Dogs and Children: Is your child safe for dogs?

Children and dogs can have amazing interactions and relationships with each other. Kids often flock to passing dogs, instantly enchanted. I’ve had more than one child walk up and declare undying love for the dog I’m walking (often the Newfoundland- he’s the world’s pet, it seems). Maybe you're thinking about adding a dog to your family, but are unsure how to prepare your children for the new arrival. Or, perhaps you want your dog to be comfortable and friendly with children.

While we want to nurture these relationships, we need to make sure that children are always safe while interacting with dogs. Afterall, the CDC states that 1 in every 50 individuals will suffer to a dog bite, and the odds of that victim being a child are 3 to 1. But there are ways to make children safe for dogs, and vice versa.

Teaching children from a very young age how to interact with dogs, whether family pets or ones they meet in the park, is the best way to ensure that they will be the animal lovers of the next generation.

Some simple rules for people:

  1. Never run up to or past a dog. Dogs naturally love to chase things! The sudden movement of a small creature in their direction may be unusual and startling, frighten them, and even provoke prey drive in some breeds.

  2. Always ask permission to pet the dog. Unfortunately, not all dogs are friendly with children, even if they appear to be! Please ask the owner before touching any dog you don't know.

  3. Hold out a fist to let the dog sniff- while an open hand is most common, in the unlikely case the dog does try to bite, a fist is much harder to get into a mouth than a flat hand. This method also protects the fingers if the dog does nip.

  4. Face off! While petting a dog, make sure the child isn't staring directly into his eyes or putting her face too close to the dog’s. Both of these can be perceived as a threat to dog.

  5. Learn a dog voice. Teach children not to scream or yell while run passing a dog. This behavior can over-stimulate a dog and lead to fearful or even aggressive reactions. A calm and quiet voice should be used whenever the kids are around dogs.

  6. Practice gentle petting. Instruct children how to properly pet a dog. Make sure they understand that pinching, or pulling fur can hurt. Practice on stuffed animals, making sure they avoid the ears, eyes and tail. Gentle pets on the back or shoulder are a good way to start.

  7. The dog should always have a place of his own. This can be a crate or even a laundry room where he can go to escape the boisterous attention of the children. Teach them to respect his space and do NOT allow them to enter his area.

  8. Never approach a dog while he is eating, sleeping or chewing a toy. This is common sense: he may be protective of his things. In the case of a sleeping dog, when awoken he may startle and react before he knows what is going on.

Guidelines for making your dog "child safe:"

  1. Socialize! Make sure your pup is socialized around children while young, so he feels comfortable around all sorts of people as well as other animals. Expose your puppy to a variety of situations, a little at a time and under controlled circumstances where you know he won't feel threatened. Make sure to continue that exposure on a regular basis as your dog grows.

  2. Basic training. Teach your dog the basic commands using positive reinforcement. "Sit," "No" and "Come" are necessary. Teaching your dog to listen to you will ensure your safety as well as his and will build a bond between the two of you. Avoid aggressive games like tug-of-war or rough housing with your dog.

  3. Neuter your pet. The fact is, neutered dogs are less likely to bite. Be a responsible pet owner and make the choice that is safer for both your children and your dog! Neutering also prevents many health issues in the long run.

When you think of a good ‘family dog,’ a Labrador or Golden Retriever probably comes to mind. It’s true, they are- but almost any breed will make an excellent addition to your family. Unless a dog is inherently fearful or aggressive, teaching both him and your child(ren) how to behave with each other will turn even the most menacing-looking canine into an excellent family companion. When I was 3, my first dog- a Rottweiler- put up with my attempts to ride her around like a pony, among other things.

Having a dog that takes children in stride, being able to let him meet and play with kids in confidence, is wonderful (unless you don’t like kids, but then you wouldn’t have read this far). Watching your child play catch with your dog in the yard, or capturing them catching a ‘catnap’ together is priceless. There is potential for a wonderful bond between your child and a dog that considers himself to be your family’s guardian and companion. This relationship will be nurtured by teaching children how to behave safely while in the presence of their canine friends.

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