There are many benefits to owning a family dog. They can keep your family active, teach your children responsibility and empathy, and according to recent studies, may even reduce the likelihood of your children developing allergies. Although kids and dogs may seem like an obvious pair, there are some important things to remember to ensure everyone remains happy and healthy. Follow these tips to teach your children how to be safe around dogs, whether they are in your home or out for a walk around the block:
TIPS FOR ADULTS:
- Never leave dogs and children alone together: No matter the breed of the dog or how well trained they may be, you should never trust a dog and a child alone together. Keep a close eye on your dog and remove them from the room if they are being bothered or appear uncomfortable.
If your child is visiting a friend’s house where there is a dog, ensure the adults in the home are as diligent about supervising the interactions between your child and their dog as you would be.
- Train your dog: You can greatly reduce your risk of negative behavior by ensuring your dog is properly trained. Take your dog to obedience classes and involve older children in the training whenever possible. Making sure everyone in your house is following the same rules when it comes to your dog will help him/her know exactly what is expected of them.
It’s also a good idea to condition your dog to common actions of children. For example, gently tugging on your dog’s ears and tail, and playing with their feet and mouth will ensure they will not react if your child happens to do the same.
- Teach your children how to interact with dogs: Make sure your children know they must ask to pet a new or unfamiliar dog before interacting with it. Once they’ve been given the okay, show them how to approach and pet the dog. Review the tips covered in this article with your child whenever they come into contact with a new dog.
- Separate your children and dog when either of them is eating: Dogs can be very protective of food and breeds with a high food drive can have tunnel vision when food is around. To be safe, feed your dog in a private room, away from family activities, and put them in the same room or a crate during family meals. Never let your children play with or near your dog’s food or water dishes either.
Although not interacting with your dog while it is eating may be a strict rule in your house, children might forget. Ensure your dog is comfortable with you petting them and putting your hand in their bowl in the event that your child ever forgets the rules. Work on this while your children are not in the same room to ensure they don’t see you and think it is acceptable behavior.
- Watch your dog: Dogs are pretty good at showing when they are uncomfortable. If they try to walk away, let them and ensure your child does not follow. Your dog will return in its own time. In addition, if you notice your dog lifting their lips, growling, backing up or raising the hair on their back, ask your child to walk away and allow your dog to find a quiet spot to take a break.
- Spay/neuter your dog: Dog bites are most common among dogs who have not been altered. Spaying or neutering your dog will result in calmer, less aggressive behaviour.
- Ensure your dog has a quiet place of their own: We all deserve a quiet space to call our own. Ensuring your dog has a comfortable space away from all the hustle and bustle of your family life will allow them to retreat when they need some peace.
- Avoid using your hand as a toy when playing and don’t use tug toys: “Using your hand as a toy may inadvertently teach your dog or cat that it’s okay to play-bite, chase or paw at your hands,” warns Dr. Chip. In addition, tug toys can encourage dominant or aggressive behaviour.
- Practice what you preach: Children learn the most by observing the actions you take. Teach your child to treat all animals gently and kindly.
TIPS FOR CHILDREN:
- Always ask before you pet: Before you say hello to any dog, ask the owner if it’s alright. Not all dogs are friendly and you want to give them a chance to warm up to you before petting them. If their owner says it’s okay to say hello, hold out your hand for the dog to smell it. If they move towards it and are wagging their tail, it’s okay to pet them.
- Never approach a dog while it is eating or drinking: Dogs prefer to eat alone and can be protective of their food. To keep safe, stay at least 5 feet away from your dog while it is eating. If a dog steals your snack or toy, call an adult instead of trying to get it back on your own.
- Never wake a sleeping dog or sneak up on them: Dogs get scared too! Approach dogs slowly from their side and avoid contact until you are sure they know you are there.
- Be calm around dogs: Do not jump or scream around dogs as you may accidently scare or hurt them. You should never pull a dog’s tail, pull their fur, or poke their eyes or face either.
- Avoid playing with dogs who are overexcited: Hyper dogs may hurt you by accident. The best time to pet a dog is when they are sitting or lying down calmly.
- Avoid hugging and kissing dogs: Although dogs love to have their belly or back rubbed, they don’t like to be hugged or kissed. It’s important to avoid getting too close to a dog’s face, especially if you don’t know them.
- Never approach a strange dog: If you think a dog is lost, ask an adult for help and do not approach them. If a strange dog approaches you, pretend you’re a tree by standing very still. The dog will eventually get bored and walk away.
- Don’t run away from a growling dog: This will make them want to chase you. Instead, stand still, remain calm, avoid eye contact, and wait for help.
Dogs ultimately want to be included in family activities, but just like the people in your house, they need alone time as well. It’s important to respect their space and limitations, while also showering them with as much love and affection as they request.