For the most part dogs are our loveable, goofy, tail-wagging companions and important family members. However, teaching children to be safe around dogs, both those they know and those they don’t, is an important part of being a pet parent.
A dog can help your child develop a sense of responsibility, encourage exercise and provide him or her with endless affection. But when kids and dogs meet, there’s also the potential for danger. And the decision to bring one into your family’s home shouldn’t be taken lightly.
If you’ve decided that Fido will be a positive addition to your family unit but you’ve got safety on your mind, read over our six tips and share them with your family members.
DOG BODY LANGUAGE
Sometimes we forget how easily we read dog body language without even thinking about it. This is a learned skill and children need to be helped to understand when a dog is not friendly. For example when dogs bare their teeth some children can interpret this as a smile. Teach your child what a relaxed and happy dog looks like and avoid any other dog. A wagging tail can just meant the dog is keen to interact, but does not necessarily mean he is happy. In particular an erect, upright, slow wag is a sign a dog is on high alert and should be approached with caution. If a dog yawns, licks his lips or looks away, he does not want to be touched. The following video can be useful to show your children how dogs communicate and they can be quizzed on which dogs are happy and can be approached.
HOW TO APPROACH A DOG
Children should be told to always ask permission before approaching a dog, particularly if that dog is tied up outside a shop. They should never attempt to pat a dog who is eating, sleeping or has a toy. Many dogs are ‘resource guarders’ and will bite if they feel they have to protect their possessions and territory, but are absolutely fine in most other situations. A dog should be approached slowly with a closed hand, giving time for the dog to sniff the back of the hand. If all goes well, the dog can be gently patted on the chest or rubbed under the chin. Avoid the typical pat on the top of the head, as this can be a little daunting for some dogs. The following video demonstrates a ‘consent test’, to determine if a dog wants to be patted.
ESTABLISH WHAT’S ACCEPTABLE
If your children aren’t accustomed to being around a dog, don’t expect that they know how to behave appropriately. Children must be taught what’s acceptable, and understand the importance of changing their behavior based on the dog they are interacting with.Some dogs won’t mind their tail pulled, while others won’t think twice about biting your playful toddler for doing so. Sometimes it’s challenging to teach younger children how to act around dogs. If you need help, consider using the American Humane Association’s KIDS (Kids Interacting with Dogs Safely) program. Ideal for kids, ages 4 to 7, KIDS is a dog-bite prevention program that’s fun, educational and engaging.
KEEP AN ESPECIALLY CLOSE EYE ON TODDLERS
According to the National Canine Research Foundation, 88 percent of 2-year-olds that died as a result of a dog attack were unsupervised when the attack occurred. As your new pet and your kids become acquainted with one another, keep an especially watchful eye on babies and toddlers.
ESTABLISH RULES AND RESPECT
Before your four legged friend joins your home, sit down with your family and brainstorm rules. For buy-in purposes, ask an older child to take charge of writing up your list of dos and don’ts, and be sure to get input from young children. Even preschoolers know it’s wrong to hit, kick or be cruel to a dog in other ways. Remind children that it’s never a good idea to bother a dog while he or she is eating, guarding a toy or sleeping. And while you’re having a family chat, it’s a great time to hash-out who will be responsible for feeding, walking and otherwise caring for your dog’s needs.
Exercising your dog regularly will help him get out excited energy that often results in hyperactivity. And a hyper dog can be a dangerous one, especially for small children who can be knocked down.Older children can be taught how to walk your dog, and younger ones can toss a ball. Start your dog’s exercise program slowly, be sure to include a warm up and cool down period. If you live in a warm climate, be sure he has access to a bowl of water throughout the play period. Your vet can recommend exercises that are appropriate for his breed, age and weight and if you’re curious how much exercise your canine gets throughout the day, consider using a snazzy dog fitness tracker like Whistle.
A dog can bring immeasurable pleasure to your family when you talk to your children about what to expect from your new pet, how to behave around him or her, and make rules that your entire family can abide by. If you have a baby in the house, consider downloading a free copy of the American Humane Association’s guide, ”Pet Meets Baby” for more important safety tips.