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Canine safety: Kids schooled on proper pooch etiquette

LAWRENCEVILLE - Joseph O'Donovan is learning that not all dogs are like the frothing, ferocious attackers that bite people and make the news.

The Dacula 12-year-old wants his first dog in the form of a puppy this Christmas, preferably a pointer.

But O'Donovan isn't totally comfortable around canines just yet. He's still pensive around big ones, or strange ones.

"I'm afraid of, well, like, Rottweilers," O'Donovan admits. "If they're big and, like, growling."

A local dog-friendly group kicked off an initiative Saturday to help kids confront those fears, teach them proper canine etiquette and - as a last resort - effective escape tactics.

The Lawrenceville Kennel Club held its first dog and safety class for children, much to the delight of a handful of youngsters. The program, held at the freshly opened Animal Welfare and Enforcement Center, offered tidbits of advice that even perked the eyebrows of adults on hand.

Who knew that staring at a strange dog could enrage it? Or that the proper way to approach a new dog is to ball your hand into a fist, put it to the dog's nose, let it evaluate your scent and then go in for the petting?

"We want to teach children that there's do's and don'ts," said Charles Baranowski, chairman of the class. "A lot of (dog attacks) can be prevented. This way, we're getting information out to the kids."

The American Kennel Club gave club leaders the blueprint for Saturday's program. Baranowski - who donned a white sweatshirt with photos of his Dalmations, Dottie and Pinto, emblazoned on his chest - called the event successful for kids and parents. He hopes to host classes at least four times a year.

Thousands of kids accidentally provoke dogs and are bitten each year, said Baranowski, a self-described dog nut who totes his Dalmations everywhere but church.

"The only thing a dog's got to protect himself with is his teeth," Baranowski told his attentive pupils.

After the class, 10-year-old Michael O'Donovan said under no circumstances will he stare a dog down. He planned to adopt a pet at the shelter on Saturday - a Christmas gift he could start training early.

Michelle Kitzrow, of Sugar Hill, displayed her two Bouvier des Flandres - big friendly dogs covered in curly, black coats - as learning tools for the kids.

She said petting Casey and Tigger, as she's named her pets, is a healthy activity, so long as they're approached the right way.

"It lowers your blood pressure," Kitzrow said. "It makes you feel good."

Learn more about the Lawrenceville Kennel Club at www.lawrencevillekc.com