Teaching your child how to interact with dogs is incredibly important, even if you don’t have a dog in your own home. By letting them know what’s okay and what’s not from an early age, you’ll allow them to experience all the joy dogs can bring without the fear many children experience.
But how should you go about this? What are behaviors we should encourage and what are ones that we need to teach our children to avoid? Read on, and we’ll cover all that and more!
What to Avoid
Patience is key when teaching your child how to interact with dogs for the first time. Kids may be a bit overzealous when meeting a dog, so you’ll want to make sure you teach them that dogs can feel pain just like they can.
Don’t Be Rough: Never let your child hit, kick, poke, or push the dog. The best way to instill this is through teaching empathy. Let your child know that they wouldn’t like it if someone hit, kicked, poked, or pushed them.
Don’t Invade Space: Teach your child not to invade the dog’s space. Don’t let your child interact with a dog while it’s sleeping, eating, or drinking. Let them know they wouldn’t like it if a dog stuck its paws in their meal or bothered on them while they were sleeping.
Don’t Yell or Surprise: Never allow your child to run or scream at the dog. Your child should know that a dog’s hearing is much more sensitive than a human’s, and shouting can sometimes be painful for dogs.
Don’t Leave Them Alone: Never leave younger children alone with a dog, no matter how trustworthy you think the dog is. Baby gates are a simple and effective way to keep them separated. Older children are okay to be left alone if they’ve proven they’re ready and the dog is known to you.
Don’t Stare: Teach your child to avoid making direct eye contact with any dogs. This can be unsettling for the dog and may cause it to become aggressive.
If your child does any of these things – even after you’ve taught them not to – separate the dog and child immediately. Let the child know that they cannot have contact with the dog until they behave properly.
What to Teach Instead
Kids are known for their short attention spans, and your lessons may not stick at first. Using reason as your main teaching tactic, try to get your child to see the dog as a little person or a member of the family. That way, your child will be able to relate to the dog and develop respect for it.
Be Calm: The first lesson your child should learn about interacting with dogs is to always stay calm. Dogs may startle easily and react suddenly, especially toward a rambunctious child. Teach them to stand very still and always make slow movements when interacting with dogs.
Approach From Side: Your child should always approach a dog from the side. Teach them through example; tell them they’d be scared if someone suddenly walked up behind them.
Give Rewards: Always supervise your child whenever they interact with a dog. Allow your child to give the dog treats and stroke it lightly, avoiding any sensitive spots like the belly and the underside of the paws. Practice giving your child rewards and your dogs treats when they behave properly.
Play Games: Let your child play games with the dog so they can develop a bond. Some good game ideas are hide-and-seek and fetch. Just keep a close eye to make sure your dog is not jumping up on your child and being too rough.
Give Commands: If your dog is trained, allow your kids to give the dog commands like “sit” and “stay” and treats when it obeys. Your dog should always associate your child with positive or calm behavior.
Watch For Cues: Teach your child about dog body language. In addition to treating the dog like a loved family member, your child should be able to recognize when a dog is feeling stressed out, angry, or upset.
Stay Calm: Finally, you’ll want to teach your child what to do if they encounter an aggressive dog. Screaming, crying, or running away may only worsen the situation and anger the dog; teach your child to be calm and still. You (or the child’s supervisor) should get the child out of that situation immediately.
Kids and Dogs can be Best Friends
Everything is worth the training and teaching when you see your dog and kids grow together as best friends. Imagine how much joy their friendship could bring to the family!
With a little bit of patience and planning, your child can avoid bad or even dangerous encounters with dogs. However, if you think your dog is lashing out toward your child even though they’re following the rules, seek the advice of a dog behaviorist.