Teaching Children How to Safely Interact With Dogs

How Kids Should Treat Dogs

African american girl outdoors on skateboard with her dog.
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Safe interactions between kids and dogs are what every dog-loving parent wants. You may know all about dog bite prevention. You know better than to leave young children and dogs alone together. You have probably even child-proofed your dog. But have you trained your children too?

Every child should learn how to act around dogs, even if you do not have a dog at home. Many children are naturally drawn to dogs. Unfortunately, without the proper tools, kids may not know how to properly behave in order to keep themselves safe. Here is what all parents should teach their kids about respecting dogs and protecting themselves:

Approaching Dogs

  1. Never approach a dog without permission. Always ask your parent first, then the dog's owner if you can approach a dog. Never approach a dog if there is no adult present!
  2. Never approach a dog that appears anxious, stressed or fearful. You can usually tell by looking for appeasement gestures or reading body language.
  3. Do not run towards a dog. If you are allowed to go meet a dog, approach slowly.
  4. Do not invade the dog's personal space. Instead, let the dog come to you part of the way.
  5. Hold out the back of your closed hand slightly towards the dog, but not in his face. Let him sniff you. Stoop down to the dog's level if needed (mainly with smaller dogs).
  6. Never approach a dog when he is eating. Avoid getting close to a dog that is chewing on a treat or toy. 
  7. Try not to approach sleeping dogs, as they may easily startle.

Petting Dogs

  1. Start by softly petting the dog's chin or chest. Gentle scratching is also fine.
  2. Avoid bringing your hands over the face and head.
  3. If soft petting/scratching of the chin/chest is tolerated, you can gently pet or scratch the neck and back. Go in the direction of the fur.
  4. Stop petting if the dog backs away, snaps, growls or demonstrates appeasement gestures or fearful body language.

General Behavior Around Dogs

  1. NEVER pull a dog's ears or tail. Also, try not to grab the feet.
  2. Avoid hugging dogs. This makes many dogs uncomfortable. If a dog feels threatened enough to bite, your head is dangerously close (the "bite zone").
  3. Avoid putting your face close to a dog's face. This may invade the dog's personal space. Plus, your face is right there in the "bite zone."
  4. Avoid running away from dogs. This may evoke a predatory response. Don't forget, dogs most dogs have some predatory instinct (some more than others).
  5. Avoid yelling or screaming around dogs. Excessive noise can scare or excite some dogs and may just annoy others.

Avoiding Danger

If you see a strange dog wandering without a leash and owner, do not approach the dog. If the dog comes towards you, try very hard not to scream or run. Instead, act like a tree: stand still, remain calm. Do not make eye contact with the dog. If the dog keeps approaching, use the deepest voice possible to say "No! Go home!" (loudly, but without yelling). If the dog stops approaching you, slowly back away until you can find an adult to help you.

If any dog (even one you know) shows aggression (begins to growl, snarl or snap at you), stop what you are doing and freeze. Put your hands behind your back and stop making eye contact. Call an adult for help as soon as you can.