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All children should learn skills for safely dealing with animals. Whether there are pets next door or whether the nearest animal is at a petting zoo, teaching your children how to interpret and respond to an animal's behavior will make life safer and more pleasant for both children and pets.

Most children are bitten by friends' or neighbors' dogs. Teach your child to ask if a dog is friendly and if it's OK to pet. A dog may not necessarily know a stranger from a friend, so it's always a good idea to ask the owner for an "introduction" to the pet. It is important for your child to learn that a normally friendly dog may bite to defend its food, if it is injured, or if it feels threatened. A dog's ears, eyes, and nose are sensitive so many dogs do not like to be petted on the head. Petting on the neck and chest will likely be well received by a friendly dog. Children should learn to never grab, squeeze, or startle a dog, or try to take away a toy. Tug-of-war encourages aggressive behavior in dogs and a child engaging a dog in such a challenge could be inviting a bite.

Since dogs may bite out of fear or anger, children should be taught to recognize the signs. A whining dog who has his ears flat and tail between his legs is showing signs of fear. A dog, barking or not, with ears forward, teeth bared, and tail wagging high is angry. In both cases the dogs should not be approached. If there is a doubt, the child should leave the dog alone. Children should be taught that running, screaming, or confronting a potentially vicious dog can be very dangerous. If the child is standing, experts advise to "make like a tree" - standing very still with arms at the sides. Don't look in the dog's eyes and don't make noise. If the child is sitting on the ground when the dog approaches, "make like a rock" - curl up, face down with hands over the ears. The dog may approach and sniff the child and then move on.

While a low wagging tail on a dog may be an invitation to pet, the same on a cat may mean it's very angry and ready to pounce. Very small children should, in general, be kept away from cats. Your child should also understand that a dog who lies down and rolls over is likely inviting a stomach rub while a cat who does the same may bite and scratch anyone who touches it in the wrong place. Many cats do not like to be picked up. If a small child cannot hold a cat comfortably, it's a recipe for disaster. A squeezed cat will not likely be forgiving of a child's innocent intentions. If you want to introduce your child to a cat, pick a time when the cat is relaxed and napping and allow the child to pet it gently.

All children should learn that wild animals are just that - wild. They are not like cartoon characters and most won't fare better with human intervention in their lives. If you find an injured wild animal, contact the local wildlife resources representative for the address of a wildlife rescue organization in your area. A sick wild animal could have rabies or other disease that could put the health of your whole family at risk. No child or adult should ever pick up a sick wild animal. If you find a sick raccoon, fox, skunk, or other small mammal, contact your county animal shelter to have the animal picked up and tested for rabies.