Children and Dogs – How to Keep Interactions Safe

Children and dogs can be great, lifelong friends, but it is up to us as their guardians to keep their interactions safe. Children may not be able to read a dog’s stressed body language, and injuries can occur. Many common problems are avoidable.

Helpful tips
Adopt or foster a dog who likes children. Your adoption or foster counselor can help; they may have information about a dog’s experience with children from a previous home. But remember, that previous exposure to children doesn’t guarantee that a dog will be safe around your child. It’s always a good idea to have your children meet the dog prior to taking them home.
Create a safe and comfortable home for your kids and your dog. Your dog needs a quiet place to stay away from noises and activity during their downtime.
– Use a crate or gates to create child-free zones for your dog.
– Teach children to stay away from your dog when it’s in the child-free zone.
– Avoid cornering your dog, especially children.
– Make sure that your dog has an escape route, and can get away from kids if they want. Don’t force them to interact.
Closely supervise interactions between your child and dog, intervening if necessary. Being in the same room is not supervision – you must watch your children with your dog at all times. Your dog should be in their “child-free zone” when you are trying to multitask. Children have good intentions, but your dog might not see it that way. Learn to read your dog’s stress signals and body language. Intervene if your dog displays any of the following:
– Avoiding your children
– Cowering
– Licking their lips when no food is nearby
– Panting when not hot or thirsty
– Moving in slow motion, walking slowly when near children
– Growling
– Hiding or attempting to hide
– Acting sleepy and yawning when not tired
– Moving away, looking away
– Pacing
– Hyper-vigilant, darting eyes, looking quickly in many directions
Teach kids how to interact with your dog. Always have children invite your dog to approach them, rather than having children approach your dog. If your dog chooses not to approach, children should leave them alone. Remind children to not grab or squeeze your dog, as these actions can hurt. Accidents can happen really quickly, so children shouldn’t play games like chase, wrestling or tug. Teach your children not to put their faces right in your dog’s face and that most dogs don’t like hugs.
Don’t forget to let children help with age appropriate dog chores!
The key to safety around dogs is prevention. Be proactive.
If you feel uncomfortable with your dog’s behavior around your children ask for help! Your adoption/shelter organization or foster coordinator may have further suggestions, or contact a positive reinforcement trainer or veterinary behaviorist.
For more information, visit Family Paws® Parent Education.
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