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How to Teach Young Children to Behave Around Dogs

Are you living with kids and dogs or regularly meeting other pets? Protect your child from unwanted bites by teaching them dog stress cues and proper play.

How to Teach Young Children to Behave Around Dogs

Whether living with kids and dogs or regularly encountering others' pets, teaching your children how to interact with hounds is essential to their safety. Unfortunately, young children are more at risk for dog bites than any other age group.

You can establish a friendly bond between children and pets by educating youngsters on how to approach unfamiliar dogs with respect and caution. From a young age, your baby can be guided on the best way to play with furry friends. 

How to teach a child to play with a puppy

Puppies and babies have a lot in common. They're messy, noisy, enthusiastic, and can bring great joy to those around them. But more importantly, they're learning to socialize in appropriate ways. Teach your baby how to engage with their new buddy. 

  • Train them to use soft and gentle hands
  • Discourage ear pulling, climbing, and tail grabbing that may hurt your puppy and cause them to snap
  • Use phrases like: "Puppy is not a toy! Here is something you can play with instead"
  • Introduce games they can play together, like playing with a ball or tugging on a rope
  • No hugging; instead, encourage a friendly petting

Involve your child in training and care

Regular socializing with pets will help your child read a dog's body language and learn gentle care for a pet. You can encourage a friendly bond when you involve your child in puppy training and age-appropriate dog care.

Your little helper will become more intuitive toward the pet's stress or pleasure cues when they're regularly involved in the chores around keeping a pet. Your baby or toddler will also learn by your example how to treat and respect dogs and cats. 

Sign up for dog or puppy training classes for the whole family

Some puppy and dog training schools offer classes for the whole family or young kids. Some schools even provide the pups, so if you don't have a dog of your own, your child can still learn how to appropriately approach, treat, train and care for a pet.

Add puppy training school to your family's bucket list for the holidays.

Teach dog language and how to understand their cues

Educating young kids on a dog's body language, facial expressions, and verbal cues is essential. When your toddler can recognize your dog's behavioral signals, they're one step closer to being safe around all pets.  

Here are some obvious stress signals in dogs:

  • The dog is running away
  • Nose-licking
  • Turning away
  • Freezing
  • Crouching
  • Tail tucked between legs
  • Snarling or growling
  • Yawning
  • Showing teeth
  • Hard, cold stare
  • Wide eyes where you can see the white of the eye
  • Low tail wag to the left or twitching straight up in the air

You can also tell your little one how to know when a dog is happy and approachable by pointing out relaxed behavior:

  • Helicopter tail wag (enthusiastic and spinning around)
  • Play bow (Image a downward-dog yoga pose)
  • A more submissive grin that doesn't bare teeth
  • Soft, relaxed eyes
  • Eye contact

Always supervise babies and big dogs

Your baby is learning. Part of how children comprehend the world is by being curious. A big dog, even the most gentle breed, may seem like a fun playground and climbing surface. Even a peaceful dog breed can harm your child if taunted or hurt. Always keep your eyes on your child when playing with big dogs or small breeds unfamiliar to children. 

You're a busy person, so we know that sometimes you need to tend to dinner or grab some matcha tea. Set your child in a high chair or ask another adult to supervise your baby around a dog when you need to step away.

Get kids to respect your dog's safe space

Let's face it - kids can be overwhelming. They like to run and squeal and if you feel dazed, imagine how that sweet canine must feel. Provide an escape haven for your pet. It could be a corner in your room, their bed, or a cage that helps with anxiety. If you're living with kids and dogs, teach your child to respect and stay clear of your pet's sacred space. 

Should you be visiting grandma, gently help your children understand that they shouldn't follow a dog trying to withdraw to quiet. Distract your curious explorer with a toy. This rule is also appropriate for when a dog is eating. Children should steer clear of a pet who may be protective over their delicious meal. 

Set ground rules for meeting dogs

Your child may love dogs and assume that every dog loves them back. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, and unfamiliar pets should be cautiously approached. Here are some great ground rules for your kid to learn:

  • Don't touch a dog you don't know - ask first!
  • Let the dog sniff your hand to introduce yourself
  • Do not tease dogs
  • Don't steal the dog's toy or bone
  • Avoid putting your face in another dog's face; this can be threatening to the dog
  • Let sleeping dogs lie - do not wake them!
  • Don't run away from dogs; stand still or ask to be picked up if you feel scared. 

By teaching your child these ground rules from a young age, these directions will become the inner voice that can protect them from harm. Hopefully, your child's respectful encounter with pets leads them to become animal lovers. 

Are you looking for more tips for parenting or pet ownership? Save has great deals and tips that will bring joy to your family, furbabies included, from How to Make Your Garden More Kid and Pet Friendly to Top Pet Safety Tips and How to Make Your DIY Coupon Organizer so you can save big on pet food and more.