KUSA - Animal Behavior expert Dr. Suzanne Hetts joined 9NEWS to talk about the dos and don'ts of approaching a dog.
"Children should never approach an unfamiliar dog unless there's an adult present, preferably the dog owner," Dr. Hetts said. "Either the parent or the child should always ask 'is it OK to pet this dog?' It's much better if the dog is allowed to come up to the child rather than the child going to the dog because when the child goes to the dog, he invades that dog's personal space which can be pretty intimidating."
Dr. Hetts advises the kid to just stand still and let the dog smell their hand and gently scratch underneath the chin.
"What they want to avoid doing is reaching out over the dog's head or hugging," Dr. Hetts said. "I don't even think children should be hugging family dogs because we see that as a sign of affection, but to the dog, it's a form of restraint."
Dr. Hetts said when dogs get intimidated or scared, that's when they can bite.
"About half of the school-age children by the age of 10 have been bitten by a dog," Dr. Hetts said. "
Sometimes, dogs give warnings when they are uncomfortable, Dr. Hetts said.
"You really want to look for three different types of signs: you want to look for the dog who isn't showing any friendly behaviors at all, who's just kind of standing there, very frozen or very tense. You want to look for the dogs who are showing anxious behaviors if their ears are back, their tails are down, they're kind of leaning away from the person."
Dr. Hetts said if dogs are yawning or licking their lips, that can mean they are uncertain.
"The third thing to look for is if the dog's behavior suddenly changes," Dr. Hetts said. "You see, initially, a friendly dog, very loose and relaxed and welcoming and then, all of the sudden, he gets really still."
She says sometimes pet owners are embarrassed to warn people to not pet their dog.
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