How to Keep Interactions Between Dogs and Children Safe
Sure, dogs are man’s best friend—but what about dogs and children? Many dogs love children—who else will run in circles with them for hours on end? However, many dogs aren’t comfortable around children, and even dogs who are normally comfortable around children can react negatively in a stressful situation.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association more than 4.5 million people are bitten in the U.S each year, and over half of those are children. The good news: You can teach your children to develop long-lasting, loving relationships with dogs by recognising and respecting a dog’s body language. Read on for suggestions on how to keep everyone in your care happy and healthy.
How to Teach Your Child Dog Etiquette
Dogs have a whole different set of rules of what’s friendly behaviour—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 child 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.
- Pet politely (along their back, gently, in the direction their fur grows).
- Play “Freeze.” The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends you train your children to learn this game: If you see a dog becoming anxious or worked up, say “Freeze!” This gives your children (and your 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.
- Don’t approach the dog at sensitive times. Dogs can be protective of their food, treats, water and belongings. It’s best to not approach the dog when they are eating, drinking, or sleeping.
- If your child is older, teach them about dog body language and reiterate that it’s of the utmost importance to listen and to respect a dog’s space.
How to Introduce Your Child to Your Dog
It’s important to safely introduce dogs and children so that their interactions get off on the right foot.
- First, always consider the ages of your children. When you get a stay request, ask the dog owner about their dog’s previous interaction with children of that age. They may have been raised around young children, but have never been around babies or toddlers before.
- Bring your child to a Meet & Greet. See how your child interacts with the dog.
- Always supervise play between dogs and your family.
- Stay right next to your child as they greet a dog, and then play with the dog while you and the owner talk if it seems to be a good fit.
- The dog may be nervous at the beginning of the stay. Allow them some quiet time to get their bearings.
While we hope every stay with your animal guests and family members are fantastic, teaching your children 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.
Playtime is a great way for dogs and children to bond, but for playtime to be safe, keep the following in mind.
- Dogs might nip and bite during play. This may be fun for the dog, but it can be dangerous, especially for small children.
- Keep dogs from getting overexcited. Dogs in a higher state of arousal are more likely to bite.
- Avoid being overly boisterous with dogs. Boisterousness can go from fun to frightening in an instant, so ensure that all play is calm for everyone’s safety.
Warning Signs You Should Watch Out For
If a dog is showing any of these behaviours, they’re trying to tell you they feel uncomfortable. Be sensitive to their needs and slowly remove yourself and your children if you see a dog reacting in any of these ways, as they may be about to bite or nip:
- 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
These signs are a serious indicator that you need to give the dog some space. Dogs can bite for many reasons, but often they are telling us they are scared, startled, or are feeling threatened. They also can bite to protect things of value to them, like their puppies, food, or a favourite toy. Older dogs or dogs with chronic painful conditions can also be more likely to bite because they want to be left alone.
Protect your family and keep your dog comfortable by keeping the following in mind:
- Always ask strangers, pet owners, and friends before allowing your child to pet their dog.
- Respect dog’s boundaries. If the dog is telling you that they are not interested in interacting with your child, do not let that child interact. (This goes for dogs you meet on walks or at friends’ homes too)/
- Learn dog body language. Dogs bite when they have exhausted all other options to tell you they aren’t interested in interacting.
- Keep play calm. The calmer everyone is, the safer everyone will be.
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.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.