Animal behaviorist visits local preschool to teach children how to avoid dog bites

Friday, February 02, 2007

By Brandi Ehlers

Dan Irish, animal behaviorist, speaks to the children at the Amador Cooperative Preschool in Jackson about the rules to avoid dog bites with help from his Irish Wolfhound Audie Murphy.

Photos by: Brandi Ehlers

Reese, left, a student at Amador Cooperative Preschool, pets Dan Irish’s bulldog Wags under the chin following the rules to avoid a dog bite.

Dan Irish has been “playing” with dogs since he was a young child. For him it is a life-long passion to try to understand what dogs are thinking and why they do the things they do. Through all of his 50-plus years of experience, Irish has learned many things about dogs and shares this information so that other people, especially children, can better understand dogs as well.

On Tuesday, Irish visited the Amador Cooperative Preschool in Jackson to teach the preschoolers rules to avoid dog bites. Irish told them about his six rules to avoid dog bites and then demonstrated the rules with two of his dogs that he brought with him. The children were also able to interact with the dogs and demonstrate what they learned.

“It is important for kids to know this information so that they may grow up understanding what makes dogs do the things that they are supposed to do and not supposed to do,” Irish said. “Every person in the world will come in contact with a dog bite situation or know someone who has. It is important for me to teach people how to deal with these situations so they understand what is happening.”

Irish’s six rules to avoid dog bites include petting dogs under the chin, not on top of the head. This rule is important because if a child pets a dog on the top of its head, the dog cannot see the hand. That can make some dogs nervous and could lead to a situation. Petting the dog is also restricted to really knowing the family and the history of the dog and not really just believing the owners about the dogs temperament. It is also important to look to see if the dog appears nervous, scared or upset, according to Irish.

Another rule is never withdraw your hand quickly from a dog. If a hand is withdrawn quickly, the dog might get scared and think that something is wrong and they will go after the hand, Irish said. “When children pet dogs on the top of their heads and the dog moves its head children usually pull their hands away because they think that the dog it trying to bite them,” he said. The reality is that when the child moves the hand away quickly is when they usually get bit.

Also, don’t bother a dog when it is eating. When dogs are eating, they feel like it is the last meal they will ever get, according to Irish. So if they are showing sings of aggression including showing their teeth or their hair standing up, you should back off.

Equally, don’t approach a dog in the back of a truck or in their dog house. Dogs have designated areas in their mind that are scented and well marked out that are their zones, Irish said. If someone tries to invade that space they feel threatened. With dogs it is fight or flight, Irish added.

Additionally, don’t run from a dog. Dogs can run much faster than people, Irish said. So if you are in a situation where you feel like you need to run, that would probably make it worse.

Lastly, don’t jump on a dog when it is sleeping. Dogs are like humans and can be startled when they are woken up, Irish said.

“Most dogs will give a warning sign and say get away when they are bothered,” Irish said. “You get bit when you call their bluff. I have spent many, many hours putting this information together. These are the only reasons dogs bite.”

The presentation was organized by Jenny Upchurch, board of directors president for ACP, because of a recent event where a friend’s child was attacked by the family dog.

“My kids have no fear when it comes to animals, and I think many kids are that way,” she explained. “We’ve tried to explain to them why and how they should be more careful with dogs and cats, but they are just so drawn to them and don’t seem to understand. I have been hearing about a lot of dog bite incidents lately and thought it would be beneficial for the children to learn this information from a person with so much experience in the area.

“We have a dog at home and the kids usually jump all over him trying to play with him,” Upchurch added. “The dog is very well tempered, but I think that hearing the information from another adult will help them understand better what not to do.”

Upchurch was positive about the presentation and felt that it really reached the children. “I think the children actually retained quite a bit from Dan’s presentation,” she said. “We have circle time at the end of the day where we discuss some of the things they learned that day. When the teacher asked the children to help her remember what some of the rules for avoiding dog bites, several of them raised their hands. It was great because we had not had a chance to reinforce or discuss the information.”

The presentation was most important for the parents, Upchurch said. “The children did pick things up and as a parent will help them retain the information by reinforcing it. Some of the stuff Dan said is really basic, but to lay it out in a simple format it was really helpful.”

Irish began his relationship with dogs in 1958 when he was a child, showing shelties with the American Kennel Club at dog shows. From there he moved up in the ranks from junior handler to trainer to master trainer to animal behaviorist.

“When I was young my father said pick three things,” Irish said. “So I chose dogs, cars and music, and still have a passion for all three. My dad always really supported me.”

When Irish was 10 years old, he became blinded from an incident with cutting open a golf ball. His neighbor rushed him to an eye surgeon where they did what they could. “I was not supposed to see and at that time my dogs really became a big part of my life,” he said. “I have since regained my sight and now one of my dogs is blind and I help him see.”

Irish has worked training police dogs to attack on command for several police departments. In doing this he learned that dogs wagging their tails does not always mean they are not going to attack. Most of the dogs he trained would wag their tails the entire time because they were happy to please their owner, he said.

Irish has also done dog bite training for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Pacific Bell employees, lectures on the topic for different dog clubs and does age appropriate presentations and demonstrations for children. He also worked with the Animal Rescue Foundation for years.

“I call what I do playing with dogs, not working with them, because I love what I do,” Irish said. “I understand what they are feeling or thinking and help people understand past experiences they had with dogs.”

Irish started helping people with their animal problems 26 years ago when his children were young. The main thing that keeps him going is looking for the dog that he can’t fix.

Dogs are like computers, Irish explained. What you put into them is what you get out. Dogs, just like computers, can be reprogrammed. “Dogs want to do what you want them to do,” he said. “When they get confused they act up and it is not their fault. In 99 percent of cases I work with, dogs don’t know the word no. It is the misunderstanding that people have that gets people into trouble.”

Irish can help people with dog problems over the telephone and in person. He also works with other animals including cats, pigs and horses.

“My reputation is essential to everything I have ever done,” Irish said. “And my success rate is 100 percent.”

To inquire about having Irish help with a problem, write to him at Dan Irish, P.O. Box 65, West Point, 95255.

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Brandi Ehlers, Leadger Dispatch Click to see the origional article