The most important thing that parents can teach their children about dog ownership is that dogs are not people. Yes, dogs may be incredibly affectionate and they may follow us around much like humans do, but canines are animals. Animals react instinctively. They will not hesitate to show displeasure by snapping, nipping…or biting.
Children—and adults—should know that it is not unusual for a dog to “seem OK” with a certain behavior that is described under the “Dont’s” section. Like many people, you may not be familiar with a dog’s body language and you may not realize that your dog is upset until he snarls, or worse.
Even if you are sure you can “read” your dog it’s not unheard of for a dog to suddenly decide it won’t tolerate something it has put up with for a while. After countless times of putting up with inappropriate behavior, your dog may decide to let you know it is displeased.
To prevent dog-related injury, there are several rules that should be impressed upon your offspring as soon as they are old enough to learn about safety. Keep in mind that children learn by observing how often you do something: consistency is important.
Follow these rules each time you interact with any dog, including your own. It is recommended that adult supervision take place each time a child is learning to interact with a dog. Explain to the child that accidentally doing things the dog doesn’t like is as wrong (from the dog’s point of view) as doing it on purpose.
– It’s fine to pet a dog’s face on the side or under the chin if it’s done slowly and gently.
– Encourage the child to help you fill the dog’s water dish and to select a special treat for your dog. The child should place the treat in the dog’s dish and back away so the dog can enjoy chewing on his treat without having to become protective about it.
– When you and your child are approaching a dog on the street, always ask the owner for permission before petting the dog. Owners know the dog’s temperament and history with strangers. In addition, the dog will sense that you know who the boss is and won’t feel threatened by you.
– While you’re asking for permission, it’s safest to stare at the owner’s face or at the dog’s paw.
– Stand sideways while petting a dog.
– Do enlist the help of your child if you are training your dog to sit, stand, fetch, lie down, roll over, etc. If you’re good at advanced training, you might show your dog how to play a “find it” game where the dog has to search out and find toys, treats, etc. Children are very patient assistant trainers…and will really enjoy the process.
– Do not ever stare an unfamiliar dog in the eyes. As mentioned above, look at the dog’s paws or at the dog’s owners.
– Do not extend a hand. This may be perceived as threatening.
– Do not hug, kiss, wrestle, grasp, pull, poke, or otherwise engage in rough play with the dog.
– Do not blow air on the dog.
– Do not “dance” with the dog by holding his paws. (It’s generally not a safe bet to hold the dog’s paws for any reason.)
– Do not go up to a dog that has been tied outside a store. Similarly, stay away from dogs that have been placed behind fences or gates or in a car. These dogs are feeling confined; it’s understandable that they will not be in the greatest of moods.
– Don’t approach a dog that is resting or chewing on a toy.
Dogs generally don’t bite without giving warning. Dog bites rarely come out of the blue. As a parent, you would be wise to learn to read a dog’s body language.
To avoid potential bites, watch out for signs that the dog feels stressed. If a dog exhibits any of the following behaviors towards your child, instruct your child to back off from the dog immediately.
– Looking around furtively or actually seeming to have a “wrinkled brow”.
– Snarling. Note: you won’t hear the dog make any sounds when it snarls. When a dog snarls, he lifts his lips and bares his teeth.
– Any sort of mounting behavior towards people.
– Glancing around as if suspicious of his environment
– Pacing up and down, perhaps with intermittent whining, near where the child sleeps.
– Avoiding the child when the child enters the room
– Staring at the child and either barking, whining, cringing or remaining motionless.
– Yawning, lip-licking or stretching after an interaction with your child.
– Whipping the head around in the direction of anyone’s hand when the dog has been touched.
If you, as a parent, model kind, informed treatment of dogs at all times and watch out for signs that your dog is under stress, your child will surely enjoy your dog—and all dogs—without fear of injury for many years to come.