Teaching kids how to appropriately interact with animals is crucial to keeping both them and our pets safe. And this is particularly important when it comes to dogs since they exist in many of our human spaces.
Not understanding how to behave around our precious pups can be disastrous, with misunderstandings or negative interactions potentially causing harm to both child and animal.
Most kids will gravitate to any pooch in their proximity. But without the proper tools, they may not know how to keep themselves out of harms way. Of course, owners can train their dogs how to behave around kids too. But it's ultimately up to parents and guardians to teach their children the proper etiquette around our canine companions, their own and others.
So, here are a few tips for teaching children how to behave around dogs.
Like us, dogs need their personal space. And there are particular situations when this is very important, like mealtime and rest. So, teach kids to give a pup some time out while they eat and nap.
Knowing your dog means understanding their personality and which behaviours will stress them out. Or even hype them up. These personality traits can also determine character, something which is correct in most living creatures. So, it's essential kids avoid any pet they aren't familiar with, regardless of cuteness, unless an adult is present.
Children should never approach an unfamiliar pup without permission. Make sure they always ask a parent and also, a dog's owner before petting any animal.
It's also important they understand how scary it can be for a dog to see a child running towards it. A friendly, calm approach plus allowing the dog to move towards you a little will give them the chance to check out your scent. If the dog starts walking away, it likely isn't keen on saying hello and doesn't want a pat. So it's best to give these dogs a respectful distance and leave them alone.
When you're confident that a dog is friendly and wants attention, allow your child to let the dog sniff their hand. Stooping down for smaller dogs will make them feel more secure- again make sure you get the ok from an owner first.
Don't feel bad if you're not comfortable with a child patting your dog. It's a good lesson that not every dog is happy to have attention. Perhaps explain that your dog is a bit shy or nervous around people. And as a parent or guardian be mindful of dogs that seem anxious or scared around strangers. You can teach children some of the primary signs to look for.
Bad situations between pets and kids can usually be avoided. Teaching your child when your dog is upset or irritated can prevent any conflict in the home. This can be a little difficult with dogs you don't know, but they can learn some of the familiar cues from interactions with their own pets.
Growling and baring teeth don't always indicate an aggressive dog but often mean a pooch needs time and space. If it's a dog you don't know, then discourage your child from going closer. If it's in the home, figure out what your child is doing and teach them how to interact with the dog more positively.
And an understanding of body language is essential in our dog-human relationships, tail wagging or whining, for instance, is your dog's way of communicating.
Whether you're new to dog ownership or had pets your whole life, a few general rules will help keep your family safe.
If the dog is a family pet, this will be easier to put into practice. Teaching children that a dog's tail, ears, or fur aren't toys may seem obvious, but children often explore with their hands and don't know any better until a grown-up explains it.
It's the same with things like hugging, biting, or pinching. Kids do these things to each other, but they need to understand that the immediate consequences of doing them to a dog may be very different.
Instead, show them the best way to pet a dog. For instance, softly scratching a dogs chin or chest is generally acceptable. Once comfortable, a dog will often show his tummy for a rub, and a neck or back scratch is generally a dogs favourite. On the other hand, they may not like being touched on the head and or around the eye area. And always stroke a dog in the direction of the fur.
If a dog growls or demonstrates fear through body language, leave them alone. And it's always best not to invade a dog's personal space with face to face contact.
Also, running away from dogs can evoke their instinct to chase. Try to develop positivity and confidence around animals to avoid such situations.
Dogs get stressed out by yelling and screaming. It can be scary for some and over-excite others. At the very least, it's just annoying for many. So encourage quiet and calm around pups.
The bottom line
Be the example and show your kids how to behave around any canine. And be sure to supervise their play with all animals.
Once children understand how to interact with a pet, they can play safely and confidently. Then you can teach them how to instigate games like fetch and encourage them to be part of your dogs exercise routine. Hide and seek, for example, is an excellent way for dogs to practise their search and rescue skills and can be great fun for the whole family.
Ensure that your puppy has lots of positive associations with kids too. For instance, let children give food rewards for your dog's calm and positive behaviours. All of these suggestions help our kids understand and respect that though our pups are part of the family, they also need boundaries.