Teaching Your Kids Dog Safety

Protect both your kids and your dog by teaching them how to interact with each other.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly half of American children under age 12 will be bitten by a dog. Those bites are almost always preventable with training both children and dogs how to behave around each other. In fact, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Because most child-dog interactions that result in a bite are initiated by the child, it is important to educate children about how to properly communicate with dogs.” A few simple steps are all it takes to prevent a dog bite.

Supervise All Interactions

Young children and dogs should never be left alone together. According to SafetyAroundDogs.org, “This is arguably the most critical factor in fatal dog attacks on children.” Adults can prevent inappropriate behavior—on either the child’s or the dog’s behalf—and intervene when necessary. Your children should also understand that they are not allowed to interact with dogs without you being present. Teach them to call for you or to find you if they find themselves alone with a dog.

Teach Your Kids Appropriate Behavior

Children need to learn how to approach unfamiliar dogs safely and how to interact with the family pet safely. With unfamiliar dogs, teach your children to ask the person permission to approach rather than rushing up to the dog. Even calm, stable dogs can be terrified of a strange child rushing up with outstretched arms, and that fear can turn into a bite. Approaching a dog head on and reaching for his face can be perceived as threatening. The old method of teaching children to stick their hand in a dog’s face for the dog to sniff is unsafe. Instead, teach children to approach (after getting permission, of course) at an angle and pat the dog’s side.

With the family pet, all interactions should be supervised, and during that supervised time, teach your child how to softly stroke your dog’s side. Kids need to learn never to pull on ears, tails, or toes—no matter how tolerant the dog seems. Never allow your kids to approach your dog when he’s sleeping, eating, or chewing on a toy. Finally, teach your children never to chase your family dog.

Train and Socialize Your Dog

Of course, safe interactions require that your dog be trained and socialized, too. Expose your dog to calm children who have been instructed on safe interactions with kids. If your dog seems uncomfortable around children, work with a positive trainer to help your dog overcome those fears. Plus, teach your dog good manners—things like sit, stay, and come—to help manage his behavior around all strangers, not just children. At home, teach your dog to retreat to a safe space if he feels overwhelmed. A dog bed placed in a quiet corner or a kennel make great options. Just be sure your children understand never to approach your pet when he’s in his safe space.

Meet the Author: Maggie Marton

Maggie is a writer and author, whose first book, Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup was published by Open Air Publishing. When she's not writing (or reading books about grammar), she teaches writing courses to college students and professionals who want to nail down the basics of communication. Outside of work, she hikes, throws dinner parties, plays with her three dogs and cat, and travels as much as possible.

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