The programme educates children about the responsibilities of dog ownership as well as how to be safe around the animals.
It is similar to previous Council supported initiatives such as the ‘Be Safe’ programme with schools in the Waterside and the ‘Yes’ Project in Community Centres in the city side of Derry where schools came along to the venues to receive tuition.
The schools session is delivered by Leslie Bernat, Dog Warden, at Derry City and Strabane District Council, who says the long term aim of the course is to reduce the incidents of attacks by dogs and to promote responsible dog ownership in the Council area.
“The aim is to educate youngsters in the Council area about dogs at an early age so that they can go on to become safe and responsible adults,” he explained.
“We target the presentation at children of Primary 6 and Primary 7 age, so this is a chance to educate them early before they think about possible dog ownership themselves in the future.
“We cover some of the basics on how to look after your dog, like taking it for a walk and some safety aspects such as keeping your dog on a lead and away from sheep in rural areas.
“We highlight licensing your dog which, although a legal requirement, is still one of the best ways to reunite you with your dog if it is ever lost. The minimum legal age to have a dog licence in Northern Ireland is 16 years old.
“We try and keep the presentation visually stimulating and interactive to get the kids involved. We use a large stuffed toy St Bernard dog called Darcy to demonstrate how they should safely approach a dog so the message stays with them.
“We also let the children scan Darcy’s back to see his microchip number.
“The feedback we have had from the schools has been excellent. We visited a Special Needs school in Knockavoe in Strabane recently and they sent us a lovely handmade card afterwards to say how much they enjoyed it.”
Although young people have to be 16 years old before they can have a dog of their own, all the children will have some interaction with dogs in their daily lives so the advice they receive is crucial.
“One of the key elements of the presentation is educating youngsters on how to react if they are attacked,” Les continued.
“The instinctive reaction of people when they see a dog coming towards them is to run away but the correct response is, in fact, to remain motionless.
“When we ask kids how many of them have been bitten by a dog, over 50% of them put their hands up and most of those attacks occur in their home or at their relatives’ home.
“It’s very important that this is prevented when so many kids have been bitten and we want to reduce that number by educating them on the correct approach.
“If a dog does come towards you to attack you, the one thing you shouldn’t do is run away, dogs are prey driven and they will want the chase.
“The advice we give is to fold your arms so the dog sees that you don’t pose any threat and turn to the side so that it is harder to push you over.”
“Kids can look at a small dog and think it looks cuddly but it doesn’t necessarily want a hug so we also teach them about asking the owner for permission before they pet a dog regardless of what size it is.”
To learn more about dog licensing in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area go to http://www.derrystrabane.com/dogcontrol.