Sure, dogs are man’s best friend—but what about dogs and kids? Many dogs love children—who else will run in circles with them for hours on end? However, many dogs aren’t comfortable around kids, and even dogs who are normally comfortable around kids can react negatively in a stressful situation.
In the U.S., over 359,000 children were bitten by dogs between 2010-2012 (source). The good news: You can teach your kids to develop long-lasting, loving relationships with dogs by recognizing and respecting a dog’s body language.
How to Teach Your Child Dog Etiquette
Dogs have a whole different set of rules of what’s friendly behavior—after all, butt sniffing is totally normal in their world. The best thing you can do is teach your child how to meet the dog on their level. Teach your kid to:
- Always ask a dog owner if it’s okay to pet their dog, especially if they’re meeting a dog for the first time.
- Give dogs space when eating or playing with toys. Remind them they wouldn’t like it much if their sibling came up and stole their toys.
- Let dogs nap. That way, they’re much less likely to be startled.
- Approach dogs calmly.
- Pet dogs on their side or back instead of their head.
- How to pet politely (along their back, in the direction their fur grows).
- Play “Freeze.” The ASPCA recommends you train your kids to learn this game: If you see a dog becoming anxious or worked up, say “Freeze!” This gives your kids (and your Rover dog) time to catch their breath and calm down.
- Not to smother a dog with love. There can be such a thing as too many snuggles—if a dog seems overwhelmed, tell your child to give them some space.
How to Teach Your Child Dog Warning Signs
If a dog is showing any of these behaviors, they’re trying to tell you they feel uncomfortable. Be sensitive to their needs and slowly remove yourself and your kids if you see a dog reacting in any of these ways:
- Whale eye (showing the whites of their eyes)
- Freezing/hunching or rounding of the back
- Avoidance, or trying to remove themselves from the situation
- Growling, snarling, and showing of teeth
- Lip licking and yawning
- Holding or “pinning” ears
- Flagged tails (tail up at attention) or raised fur
We also suggest reading Learn the Signs of Dog Aggression—and How to Stop It. Bottom line: Teaching your child how to read and respect a dog’s body language will help ensure they form positive, long-lasting relationships with dogs.
How to Introduce Your Child to Your Rover Dog
- Bring your child to a Meet & Greet. See how your child interacts with a dog.
- Ask the dog owner about their dog’s previous interaction with kids of that age. They may have been raised around young kids, but have never been around babies or toddlers before
- Always supervise play between dogs and your family.
While we hope every stay with your Rover guests and family members are fantastic, teaching your kids how to meet a dog on their level will help everyone have a great time. Better yet, it’ll teach your children how to develop a lifetime love of dogs.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.