Fort Belvoir Elementary School first, second and sixth graders learned how to avoid being bitten by a dog at a presentation given Feb. 2, by the Fort Belvoir Veterinary Center.

The presentation highlighted when it is unsafe to pet a dog and how to react when approached by a strange dog.

A recent rash of dog bite cases on post caused the Veterinary Center to give the presentation.

"We take care of the bite cases," said Capt. Laura Lancieri, Fort Belvoir Veterinary Services Branch officer in charge. "It's a national statistic that about 4 million people get bitten by dogs every year and 60 percent of those people are children. So, it's better to prevent dog bites then treat them."

It's unsafe to pet a dog through a fence, when the dog is tied up, when it is eating or playing or when a mother is with her puppies, according to the clinic staff.

The examples given are generalities since some dogs are friendly and won't mind if they are petted in those situations. But, they are important to remember when dealing with more aggressive dogs.

"There are always dogs that are going to be friendly no matter what," said Lancieri. "But, not every dog is like that, so the generality is if we can train children to never pet dogs in these particular situations then they aren't at risk of being bitten by the more aggressive dogs."

The veterinarians also advised the children to always tell an adult if a dog growls, snaps or bites at them.

The children learned how to react when approached by a strange dog. The veterinarians encouraged the children to either stand like a tree or lie like a log if a strange dog ever runs up to them so they don't run away from the dog.

Many bite cases are the result of a child running away from an unfamiliar dog.

"The dog is less likely to be threatened by a person that is not moving," said Lancieri. "So, if they stand quietly with their arms across their chest there isn't much for the dog to bite."

If a dog knocks a child over, the child should protect his or her face Lancieri said.

Most of the children at the presentation are dog owners themselves and were excited at the opportunity to learn more about animals.

"I have two dogs at home," said second grader Alexandria Duffy. "So, I liked getting to learn more about dogs today."

Belvoir Elementary School personnel were pleased with the presentation and for the children having an opportunity to learn how to be safer when dealing with dogs.

"Children would pet a dog with puppies and they don't realize they shouldn't," said Joyce Matthews, Fort Belvoir Elementary School, School Based Technology Specialist. "How many times do you see people hugging and kissing their dogs only to find out (dogs) don't really like that. It's another educational aspect for the children."

When it is unsafe to pet a dog
• Through a fence or car window.
• When the dog is tied up.
• When the dog is eating or playing with a toy.
• When a mother dog is with her puppies.
• When a dog is sleeping or resting.
• When a dog is hurt.

Top five rules for safely meeting dogs
• Let the dog approach you. This allows the dog to interact with you on his terms, which is going to put you high on his list of cool humans.
• Respect his/her space. Don't bend over the dog, reach your hand out, reach over his/her head and don't get in their face.
• It's okay if he doesn't like you. The more you pursue a shy dog, the more it convinces them that you are scary ... and quite rude. Back off, discontinue eye contact and give him a chance to get to know you on his terms.
• Sniffing is not an invitation to pet. Sniffing is the dog's way of getting more information about you. Let the dog sniff you and then see where he goes from there.
• Test the waters. When you do pet the dog, pet him once then stop and see what happens. If he really enjoyed what you just did, he will move closer or give some other indication that your affections are welcome. If he moves away and doesn't return, he's had enough.