Teaching kids to be safe around dogs

Having pets and children, or perhaps children first and then pets for them, seems to be part of the natural order of life. We understand the benefits for children who grow up with cats and dogs, but as adults, we don’t always understand the role we play as parents and responsible pet owners when it comes to allowing dogs and children to share the same space.


When dogs grow up with small children, and if they are properly socialised as puppies, they normally don’t mind playing and being around small children. But dogs who have never been socialised, or have hardly ever engaged with small children, might be afraid of them and don’t know how to behave around them.

When small children run around and play, they get excited, and their high-pitched voices can literally hurt a dog’s ears. Unsocialised dogs might not have learnt how to handle the situation and may snap at the children out of frustration. As dogs get older, they might be less tolerant of children’s high energy levels, which can also cause them to react. And therefore, it is extremely important for every dog to be socialised at an early age.


Unfortunately, not all dog breeds are ideal for children. Where breeds like Labrador Retrievers are very patient and tolerant around children, other breeds, like Chihuahuas and Chow Chows are not. Although they can be taught to tolerate children, it’s just not in their genetics. Chow Chows, for instance, don’t like strangers, and Chihuahuas are frail dogs. Small children can easily and unintentionally hurt these dogs. Therefore, it is important to consider the breed of the dog and his tolerance to small children before you allow them to share the same space.


As parents, it is fundamental to teach our children from a very young age, even when they’re still babies, not to hurt any animal. Don’t allow them to pull dogs’ ears or tails, grab or pull their fur, or even ride on a dog’s back. This type of behaviour should be taboo from an early age. Babies and toddlers don’t understand or realise that they’re hurting the animal.

We need to teach our children that dogs also have feelings and can feel pain. They need to learn that dogs are not toys but living beings with feelings. We need to teach children that it is important to give every dog some space and what the boundaries should be. Every dog has different preferences when it comes to space and boundaries. Dogs who love children will be more tolerant of those children who behave around them, but other dogs might need time and space away from the children.

For children, it is the most natural thing to show their love through hugs and kisses. But dogs can feel threatened by a hug as it is not natural for them. This is another instance where children should be taught to give the dog some space (stay out of his personal space) and wait for him to come closer to them for affection.

Another example is teaching children not to interfere when dogs are eating or sleeping. Dogs need their naps as much as they need food. Children need to respect that and leave the dog in peace at these times.

Set clear rules

Children and dogs grasp rules quicker than we think. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t try their luck and overstep the boundaries. Set some clear rules for your children when it comes to handling dogs and don’t make it complicated. Explain to them that the rules are for their own protection and what the possible consequences are if they don’t stick to them. For example, if you hug a dog, he might not like it and he might bite.

Body language

Teach your child to read dog body language from an early age. If they know the different signs and what they could mean, they will be able to back off quickly when they encounter a dog who doesn’t want their attention. And whenever you are in a situation where a dog clearly doesn’t like children, rather separate them in different rooms, or crate the dog if it is for a short period. Never crate a dog for many hours at a time, as this is just cruel.

Arm your child with dog-related knowledge and involve them in different areas of responsible pet ownership. As they do age-appropriate pet chores, explain what they should do, how, and why it should be done in a certain way. That way, your child will feel more involved and learn important lessons about pets.


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