SAFE – Promoting Harmonious Interactions between Kids and Canines

Children are high-spirited and noisy by nature. Many dogs don’t understand this rambunctious behaviour and may see it as an invitation to play or even panic in the form of lashing out and biting. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA), more than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs every year. Almost 1 in 5 people require medical attention, and children are by far the most common victims of dog bites. In many cases, these incidents could have been prevented had the children and their parents been better educated. 

Expert trainers and behaviourists are horrified at what some adults perceive as ‘normal’ exchanges between dogs and children. As a result, they have created a fun and stimulating programme to educate children on how to engage safely with a dog to reduce the chances of bites occurring.

The SAFE Dog Bite Prevention Program is a game that is meant to be as calming for the child as it is boring for the pooch. SAFE can be practiced when a child encounters a strange dog without an adult present as well as when encountering a dog they do know because children are usually bitten by dogs they are familiar with.

SAFE teaches the child to have an air of calmness around dogs to prevent a potential biting incident. If the child is taught SAFE in a fun and enticing way, they will be better prepared and less alarmed if they ever need to use it in a real-life situation.

SAFE represents the first letter of the four basic body language prompts:

  • STAY: Stay calm and stay put without running away from the approaching dog. 
  • ARMS: Cross your arms and keep them close to your body. Never wave your arms around as it may arouse the dog.
  • FACE AWAY: Turn your head away from the dog to maintain a peaceful situation.
  • EYES: Avoid direct eye contact with the dog as some may see this as a challenge to play or pounce.

You can find some colourful, fun and engaging videos online that demonstrate how the game works. Free downloadable infographics, colouring-in pages and a wall chart are also offered online at

Other preventative measures to possibly reduce the chances of a precarious situation arising between a dog and a child:

  1. Constant adult supervision is recommended when children under 12 years old are in close vicinity to a dog. If you’re unable to dedicate 100% of your attention to the interaction, make use of crates, fences or different rooms in your home to separate them.
  2. Always ask the owner’s permission before you or your child pets a dog for the first time.
  3. Just like us, dogs don’t like to be crowded and fussed over. Teaching your child to blow them kisses, as opposed to trying to hug or kiss them, will prevent them from getting too up-close and personal with the pooch.

It’s imperative that children are taught to treat dogs with respect and compassion by being gentle with them and recognising their boundaries.

Although the SAFE program was developed as a game to keep children interested, it is far more than that and can be the reason a child or dog’s life is saved. The sad reality is that once a dog has bitten a child they are usually seen as dangerous and consequently either given to a shelter or euthanised. This devastating outcome can be prevented by simply teaching your child to abide by the SAFE program.

Help us by sharing your new-found knowledge of the SAFE program so it can continue to change and save the lives of both humans and canines alike!

Written for inFURmation
by Taliah Williamson


Disclaimer: The information produced by Infurmation is provided for general and educational purposes only and does not constitute any legal, medical or other professional advice on any subject matter. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Always seek the advice of your vet or other qualified health care provider prior to starting any new diet or treatment and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you suspect that your pet has a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.