Kids are like little sponges - there are always great opportunities to teach them what they should be doing in any given situation. One thing that kids are bound to encounter is dogs! For kids and dogs to exist harmoniously together, it's crucial that all children are taught some basics about dog interaction.
In our profession, we see parents trust kids and dogs together far too easily. Be diligent in training both your dogs and your children. It's crucial for the safety of both. I recently saw a video circulating on Facebook of a small puppy being hauled around by a toddler. The toddler had the puppy by the back leg and was dangling it as he walked. He then proceeded to drop the puppy on a hard floor. Needless to say, the child did not understand what he was doing, but there were at least 2 adults in the room (one seen on camera and one talking while presumably filming). The adults should have prevented this disturbing interaction from happening, but they actually thought it was cute enough to get the camera out. It was horrifying. Children should be guided and taught the right way to interact with dogs in a careful and kind manner.
Some guidelines to follow:
Always Ask Permission
When greeting any dog, whether they are new to the child or an old friend, always ask permission! We usually know if a friend or family member's dog is friendly. We usually know if we can trust our children and this dog together, however it's not always black and white like that - even with a well known dog. Even if the child and dog are old friends, teaching your kids to ask permission to say hello will force adults to pay attention to the situation in front of them. So often, it's easy to get distracted and not realize what's happening. If we teach children to get our attention when they want to interact with the dog, this could possibly prevent a bite.
After a dog bites, we often hear, "he'd never done anything like that before," and that could very well be true. Even the most child friendly dog has a bad day. They may be sore or not feeling well. Asking permission will allow the owner to inform the youngster if there is a reason they shouldn't be interacting with the dog that day.
How To Greet
The approach to any dog should be cautious from all people, regardless of their age. Teaching a child not to stare at the dog and to gently offer the back of their hand for sniffing first will show you if the dog is happy to greet the child or unsure at all. Children should be taught to say hello ONLY after the owner and the dog have given the all clear. A soft touch on the side of the face or body, rather than over the head, is the proper way to touch.
Dealing With a Loose Dog
It will happen to them at some point, so teach your child how to avoid danger in the scenario where a loose dog approaches. Remind them to "be a tree." They should stand calm and tall, looking down to the ground and folding their arms and fingers in front of them. They should stand still until the dog leaves.
Never Approach a Tied or Cornered Dog
This is a crucial lesson to be taught to every child. If a dog is tied, or in a situation where they can't get away, they need to be left alone. Even with permission, this is not a good situation to put a dog into. Dogs have a "fight or flight" response, meaning if they are under pressure and they can't flee, they will be forced to bite. If a dog is tied up or cornered in any way, teach kids to stay away.
Other Life Lessons
It's so important that children are taught to be gentle and kind with all animals. Toddlers have a tendency to be sudden and sharp in their movements. This is partly due to a lack of coordination and movements that are yet to develop. Teaching toddlers to be gentle is a valuable lesson that will help them learn patience and empathy towards animals.
Here's to a young life, shared safely with the company of animals.
Check out this Dog Walk & Training Talk video that offers planning tips for interactions between kids and dogs.