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How to Keep Kids From Getting Bit Helping with Dog Training

As a professional dog trainer for many years, there are many things I have had to learn to do differently when working with the dogs around children versus what I would normally do.

Things that I would not typically think twice about, I must when kids are around…. Because they tend to copy everything – and some things may be quite dangerous for them to copy without the know-how and quick reflexes.

Some commands are simple to teach, and for those, the children can be around without encountering any issues, for example:

Sit….Stay….Down….Off

All of those commands are simply taught using some treats and simple leash work. Not only are they simple – they’re predominately safe – meaning if your child is practicing this with the pup later on, and he or she hasn’t mastered the art of “sitting”, it is highly unlikely (unless it a 180 lb mastiff and sits on your 3 year old) that there’s a hospital trip in your future

There are however, other commands that I would highly suggest teaching the dog when the children are NOT around, and show them the after-results – such as:

  1. Corrections of negative behaviors
  2. Drop It
  3. Leave It

There are very specific reasons these aren’t taught around children, and I will explain these in detail below. However, the one reason above all that I want to emphasize is that we train our dogs because it keeps our whole family safe, including our pup. The 3 commands I mention above (correcting negative behaviors, Drop it and Leave it), while not particularly complicated, have the potential to endanger your child if they attempt them on their own (ranging from simple emotional distress to a bite).

Correcting negative behaviors

I typically avoid teaching this when working around children because sometimes a pup may require firm quick corrections on a leash – which can cause problems for children:

  • A more sensitive child can get upset when a negative behavior such as jumping on people or guarding a toy or food requires a quick, firm correction with the leash. They do not always understand that corrections of bad behavior are just as imperative as praising the positive, and that we are not hurting the pup or dog.
  • On the flip side of that, a more confident or bold child may try to emulate what we are doing, but in the process may unintentionally hurt the pup or dog because they do not yet know or understand the amount of pressure required on the leash to make the correction yet not hurt the dog in the process.

Drop It and Leave It

These two commands are typically not taught around children for safety reasons. Kids do much better working with these commands after your pup has mastered them.

I also want to clarify here that when I say ‘teaching these commands’, I am not just referring to specific focused moments of training, like when you’re with a trainer, or even when you plan a specific time to work with your pup. I am speaking in general. Any time training takes place – because impromptu training takes place ALL THE TIME. You feed the dog, you want him to sit before he eats, you’re training.

You need to be careful though with impromptu “Drop It” and “Leave It” training. Remember – kids copy everything. Take for instance a dog that just grabbed the TV remote.! The dog has obviously not taken it to switch channels, so chances are it’s taken to become a new chew toy! And they are not cheap to replace! That is when our ‘protect the item’ Instinct kicks in.

Usually the first thing we do is call them to us. We are never thrilled in these moments, so the call unintentionally gets done in an angry voice (“COME HERE!!”) which clearly told Fido you are not happy with him! Of course, now that he knows you are angry, not only does he ignore your call, but he took off in the opposite direction! So what happens next? We jump up to chase them and retrieve the item back.

It is at this point that one of two scenarios ensue:

  1. The kids join the chase… it becomes a big game to both kids and dog, and you end up with more aggravation and pandemonium on your hands, or:
  2. You ran to chase the dog (which was loads of fun for the dog, as he now has your full attention and is playing the “You can’t catch me” game!) and when you finally get him, your kids see you reach in and grab the item from his mouth.

Now some time passes, and you may have forgotten all about this incident…. But your kids haven’t. So the next time Fido grabs something he should not have, such as one of their toys, your kids repeat what you did… only now the dog also remembers it, and also remembers once you caught him, you took the item away, so this time he is more possessive and guarding the item. This is behavior your child did not see last time, and the next thing you know, they reach out to grab the item back, and the dog strikes out and bites. Impromptu Drop It training gone really wrong.

So how could all of this have been avoided? We start with PLANNED Drop It training when the kids aren’t around.

The “Drop-It” command is a simple task to teach, and can be accomplished using one of their simple rope toys:

  1. Get them interested in a toy by playing with it with them.
  2. Once they are engaged in the play, bring the hand holding the toy closer to your body to stabilize it and hold it still…. This ‘discontinues’ the ‘tug’ action of the game.
  3. Grasp the toy with your free hand right in front of their mouth, and start creeping your hand forward, all the while saying, “Drop-It”. This forces them to lose their grip on the toy.
  4. As soon as they do, praise them, and begin again.

Essentially what this does is show them that you are not just taking the item away from them (which can create some ‘possession aggression’) but rather that the game can continue…. but only if they drop the item when you tell them to.

Now, let’s revisit that scenario. To start with, during the early training stages with your dog, the leash needs to be a vital part of his everyday life. Leash equals control.

  • Dog grabs remote, but since the leash was on, you can step on it and then reel him back in!
  • You have already taught the dog the ‘drop it’ command so the kids never see you reach into his mouth to retrieve the item.
  • You can calmly tell the dog to drop it, they do, you praise them, and the moment is done.

Now, the biggest difference between “Drop-It” and “Leave-It” is that Drop It is used when they already have the item they are not supposed to have, while Leave It teaches them not to pick it up in the first place! To teach “Leave-It” we use desirable ‘training traps’ (things that your dog loves to grab) and the leash. Throw the item on the floor, and when they run to grab it, give a quick, firm tug on the leash and say Leave-It!”. Continue doing this until you can drop the item and they do not lunge forward to get it.

Leave-It is especially important for the safety of BOTH the kids and the dog…. if you accidentally drop a pill on the floor, with the Leave-It command, they will not lunge for it. Also, if your child is eating and they drop a piece of food, using the Leave-It command will avoid the dog racing to grab it, and more importantly, the child reaching into their mouths to get it back!

My last piece of advice…. If you have not had the option to teach them yet what ‘Drop It’ or ‘Leave-It’ means and how it is done, and Fido gets ahold of something you do not want him to have, Distraction is always a great alternative. Grab a very high-value treat (a piece of cheese, a piece of hot dog, etc.) something they do not get often, but they will choose over a tasteless remote. Start off standing still and show it to them, and if they do not come immediately, take tiny steps backwards (movement is very interesting to dogs and gets their attention quicker… moving away from them means they should follow or they may miss out on that treat) Try to make it a treat or an item that they can’t gobble up in one bite, giving them ample time to return to the discarded item faster than you can. What you do not want is a race back to the original item…. I can pretty much guarantee they’ll get back there first.

I also want to note that this last piece of advice should be used as an emergency back-up plan, and not a go-to plan of action. The reason being we do not want the dog to learn that if they want a good high-quality treat, all they need to do is grab something they re not supposed to have, and we’ll replace it with something awesome!!

Being one step ahead of a potential disaster is always preferable to the alternative! So teaching your dog these basic manners when the kids are not present will keep everyone safe, happy and healthy!!!

Code Adam: Because You Don’t Have Eyes in the Back of Your Head

Sometimes, as a parent, you have to give yourself a break. Even mothers have to heed the call of nature. But with a headstrong and mischievous three-year old in tow, a parental potty break in a public building can become an exercise in surprisingly emotional fear and guilt.

I mean, we are supposed to be able to keep our children safe. We aren’t supposed to lose them! But what can any reasonable parent do wedged in a tight bathroom cubicle with a toddler and sitting in a very compromising position when the wiggle worm decides it would be the height of fun to crawl out under the stall door and run out of the bathroom? I can still feel the brush of his jeans across my fingers as I just failed to grab hold….

Thankfully, with Code Adam, a nation-wide program administered by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), my anxiety in our local children’s museum was contained by a very orderly and confident process. Code Adam, created and named in memory of 6-year old Adam Walsh who went missing while shopping with his mother and was later found murdered, is a simple but powerful search process focused on marshaling employees of public buildings, such as stores, libraries and museums, in a systematic search for lost children in the crucial moments immediately following their disappearance.

My Code Adam Experience:

  • As soon as I could make myself decent and get out of the bathroom I approached nearby museum staff who were manning the entrance to the exhibit space we had just visited, and learned that my wayward son had not decided to return to the water or sand tables
  • The staff then asked me very specific questions to compile a detailed description of my child – including his clothing and shoe color/style (I remember he was wearing those shoes with a light that flashes when he walked)
  • A “Code Adam” page including this description was then given within the venue and designated staff immediately began a systematic search
  • All potential exits other than the front doors were either closed or closely monitored and a member of the security staff escorted me to the front entrance to ensure my son, Elliott, did not leave the premises. I spent what felt like a wretched eternity desperately scanning the sea of kids, choking back tears, and constantly affirming to my security pal that I’d never lost my kid before…honest!

If my son wasn’t found within 10minutes, the next step would have been for security to call law enforcement. If he had been found in the company of someone other than a parent or legal guardian, the procedure would call for reasonable attempts to delay their departure until the arrival of police, without putting anyone in danger.

Thankfully, I was reunited with my wiggle worm within that timeframe, a staff member having found him obliviously and happily playing on a computer screen in another area of the museum. When he was back within arms’ reach I didn’t know what I wanted to do to him (or what would be considered the politically correct behavior)…wrap him in my arms and say “Thank God”…or berate him for running off from Mommy? So I fudged and did a little of both!

Making Use of the Code Adam Program

Code Adam originated in Walmart stores in 1994 but is now one of the largest child-safety programs in the U.S., used in around a hundred thousand establishments around the country and, since the Code Adam Act was made law in 2003, in all federal public facilities (click here for list of participants). Use of the program in a venue is proclaimed by a Code Adam decal at the building entrances. Thanks to NCMEC and its sponsors, the program is free to participants, who can apply online for a Code Adam kit, including:

  • A training video for employees
  • A break-room poster explaining the program steps
  • Two decals to put on entrances announcing participation in Code Adam

So what can parents and safety advocates do?

  • Check building entrances for the Code Adam decal. Know whether Code Adam is used in that venue before you and your children enter.
  • Know the Code Adam procedures. I’d like to say my story above is the only example of our use of Code Adam in the past eight years, but my son has triggered 2 other experiences in large retail stores. In one of these venues, the staff I located did not know the Code Adam process. Thankfully I did…and suggested they call security and institute a Code Adam page….missing child quickly found. Lesson: Don’t rely on the quality of any given store’s staff training.
  • Make sure caregivers know. Even if you are very familiar with Code Adam and its procedures, what about babysitters or grandparents? How often are they out with your children in a public venue? Be sure that they also know about Code Adam and how to ensure it is appropriately implemented.
  • Suggest Code Adam to local venues. If a local store or establishment with a focus on families or children does not display the Code Adam decal, consider finding the manager and suggest that they participate. They can find everything they need at www.missingkids.org (search “code adam”). Additional information can be obtained by calling 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or emailing codeadam@ncmec.org.

On the Road Rx for Healthy and Safe Travel with Your Kids

When it comes to family vacations, you can plan for the good stuff — cool campsites, great restaurants, awesome attractions — in advance. A bad turn of events, however, can strike without warning, especially when you’re traveling with kids. When you’re away from your daily routine and focused on having fun, you’re not thinking that your child may fall and break a leg, come down with a nasty virus or get lost in a museum. But accidents and mishaps can occur anytime, anywhere. Keep your family as healthy and safe as possible while on vacation by taking these simple precautions.

Smart Health Moves

  • Bring medical supplies For starters, bring enough of any prescription medication to last through your entire vacation — you can’t count on being able to get refills — plus one more day’s worth, in case your flight gets cancelled. Also tote along remedies for any chronic conditions such as allergies, asthma, migraines and upset stomach. Add basic first-aid supplies like pain relievers, fever reducers, bandages and antibiotic ointment. Carry antibacterial wipes or lotion for when washing hands isn’t an option.
  • Know your insurance Find out from your health insurance company how to go about getting urgent or emergency care while you’re away. Following your health care plan’s protocol for out-of-area coverage can get you the medical attention you need faster — and save you a bundle.
  • Get your shots Fend off illness in advance by ensuring that you’re up to date on your vaccinations. Ask your doctor which shots you and your kids may need, or check with the travelers’ health Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Find your closest embassy If you’re going abroad, learn about travel warnings and any health issues affecting the area you are going to. Visit the Department of State’s Web listing of U.S. embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions worldwide and jot down contact information of the U.S. embassy nearest to your destination. The embassy staff can help you find good medical care and notify your family in case of an emergency.

Smart Safety Moves

  • Stay in contact Bring cell phones if possible — or even walkie-talkies — to find one another in crowds or outside the hotel. Since reception isn’t guaranteed and calls get missed, always designate a spot — say, the fountain in the hotel lobby or the lifeguard chair at the beach — where family members should go if they get lost.
  • ID your kids Unless you’re investing in a family GPS system, arm your children with identification. Write down your child’s name, your name, your or your spouse’s cell phone number, and the phone number of your hotel on a piece of paper. (Even older kids don’t always remember where they’re staying.) Slip it into a shoe tag, luggage tag or even your child’s pocket. Always keep a current photograph of your child on hand in case you have to show it to the authorities.
  • Discuss safety measures with your kids Advise them not to talk to strangers or go anywhere with a stranger — even a mom or another kid. Stress the importance of staying within sight at all times (a theme park is not a good place to run ahead of the group), and though it may be fun for the kids to explore a hotel, they shouldn’t do it alone. Your main message: Vacations are the most fun and relaxing when families stay together, and kids have an important role to play in making that happen.

Recognize a Dog’s Body Language Before Your Child Gets Bitten

little girl annoying dogAs a professional dog trainer, I can’t tell you how often, when called in to work with an aggressive dog, I have heard, “He showed no warning! He just bit!” While on the rare occasion, this may be the case, more often than not, your dog showed several warning signs that he was annoyed or not in the mood to be bothered at that moment. But many times, those signs are very subtle and oftentimes, overlooked. Even the most calm and gentle dog has its limit. So how can you know when your dog has reached their limit, giving you ample time to remove your child from them prior to them ‘snapping’ at your little one? Since dogs can’t verbally warn us, it is up to us to understand what their body language is saying… because that is the primary way they communicate… and not all dogs do the ‘growl, snarl, curl your lip, and show your teeth’ thing first.

Note: The intent of this article is to build people’s awareness of what a dog’s body might be saying, and hopefully educate you enough to keep you and your family safe around them. It is not intended to be a ‘crash course’ in making you an expert. Thousands of adults and children get bitten every year, most often by their own family pet, so this is a very serious issue. If you are not sure, but think your dog may be showing signs of aggression, regardless of their age or breed, please consult a professional and get help. A great resource to locate a professional near you is the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP).

Last year, at a family get-together my sister brought her dog Shayna with her and the kids. I knew from prior conversations with her that the dog, while usually very sweet, would on occasion snap at the kids ‘without warning.’’

After dinner, all of the kids were in another room except for one of my nephews. Shayna was on the floor near the kitchen entertaining herself with a toy, and the adults sat around the table talking. In the midst of a conversation with my cousin, I saw my nephew out of the corner of my eye walking towards her. Apparently, Shayna saw it too, and from across the room, I saw her entire body change. She was on alert; and no one else seemed to notice. In mid sentence, I flew across the room and grabbed Shayna just as she opened her mouth to snap, missing my nephew by mere millimeters.

The question I was asked over and over again that night was “How did you know?” And honestly, at first, I was not sure how to answer this. I couldn’t really explain it at that time. I just knew. But I quickly realized I needed to be able to explain it if I was going to keep my nephews and niece safe. And then it also dawned on me….. if I could figure out exactly what it was that I saw, the subtle ‘markers’ she was emitting, then I can help others to keep their kids safe as well

I. KNOW THE MARKERS: The subtle signs that “mark” the dog’s reaction to something

  • WATCHING – This is the first phase of what we call ‘resource guarding’ or the guarding of their possession and it is a very subtle ‘shift’. When a dog is chewing on a bone, eating their food, or playing with a toy, they are 100% in that moment. Their eyes may glaze over, they may seem like they’re in another world, but everything is about that item for them. However, for a dog who is resource guarding, when they become aware that a potential ‘threat’ is nearby, they will continue to chew, but their eyes are now locked on the approaching intruder. Their head does not move, just their eyes… and they are watching every move the person (or potential threat) makes.
Sharing - but watching - small

Photo: Ralph Dally, CC License

Note the difference in body language when a dog is “watching”

  • An important fact was reiterated at a previous IACP conference by a trainer named Brenda Aloff who lectures on canine body language. A dog’s body language was really meant for other dogs to be aware of, which is why sometimes it seems so subtle to us. It was not really meant for us.
  • That being said, the average person would look at this and say, “Oh, how cute… 2 puppies sharing a toy.” Look again. Notice the difference in body language with the two dogs. The one on the left is happily chewing on the toy, not really caring about the other dog being there. Unaffected by the presence of the one on the right, it is relaxed, and hunkered down over the toy with his paws wrapped around it..
  • Now, notice how the one on the right is still chewing on the toy, but the eyes are wide, and very alert to its surroundings. The body is more rigid, and it is closely WATCHING for a ‘potential threat’ at the same time. This is referred to as being ‘reactive’ and ready to defend its territory if the need arises.
  • FREEZING IN PLACE – The next thing I saw shift in Shayna’s body when my nephew approached was also VERY subtle… but to me, very obvious. She stopped chewing on the toy completely. Essentially, her body ‘froze’ in position. Since dogs cannot multi-task, she could not calmly continue chewing on the toy and watch as my nephew got closer to her at the same time, so she chose at that moment to watch his every move. Her body freezing at that moment told me that she was waiting to see if the ‘threat’ was going to keep on moving by, or stop and possibly take her toy.
Dog guarding bone - med

Photo: Debra and Ron Sprague; © All Rights Reserved

A perfect example of a the “freezing” body language

  • In the picture above, notice again the eyes are not on the object the dog is chewing, it is watching the other dog very closely in its peripheral vision and yet still has both bones in it’s line of sight. The dog is very still, and the body is very rigid. He has angled himself not only over his bone, but slightly over the second one as well. His body language is telling me very clearly that he is ready to spring into action should that other dog get an inch closer. (This was Shayna as my nephew approached). The second dog wants that other bone, and is looking at it very longingly.… but just like me, it is also reading the other dog’s body language VERY clearly, so it is not making a move toward it.
  • Photo: •Ashley Sheppard; CC License

    Photo: Ashley Sheppard; CC License

    Now, look at the difference in the second picture. The Bernese Mountain Dog is very relaxed, eyes are soft and the face is open and inviting, and she is digging into that bone, but there is no sign at all that she is on alert. I would feel comfortable approaching this dog with her bone unless her body language changed as I got closer to her.

II. SIGNS OF AGGRESSION THAT PRESENT IN SUBTLE WAYS

Now unlike what we did in the last pictures, where I showed you contrasts to see the differences, in the next two I want you to see the similarities….which is why I placed them side by side.

Photo: Cassandra Karas, CC License

Photo: Cassandra Karas, CC License

Terrier - small

Photo: Shek Graham; CC License

I seriously hope that no one would ever have to tell you to stay away from the Rottweiler on the left, who is showing all the obvious signs of all-out aggression… you do not have to look any further than the teeth. And I am sure the breed alone would have many people leery to begin with.

But now, look at the Terrier with the bone on the right. It is not snarling, growling, or showing any teeth…. But barring that, do you see ANY difference in their bodies? Because I sure don’t.

HERE IS WHAT I SEE:

  • EYES: They are both doing a dead-on stare. Their eyes are fully opened and round.
  • TORSO: They are both frozen in place, rigid from head to toe, and other than the growling that I am sure the Rottie is doing, and the jaw muscles flexing, they are pretty much not moving a muscle.
  • MOUTH: Jaw is set and tight as a drum.
  • HEAD: Very low… almost equal to their torso, in a ‘Don’t mess with me” position.
  • FRONT PAWS: Spread wide apart splayed to the side, both guarding their possession , and ready to spring into action.
  • BACK PAWS: Rigid… you can almost see the muscles flexing and tense. Both of them have their ‘toes’ curled in obvious annoyance.

I thought it was important that people see a dog does not necessarily have to be showing teeth for parents to be aware that their dog is showing signs of what we call ‘possession aggression’ or ‘resource guarding’.

III. DOES THE SIZE OF THE DOG MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

Let’s see how much you have learned so far. Would you approach either of these guys?

Little Dog Attacks

Photo: Jetteff; CC License

Little Dog Owns this Bone

Photo: Thomas Stromberg; CC License

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IV. IN CONCLUSION…WHAT DOES THIS DOG’S BODY LANGUAGE SAY…

I hope some of this has been educational for you, and maybe given you a slightly different perspective than you had before you read it. Just to reiterate, this article is not intended to be a ‘crash course’or make you an expert when it comes to pet behavior. It is simply to make you aware of potential threats to you and your loved ones. The unfortunate fact is that thousands of adults and children get bitten every year, most often by their own family pet. Even the sweetest, most loving of animals can have a bad day and it’s up to us to recognize the signs so that all of us, kids and pets included, can stay safe.

PLEASE NOTE: My explanations of these pictures do not just apply to the guarding of resources. If you are out with your child, and someone walks by with a dog, even if you had asked if your child could pet the dog and the owner has assured you that the dog is friendly, if you see any of these ‘guarded’ signs, walk away. That dog, for whatever reason, is not in the mood to be approached.

Today is National Heatstroke Prevention Day 2023!

Every year on average, 40 children die in hot cars in the US

What can you do??

  • Always keep cars locked & keys out of reach of children. If a child is missing – check in all cars!
  • Ask childcare to call you if your baby doesn’t show up as planned!
  • A car is not a babysitter. NEVER leave a child or animal alone inside a vehicle, not even for a minute!
  • See a child alone in a car? Get involved! Call 911 immediately
  • If you think it can’t happen to you, please think again. (Ray Ray’s Story)

*Image credit: kidsandcars.org

Erin’s Law: Teaching Children to Recognize & Avoid Sexual Abuse

In October 2011, New York State announced it would join the ranks of those states to introduce a bill entitled Erin Merryn’s Law. The measure would require schools to make a change to their existing curriculum for child abduction to include child sexual abuse prevention. This alteration would give critically important information to victims – many of whom do not know there is a way out of their horrific situation. As a child, Merryn was abused by both a neighbor and a family member. She says she stayed silent due to a combination of threats from her abusers, and the lack of knowledge about available help. If passed, New York would become the third state to enact Erin Merryn’s law, following Missouri and Merryn’s home state of Illinois.

In light of recent events at our nation’s universities, parents should continue to be vigilant about teaching child sexual abuse prevention in the home. By age three, children should be taught that their bodies have private parts and no one is to touch those parts (with the necessary medical and hygiene exceptions). Of course children should be taught the correct terminology for their body as nicknames can be confusing and delay a disclosure. The following are some tips that are often overlooked:

  1. When someone tickles a child, if the child says No, all tickling should cease. Children need to know that their words have power and No means No.
  2. Teach children that it is OK to say No to an adult. Without permission from you, many children may be reluctant to do so even if the adult is doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  3. Teach children that all of these lessons apply to other children as well. If another child is touching your child in a way that makes him or her uncomfortable, teach your child to say No, get away and tell someone.
  4. Be careful with the language you use when speaking with children. Avoid saying things such as “Have a good day and do everything your teacher tells you to do.” Children are very literal and need to be told that they should not listen to someone who is telling them to do something that might be harmful to them or to someone else.
  5. Let your child decide how they want to express affection. If they do not want to hug or kiss Grandpa goodbye or sit on Santa’s lap, do not force them. You take away their power over their own body if you force them to be demonstrative in their affection. Children need to be taught their body belongs to them.
  6. Teach children to respect the privacy of others. They should learn to knock on doors that are shut before opening them and close the door to the bathroom when they are using it. If they learn to respect the privacy of others, they may be more likely to recognize that an invasion of their privacy could be a red flag meaning danger.
  7. Use your poker face. Encourage your child to come you if they have questions about anything. Avoid looking shocked or embarrassed by the question. Children who sense their parents’ discomfort will be less inclined to approach the parent next time he or she has a question.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused by age 18 in the United States. 93% of the abuse happens at the hands of those entrusted with the care and protection of the child. With the passage of Erin Merryn’s Law, critical information will reach every child in New York State.

Is your state advocating for the welfare of children?

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Editor’s Note: Erin’s Law passed in New York in August 2019. On passage, they became the 37th State to mandate that K-8 students get at least an hour a year of instruction on how to spot the signs of child abuse or exploitation. Often described as teaching “good touch, bad touch,” the idea is to help youngsters distinguish between an adult who is simply being compassionate and who is being sexually abusive.

Thank you New York for working to keep kids safe!

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