Dogs can be unpredictable. Their social language can be completely different when compared to the way humans communicate, and this is particularly important to keep in mind for pet owners with small kids in the household. While some breeds are better with kids than others, all dogs should be treated with some safety rules in mind.
Recent studies have observed that children are the number one victim of canine attacks, which makes our dogs the 2nd most dangerous (nonvenomous) animal in America. Sadly, statistics show that 77% of dog bites are from a dog that the child knows; sometimes this has to do with dog aggression issues, and other times it's because children do not know how to behave around dogs.
If you're a pet owner with small children in the house, or you often find yourself and your kids around dogs (e.g. living next to dog parks, or in an area with many dog owners), to keep your kids as safe as possible, teach them what they need to know about dog safety. Here are 17 ways and things to teach so you can keep your child safe.
17 Ways to Keep Your Child Safe Around Dogs
1. Asking Permission
When your child approaches a dog they don’t know, or one they don’t see very often, they should always ask the owner if they can pet it. Dog owners never want to see their dog hurt a child. If their canine is grouchy or sick, they will usually let you know. Kids approaching stranger dogs without permission is a common problem (especially in or near dog parks), and many parents as well as dog owners have complained about it in their shared stories.
2. Careful Approach
For dogs, eye to eye contact means that someone is challenging them. Experts have now figured out the best way to come up to a dog and ensure everyone's safety. Here's it is in a nutshell: when approaching a stranger dog, the person should always keep their eyes averted. If it is a friendly dog, tell your kid to simply keep the gaze relaxed. Your child can look at the dog’s feet, nose, etc. They should not maintain constant eye contact.
3. Safe Distance
Canines do not like to have someone’s face in their face. Similar to the above, it's a sign of threat for the dog. If you think about it, neither do most humans enjoy that kind of close contact. When your child is interacting with a dog, they want to keep some distance between them and the pup until it's clear that it's safe (such as with a long-time family pet). Normally, you should not let your kid too close to dogs, or talk loudly.
4. Respect the Dog
There are certain behavioral rules that kids need to know before they greet a dog and before you bring a dog home. Kids will be kids, and sometimes they do not understand the dos and don'ts of interacting with pets. For example, no one should ever pull a dog’s tail, pull their ears, or treat them like a rag doll. Just like you would eventually get tired of it, so would a pooch. When dogs are tired of something, they may bite.
5. No Meal Interruptions
Canines should never be approached when consuming food, and especially so at the food bowl. This applies to anytime the dog is eating anything, whether it's a small treat or his dinner. A lot of dogs are possessive about their food or chew bones. If they see someone as a threat, they will act by growling and even bite, particularly if it's a small child that approaches the dog. Resource guarding can be a canine behavioral problem that needs fixing, but it's something that all kids should keep in mind.
6. Sharing and Playing
Some pups just don’t want to share. If they have a toy, they may not want someone to come up and take it from them. While a kid may be trying to play, the dog may not take it that way. Unless it is a family pet that you know likes to play fetch, kids should wait for the dog to bring the toy to them, or have you set up the playground (with you supervising both the kid and the dog).
7. Dogs Need Space
Pets can also get overwhelmed by the surroundings and seek out a place to rest. When a dog goes to their bed, their kennel, or under a bed, it means that they are trying to find a spot they feel comfortable in. Dog crates are often their sanctuary. No one should ever chase after any canine trying to hide away, nor should they try to pull the dog out of the hiding place. This usually leads to a bite.
8. Aggressive Dogs
Speaking of safety precautions when dealing with aggressive dogs on the street, when approached by a strange dog that is growling, the child must to know to look down and to remain perfectly still. If your kid is on the ground, tell them to curl into a ball and remain still. If they are standing, they need to remain still with arms down and look at their shoes. Never run – aggressive dogs will chase, catch and attack.
9. Chained Dogs
Dogs that are on chains or in cages usually feel threatened. They are in a position that they can’t get out of, and this can make them feel scared. Moreover, while that's not always the case, sometimes dogs who are on the chains at all times are also likely abused and mistreated, which makes them more aggressive. Without exceptions, a child should never approach a dog that is tied up, chained up, or caged.
10. Misleading Signs
Contrary to popular belief, a wagging tail does not always mean a friendly dog. Scientific data shows many different meanings for why dogs wag tails, but it's not what movies will let you believe. Usually, when a pooch wags their tail it means they are excited, but excitement can be good or bad. They may have nervous excitement which means they are fearful and uncomfortable. Even anger is an excited state that may lead to tail wagging on occasion.
11. Aggressive Play
Kids need to know that they should never play aggressively with a dog. If they start wrestling with it, pushing it, “play” hitting it, the canine may get confused and will then feel like he can play that way too. This may lead to a dog biting or scratching in play or just getting fed up and biting to make the playtime stop. It's fine for dogs to play aggressively like this between themselves, but a kid can easily be hurt in the process.
12. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Under no circumstances should a child disturb a sleeping dog. This will often lead to a dog bite. Imagine if you are in the middle of a good sleep. All of a sudden, someone grabs you and starts to yank you out of bed. How would you feel? That is how a dog feels. When the dog feels that way, they may bite. Teach a child to never approach a dog that is sleeping.
13. Security Precautions
Because dogs are still unpredictable animals, when you're a dog owner, it is your responsibility to make sure others in the household are safe, particularly when there are small children around. Depending on the situation, your kids and your dogs, sometimes when your pooch is outside, he may need to be in an outdoor playpen. Have a gate that locks so kids can’t get in without your permission. No matter how friendly your dog is, always have “Beware of Dog” signs so neighbors are informed.
While people say hello by shaking hands or hugging, scientists say that a dog says hello by smelling others. When it's safe to do so, children should always get down to the animal's level and then let a canine smell their hand before they touch the dog. Teach them to slowly hold out their hand, fingers, and palm pointing down, and let the dog come to them. Don’t push your hand toward the dog.
15. Socializing Dogs
Teaching your dog how to behave around kids is important, and socialization is one of the most crucial aspects of dog training/ownership. Any pet owner must always socialize their dog without exceptions. This is for the safety of both the canine and those around.
Your pooch should have an opportunity to interact with strangers, other animals and especially kids. That way the dog is familiar, not scared or insecure around “small humans.” Always supervise these encounters so that you can help kids approach your dog when you are sure the dog is comfortable with it.
16. Avoid Stray Dogs
Teach your children to absolutely never approach a strange dog on the street. If they see a stray dog, they should back away slowly and inform an adult. They shouldn’t run or scream. This only attracts the attention of the canine. Likewise, they should not try to pet or feed it, and especially play with a stray dog.
17. Body Language
Teach your kids the basics of dog body language. The most important one to know is aggressive or annoyed dog, as well as an animal who's not interested in human contact. When a dog’s tail is between the legs, his ears are flat and back, and his mouth is tense and closed, this means they do not want to be played with. A dog that is ready for some loving is relaxed, calm, and open, which is easy to tell.
By far, dogs can be one of the best companions, friends and guardians for a growing child. There's a number of studies that have already proven all the benefits pets have on kids, and more research is coming out. With that said, dogs are still animals and maintaining safety precautions, particularly for a kid who can be easily harmed, remains the first priority for a parent/pet owner.
If you and your family follow the above common safety rules, it will drastically reduce the chances of any of your loved ones being bit by a dog. There are many materials that can be printed that will help the young ones in your family understand canine body language and dog safety tips. Here are some of the best free resources for parents and pet owners you should look into:
- FREE resources for dog owners with kids
- “Stop The 77” awareness program
- 10 Best Books for Dog Owners with Kids
- Kids vs Dogs – downloadable posters
- Children and dogs safety guide (PDF)
Using the above resources will make it much easier to know what to expect from a kid who's approaching dogs, and what to tell your children in advance to avoid any issues. A few of those recommended books are fantastic for parents that are pet owners, and you can also print out some of the posters for free and hang them in your child's room as reminders for how to behave around dogs.