Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to Help Your Child After a Dog Bite

According to child psychiatrist Dr R. Larry Schmitt, it is very important for children to receive emotional help after a dog bite. Children may carry feelings of fear and guilt long after the physical scars have healed. Children may try to hide their feelings because of the guilt they feel over upsetting their parents.

Read more from Dr Schmitt

Here are the answers to frequently asked questions from parents about how to help a child emotionally after a dog bite:

How soon after the incident should I start talking to my child about it? 
Immediately! It is important to completely avoid making any comments about your own feelings other than to express your regret that it happened.

How many times per day should we talk about it? 
For the first few days at least twice a day followed by once a day for the following three weeks.

For how long after the incident should we keep talking about it?
Depending on the degree of fright and injury, until the parental waves of guilt are close to flat and/or the child shows easy emotion, not suppressed or keyed up emotion when it is discussed.

What if my child starts to cry? 
Try saying something like, “Wow, I see it really hurts/frightens/upsets you. It is so good for you to let me see how you feel about the dog biting you.”

What if my child withdraws or becomes irritated and refuses to talk? 
This is very likely a sign that it may be time for trauma counseling with a mental health expert.  Say to the child, "Are you worried about how talking about it makes me feel?  If you are, please understand that I am a grown-up and can handle such feelings of being sad because you were injured. This will help you to look at all the feelings that came from that dog attack.”

What if my child insists that he is fine and doesn't want to talk about it anymore?
Reply to the child, “That may be right". (This is true if the parent notes that it has been discussed a great deal with a noticeable decrease in affect/emotion). Then say  “I want to think about it some more.”  Later, if the child still seems reluctant to talk and bothered by the topic,” I notice that any mention of it finds your face changing as if it still hurts.”  “How about drawing a picture of the dog attack scene, before, during and after?”

What kinds of questions or statements can I use to engage my child in a conversation?
In an intact family, observing  parents conversing with each other about the accident and making gentle guesses about how the child thinks and feels about the attack. “I still think about the day when the dog hurt and scared you, do you?”  “Sometimes I feel really mad about that dog biting you.”  “I saw a dog barking at me when I was jogging today. I remembered what happened to you and was scared when the dog barked!”

With teenagers, whose skills in talking about a dog attack are probably closer to that of an adult you might say something like:  “What do your friends say about the dog attack?”;  “How many others at your school have been bitten by dogs?”; “ If you find you are dreaming about the attack or thinking about it a lot and you do not want to, consider this paradox, that talking about it with anyone will reduce such dreams and thoughts.”

What are the signs that my child needs professional help? 
The big ones are decreased success at school, (both socially and academically), lack of pleasure from past enjoyments, and early resistance to speak about the attack. Watch for dog phobia, avoidance of other animals, or the appearance of other new fears and anxieties.

When in doubt seek a mental health consultation and if the parents have doubts about the recommendations/conclusions of that first consultant, seek a second opinion.  Consider an analogous  situation with a post-surgical issue.  The surgeon says they think an abscess developed out of sight with minimal symptoms that if ignored will cause problems later.  Of course, with an x-ray or digital exam it may be evident.   A competent child mental health expert can be expected to probe in an interview and demonstrate an emotional abscess.

What should I look for in a mental health professional? 
First, one who works with children; second, one with at least a five-year record in the field; third, a referral from a trusted mental health professional, and most of all, one with whom the parent feels comfortable. I prefer one who works with the child and parents together and spends less time with the child individually. In other words, family oriented therapy.

How do we know when to stop the therapy? 
This obviously varies with the severity, both physical and emotional, of the injury. Assuming the child and family have a positive relationship with a competent therapist, the therapist should suggest when to stop. If the parents are concerned that it is going on too long they should suggest a hiatus of four to eight weeks, observe the child during that time and return for termination in the absence of symptoms. In the typical situation, success comes early, with promoting the child and family to discuss all aspects of the attack and its potential residuals. (2-6 sessions).

Download these FAQ as a PDF

About Dr Schmitt:
R. Larry Schmitt was born in Iowa in l936. He graduated with eleven classmates from high school in Phelps, WI. He completed his undergraduate and medical degrees at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. An internship was completed at Philadelphia General Hospital. Following that internship, he worked as an Assistant Surgeon for the USPHS in Juneau, Alaska treating Alaska Natives. The next four years found him completing residencies in general and child psychiatry at the Menninger School of Psychiatry in Topeka, Kansas. He moved to San Diego in l969 where he practiced in La Jolla until retiring in 2005. During his practice, he taught and supervised in the Division of Child/Adolescent Psychiatry. He currently volunteers at the UCSD Free Clinic with continuing contact with residents in child and adolescent psychiatry.

He is board certifed in both general and child psychiatry and a Life Fellow in the American Psychiatric Association.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Adult Feedback from Be a Tree Program

Thanks to Lisbeth Plant of Cowichan Canine for sending in in adult feedback forms from nine presentations held during the International Dog Bite Prevention Challenge in British Columbia, Canada. We know that everyone loves the Be a Tree program, but it is always nice to get it in writing! Here is a graph of the results from nine teachers who responded on our adult feedback form. The bottom axis shows the number of the question (see below for the question) and the left axis is the average of all responses. Each question asked for an answer on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best and 1 being the worst.

You can see that everyone loved Lisbeth!

Here are the questions:
1. How much did you learn about bite risk reduction?
2. Did you enjoy the presentation?
3. Do you think the children enjoyed the presentation?
4. Do you think the children will be safer around dogs?
5. Was the presentation age-appropriate?
6. Did you find the photos to be helpful?
7. Were the role playing and Simon Says activities helpful?
8. Would you recommend this seminar to others?
The teachers and children loved Lisbeth! Here is what they had to say:
"Very informative and useful information for everyone to practice! Role playing and activities reinforced important points." Jocelyne Giodin, Ecole Mill Bay
"A very interesting and interactive presentation appropriate for the age group. I think it will help my students be more aware of a dog's body language to keep them safe and avoid being bitten." Angie Brockhurst, Cobble Hill Elementary
"This presentation was active and engaging. Ms. Plant spoke to the children in such a manner that they were actively participating and felt respected as learners. Very important content, effectively taught. Thank you!" Maia McPherson, Bench Elementary School 
 "I must admit, I wasn't entirely 'sold' on the presentation ... being that this week has already been so busy, but I have already recommended it to others. Well done and thank you for being so informative and age appropriate. We continued talking about it after you left." Rachel Ridley, Ecole Mill Bay
"I learned a lot even though I have been a dog owner for many years." Susanne Relick, Ecole Mill Bay 
"Dear Lisbeth Plant: The staff and students of Ecole Mill Bay would like to thank you for the time you have spent at our school. I have received many positive comments from students, parents and teachers. We hope you will come again next year as the programme educates students on how to be safe. Your material, pictures and posters added a lot to make your message clear." Lise Page, Directrice, Ecole Mill Bay 
I know that I speak for Teresa as well when I say that these comments just make our day! This is typical of the response to the Be a Tree program, but it is terrific to keep on receiving this fantastic feedback for going on 10 years. Thanks to Lisbeth and all the other wonderful presenters who take our materials and bring them to life for children all over the world. We are truly appreciative!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How to Prevent Dog Attacks While You are Riding Your Horse

By Teresa Lewin

Horse sense or dog sense? How can horse riders be safe from dog attacks while riding?

Sheesh this is a tough one. I’m lucky that I have never had this problem when I went out with my horses. I would ‘pony’ one of my horses, ride one, and take all my GSD’s plus a goat out on rides. Horses can get spooked easily, and if the rider is anxious, this emotion may transverse to the horse as well.

The advice here is difficult as the human is sitting on top of a living breathing creature which weighs tons, not to mention that horses can be easily spooked due to their eye placement.

Our advice for bike riders is to get off the bike and Be a Tree, however, horses would have a hard time being a tree! Even flicking their tail can spark interest from a dog not to mention a dog that is chasing horse and rider.

All I can think of here is to desensitize the horse to an air horn so that it may be used if a dog is actually going to attack.  Stopping could work if the horse would remain completely still, but this is unreasonable in most circumstances. The dog is most likely attacking because it finds chasing horses to be very rewarding. Just as dogs that chase cars and bikes. It’s actually the activity that the dog finds rewarding. Stopping the activity seems to be a logical step here, even trying to yell at the dog ‘no, go home!’ Even this tip has its obvious flaws if your horse isn’t accustomed to hearing you yell, than this behaviour could spook your horse! If you are in doubt, try stopping and If you have a cell phone, dialing your emergency number at this point would be a good idea.

I think the only tip I can give is preparing your horse for the ‘world’ so-to-speak.  This involves a lot of prep work, or as horse people know it, ‘traffic’ conditioning.  I remember working for months on this aspect alone with my own horses.  Loud noises, cars, trucks, people, and yes, dogs.  Teaching a horse to be calm in the face of danger is a relationship that is built through trust.  Today clicker training is a fabulous way to build this trust.  It’s especially good at teaching complex exercises, like perhaps standing completely still.  I bet some of our expert clicker horse trainers can weigh in on this exercise!  

I realize that some of you are thinking just let the horse take care of the problem.   While I have observed in the past horses can take care of problem dogs while in the pasture, it’s a whole different matter when the horse is fully equipped plus a rider to contend with.  Albeit, it is natural for horses to kick a threat, but the rider is in for a really good jolt and this behaviour can send a rider right off the horse and into the ditch!  You can see how this can put the rider in obvious danger. I think if the rider could get off the horse, the horse would have a better chance at taking care of the problem.  However, then there is an equipment issue which could be dangerous. You can see how this can become a difficult question to answer.  There seems to be no quick fix solution to the problem threat of a dog attacking while riding.   I think the horn is the best option.  For our riders out there we would love to hear if you can condition your horse to the air horn. 

If you are out and riding and a dog threatens you, you need to report the incident.  This is really important.  Reporting the incident means the complaint will be followed up.  A paper trail is very important. 

Wear your helmet and proper foot wear when riding and stay safe.  As an after-thought, think about being pro-active, ask your town or city to do a mass mailing of our wonderful new Doggone Safe pamphlets.  Your Town or City can have their logo placed on the brochures as an added bonus.  Perhaps trying a collective sponsorship like all the local vets and pet shops and trainers can pay to have the brochures mailed to all citizens in your area!

Think of a slogan like, “ if you love your dog, keep them secure”, or ‘be a good neighbour, keep your furry friend secure” something like that.  Get creative and go for it!

Be safe, Teresa Lewin