The American Veterinary Medical Association reported in July that more than 4.7 million people are bitten by a dog every year in the United States. Children are at higher risk of being bitten and dog bites are the second leading cause of injuries in children. A contributing factor to the amount of children bitten by dogs is that children don’t know how to properly approach and respect a dog. 19-year-old Sarah Francis was once one of those children. She now educates children on how to properly approach and act around dogs to help reduce that risk.
When Sarah was seven years old she was bit by a dog on her ankle when she started to run away from it. “I was really scared of dogs after that, but then I learned what to do.” Sarah, along with her father Mark, developed and have been presenting the “Aware, Not Afraid” program to schools throughout the United States and Canada since Sarah was 11.
The program first explains body language to the children. She demonstrates how a dog’s body language will let the child know if they want to play or if it is best to leave the dog alone. She then also demonstrates the proper way for a child to approach a dog, whether it’s their own dog or a stranger’s dog. She shows the children how to greet the dog, read the dog’s body language, and pet the dog. Many of children’s natural instincts around a dog, like squealing and hugging, are what set them off. One of the leading causes of a child being bitten by a dog is hugging the dog. The neck is a place of submission for a dog, and when a child constrains the neck of a dog it can set a dog off.
She emphasizes that a child should always ask a dog’s owner if they may pet the dog before they attempt to greet them. Even if the owner gives the go ahead the child should still be aware of the dog’s body language and be cautious. She also goes over how a child should act if a strange dog approaches them. The child should stand tall, still and quiet with their arms by their side without making eye contact with the dog.
Sarah has presented her program to over 80 schools, all free of charge. She covers her own travel costs with the help of donations from friends, but gets the hotels she stays at to sponsor the program. To learn more about Sarah’s “Aware, Not Afraid” program visit her website.