Dogs & Kids

“Dog-proofing” Your Child

A household with a pet can be beneficial to a child, however, kids and pets do not always automatically start off with a wonderful relationship. YOU need to teach your CHILD as well as your dog how to interact properly. Children many times exhibit behaviors that confuse, frighten or provoke a dog’s natural reactions, resulting in a nip or bite. This does not mean that the dog is bad and should be destroyed. It means that your child needs to learn how to behave around dogs and your dog needs to learn what is appropriate behavior and what is not. Both can be accomplished and harmony achieved if you remember:

  • Children should never be left alone with a dog without adult supervision. When encountering a dog other than the family pet, a child should ask permission from the owner before petting the dog. A dog who is friendly when an owner is around may not be when alone.
  • Children often want to hug dogs around the neck. Your dog may view this as a threatening gesture, rather than an affectionate one, and may react with a growl, snap or bite. You should teach your child to pet your dog from underneath the dog’s chin, rather than hugging him or reaching over his head. You should also teach your child to avoid staring at, or looking directly into, your dog’s eyes.
  • Children tend to become somewhat fearful and anxious when a dog tries to take a treat from their hand. This causes them to jerk their hand away at the last second. The dog may then jump up or lunge to get the treat which may result in the child being knocked down. Have your child place the treat in an open palm, rather than holding it in his fingers.
  • Children move with quick, jerky movements, have high-pitched voices and often run, rather than walk. All of these behaviors somewhat resemble the behavior of prey animals. Almost all of a dog’s play behaviors are based on predatory behavior. Consequently, your dog may respond to your child’s behavior by chasing him, nipping at his heels, jumping up at him or even trying to knock him down.
  • Children often exhibit rough behavior or play. If you have a puppy or new dog, your child should learn to play quietly around the dog until the animal adapts to his surroundings and becomes more comfortable.

Taking an obedience class together is a good way to teach your dog to respond to commands. An approach that is not helpful is to punish your dog for his behavior. If he learns that being around children always results in “bad things” happening to him, he may become defensive in their presence.

Dogs don’t know the difference between their toys and your children’s toys unless you teach him. Your child needs to take responsibility for keeping his playthings out of your dog’s reach. If, and only if, you catch your dog chewing on something he shouldn’t, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise, then give him an acceptable chew toy and praise him lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.

Don’t give your dog objects to play with such as old socks, old shoes or old children’s toys that closely resemble items that are off-limits. They can’t tell the difference! Dogs can be possessive about their food, toys and space. Although it’s normal for a dog to growl or snap to protect these items, it’s not acceptable. At the same time, children need to learn to respect their dog as a living creature who is not to be teased or purposefully hurt and who needs time to himself .

Most kids are, well… LOUD. This can frighten some dogs. Teach your child to speak calmly around dogs. Most animals are soothed by a soft voice.

DON’T STARE!! In dog language, staring is a threat. When children interact with dogs, they are at “eye level”(and mouth level) with a lot of them. While many dogs don’t mind some eye contact, some will take staring as a threat. Never allow your children to “stare down” a dog. If you are ever confronted by a dog that is aggressive, look away! If you stare, you’ll be asking for a fight!

Many people think their own dogs or the family pet is somehow different – that they’re not a “dog”, but a person and as such, thinks like a person. Remember, a dog is a DOG and it is your responsibility as an adult to supervise the interaction between a child and a dog, whether in your own home or anywhere else.

Most dogs are gentle and the vast majority of interactions between children and dogs are happy ones. Teaching your child how to act around dogs simply makes good sense for everyone involved. Remember, most dog bites can be prevented!

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