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Tulsa Dog Trainer Says Learning 'Dog Language' Can Protect You, Kids From Bites

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When Mindy and Charlie Jones decided to buy a dog for their two young children, they went big, really big. When Mindy and Charlie Jones decided to buy a dog for their two young children, they went big, really big.
Susanne Shelton, owner of Clickety Split Dog Training, said dogs are talking all the time, we just don't listen. Susanne Shelton, owner of Clickety Split Dog Training, said dogs are talking all the time, we just don't listen.
Shelton said dogs send out a number of early warning signs when they're upset. Shelton said dogs send out a number of early warning signs when they're upset.
TULSA, Oklahoma -

Most dog owners will tell you their pets are part of the family, but that doesn't mean we should leave our furry kids alone with our children.

The Center for Disease Control said 885,000 Americans need medical attention every year for dog bites, and the majority of them are children.

When Mindy and Charlie Jones decided to buy a dog for their two young children, they went big, really big. Moses is an English mastiff who weighs in at 140 pounds and he's still growing.

“We wanted a dog that was good with kids. Even though he's big, he's very gentle with them,” Mindy said.

The Jones family wasn’t willing to rely just on the dog's good nature. They decided early on that both Moses and the kids needed some training, which is where Susanne Shelton came in.

As the owner of Clickety Split Dog Training, Shelton has worked with canines of all breeds, shapes and sizes for the past 20 years. She warned, given the right conditions, any dog will bite.

More than 50 percent of those bites involve children under the age of nine, usually with a parent nearby.

Which is why Shelton said just supervising your children isn't enough; you need to know what your dog is saying.

“They're talking all the time, we just don't listen,” Shelton said.

Learning your dog's language may sound like a tall order, but Shelton said it’s pretty basic. “Loosy-goosy” is good. The “wiggle waggle” is the sign of a happy dog. On the other hand, a tense, stiff dog, is a sign of trouble.

In fact, Shelton said dogs send out a number of early warning signs when they're upset. Some of them are obvious, even in photographs meant to be loving.

“An easy one to look for are dogs licking the end of their noses, we call it a tongue flick,” Shelton said.

In one photograph, the dog has a tense mouth and its ears are pulled back, and there's something Shelton calls the look away.

“So a dog will look at you, and then they'll very deliberately just look away, and we think it’s random,” she said.

Shelton said it actually means the dog is trying to create some distance from you, and what she calls a "whale eye," is a sign of even more distress.

“It can be caused by a dog who's so tense that his eyes have gotten big. So now we see the whites around the eye where we normally wouldn't,” she said.

Ignoring the signs could put you at risk of a serious bite, and to prove it, we looked at a video of a dog bite caught on tape.

“This is always bad. See the tongue flicks,” Shelton asked.

In this case, a reporter in east Texas was being introduced to a new police dog.

“We got two, three tongue flicks that are happening as the dog is already asking for space,” she said.

Shelton pointed to the dog's ears, which were pinned back to his head and his body was tense and rigid.

“He is now doing a look away and he's tongue flicking again,” said Shelton “And see the whale eye? You can see the dog’s eyes are enormous at this point.”

The final straw came as the reporter leaned into the dog's space.

“And he's looking away, he's tongue flicking, he's looking away, he's tongue flicking, he's pinning his ears.

Then boom. This is why we shouldn't be telling parents supervision is enough,” said Shelton.

One thing that wasn’t in the video was a growl, which Shelton said can be a dog's last, desperate attempt to warn you away.

“So if we go in and overreact and punish that growl, it’s very much like removing the batteries from a smoke detector and thinking that we've put out the fire,” she said.

For millions of families, the joy of having a dog more than outweighs the potential dangers, but with so much at stake, it makes sense to play it smart.

That’s why Madison and Jack were taught right from the get go how to treat their gentle giant. Rules include not riding him or bothering him while he’s sleeping.

“He puts up with a lot from them and it doesn't seem to bother him. But they have to know there are boundaries,” Mindy said.

It's an approach that benefits everyone in the family, on two legs and four.

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