, and that it’s best to be thoughtful when interacting with them. I believe it’s very important to begin reducing the 4.7 million dog bites that happen each year.

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

Educate yourself about dog body language and how dogs communicate so you can share this information with your child.

Here are the Top 6 Dog Safety Tips that every child should know:

  1. Ask permission of the owner before petting a dog, and pet calmly. Model this for your child.
  2. Try the 3 second rule. If you pet a dog, stop after 3 seconds and pull your hand away. If the dog then moves closer to you, you can continue to pet!
  3. Don’t approach an unfamiliar dog.
  4. No hugging. Hugging is a sign of love in the human world, but not in the dog world.
  5. Don’t pursue a dog that is trying to move away.
  6. If a dog is pursuing your child, have your child stand still, tuck their arms and hands and look away until the dog moves away. Then they can walk away slowly.

To Breastfeed for 6 Months or Not To Breastfeed for 6 Months…

Last updated on March 3rd, 2018 at 12:14 pm

…that is the question…

This week a small group of pediatric health experts from the UK published a report in the British Medical Journal questioning the 2001 World Health Organization’s recommendation to provide 6 months of exclusive breast feeding. The WHO and UNICEF recommend:

  • Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life
  • Exclusive breastfeeding – that is the infant only receives breastmilk without any additional food or drink, not even water
  • Breastfeeding on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night
  • No use of bottles, teats or pacifiers

This is based on significant evidence that breast milk reduces the rate of pneumonia, ear infections, gastroenteritis and other infections.

Given however the much lower incidence rate of these illnesses in “developed countries” some medical professionals have voiced their concern about applying the 6 month restriction universally. They argue that while “exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is readily defendable in resource-poor countries with high morbidity and mortality from infections, in developed countries, other concerns can take precedence”.

This aligns with the new report which suggests that babies who are breastfed exclusively for six months are at a higher risk for iron deficiency and food allergies including celiac disease, and may also lead to a delay in developing a taste for food products which could have a long term impact on diet. Among the questions asked – “will babies who aren’t introduced to bitter-tasting foods in the first 6 months continue to have an aversion to them for the rest of their lives??” If this does in fact occur, will it make it even more difficult to win the battle against obesity?

All of that being said, the current debate is not one which attempts to answer the question of whether or not a mother should breastfeed. That is a separate conversation with its own proponents for and against. But even for those moms who make the decision to breastfeed, many still struggle to continue for the recommended 6 months – especially if they return to work. (According to the CDC , although 75% of new moms in the U.S. start breastfeeding, only 13% are still breastfeeding exclusively at 6 months).

So what is the right answer? Can solid foods be introduced as early as 4 months? The WHO and UNICEF are continuing to support a 6 month guideline while a number of experts are now recommending the alternative. One area they both seem to agree is that each child is different, and watching for baby’s cues will be the best guideline of all.

So what about you?? How did you know when your little one was ready for solids?

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The Littlest Victims of The Recession – Part II

Last updated on March 5th, 2018 at 08:08 am

I wrote several weeks ago about the effect the economic crisis was having on our littlest ones. How 44% of children’s hospitals were reporting increases in ER visits this year because people were avoiding insurance and doctor’s office visits they couldn’t afford, and delaying care until it was absolutely necessary. The message was clear: children and their parents, the people working night and day to care for them, were flooding ER’s across the country. And the effect this was having on our children’s health and wellbeing was starting to take its toll.
But this we knew. I’m not saying we accepted it, but at least in knowing there was a threat we could try and do something about it. I emphasize this because today we discover yet another threat to our little ones courtesy of the recession…and like the one prior, this too has the potential to be deadly if ignored.
The US has a single poison control hot line (800-222-1222) available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for questions about possible poisonings. About two million people call the hot line each year. Half the calls concern children 5 and younger. And today, according to a report published in the NY Times, as part of an effort to close its $24.3 billion budget deficit, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed eliminating the state’s $6 million contribution to its four poison control centers making California the only state without a poison control program. (by Sarah Arnquist, NY Times http://ow.ly/g7Ob)

 
I sit here and wonder how can that be the right decision. Often I won’t question a budget until I can see all the numbers behind it, but there is a basic scenario here I have some difficulty coming to terms with and I can’t imagine that anyone – especially our children – come out ahead:
One of the nation’s largest poison control program closes – there are huge implications for some of the others since they are all budget constrained – but let’s put that aside for now. Unfortunately it is not hard to predict what will happen next. It is highly likely that without a poison hot line, people will either go directly to the emergency rooms or call 911, and the dispatchers who are not poison control experts will send an ambulance. There is a cost associated with this which studies have shown equates to approx. $7 of savings to every dollar spent on poison control. Beyond that is the fact that I am not sure how this will help an already overburdened ER system. Everyone will need to wait longer to be seen. Now we get to where this really hurts.
Forget the cost savings, forget that in the late 1980’s Louisiana eliminated its poison control program but later reinstated it after officials realized that it actually saved the state money. If you take nothing from anything else I’ve written here please remember these 2 points: Poisoning is the second leading cause of death from injuries after car accidents…and HALF of these calls are for little children under 5. Who is more frail…whose bodies are going to run that poison more quickly…who cannot afford to wait in a crowded ER?

 
Will $6M make a significant impact on a $24.3B budget deficit? Maybe…but is it worth it? I said it the last time I wrote about this subject and I say it again today: It is up to us to make sure this recession’s littlest victims do not become its casualties. If not for us, then who??