Last Updated on October 4, 2021.
Typically speaking, kids are naturally trusting and will often run enthusiastically towards even an unknown dog with open arms and the best of intentions. As adults, we know all too well that this could spell disaster.
While we want to ensure that our children maintain a positive association with animals and don’t develop any phobias or irrational fears, it’s imperative that we keep them safe. One of the best ways to do that is to not only watch carefully over them, but to teach them about dogs, how they can respond, and how they are best approached.
Here are 10 top tips for teaching your kids about dog safety.
1. Never approach an unknown dog without the owner’s permission
Not only is it good manners, but it promotes mindfulness around safety to make sure that they understand the importance of talking to a dog owner before approaching their dog. Help your child to understand that no one knows the dog better than its owner, so it’s best to say hello to them first and ask permission – they can then let you know if the dog is shy or boisterous, etc.
2. Greet them slowly and calmly
Once they have permission to greet the dog, make sure they understand how important it is to do it calmly and slowly – and frame it in the sense of kindness. Explain to them that sudden movements or overexcitement can make some dogs snap or bite, or, for timid dogs, it can scare them. This is why it’s important to have a calming space your dog can retreat to if it gets a bit too much for them.
3. Give a new dog a hand to sniff before petting them
To give a new dog some time to warm to your child and help to avoid any unpleasant reactions, teach them to offer a new dog their hand to sniff first, and then progress to patting them once they seem comfortable and friendly.
4. Reading a dog’s body language
Teach your child how to read the cues that a dog may give them through their body language. If the dog is cowering away, putting its tail between its legs, or hiding behind its owner, it’s a sure sign that they are either naturally timid or otherwise feeling threatened or shy. Either way, it’s time to give the animal some space or try an even gentler approach.
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5. Even friendly-looking dogs might not be
Even the friendliest of dogs can get nervous and snap-in reaction to feeling too encroached upon. Plus, it’s important for children to understand that even super friendly or cute dogs may not actually have a very friendly temperament.
Any overtly nervous, cagey, defensive, or aggressive signs should be enough to warrant giving the dog in question a wide berth. Your child can still talk to them from a safe distance, and you can talk to them about how some dogs are naturally nervous or have been previously mistreated, resulting in their defenses being high.
6. Giving treats safely
Treats are exciting for dogs, and they can easily get carried away and bite or nip at fingers in pursuit of the offered treat. Make sure children know to offer up treats with fingers held together and palms very flat.
7. Give them space to enjoy their treats
Teach your child to respect an animal’s space when they are busy enjoying a treat or toy, especially an unknown one. Dogs can become quite possessive and defensive of such items, so it’s best to leave them be to enjoy it unless the toy is interactive and the dog is known and safe.
8. Never approach a dog unsupervised
No toddlers or young children (under five years old) should ever be left with a dog unsupervised, no matter how familiar. Make sure your child understands never to approach a dog without your supervision.
9. Don’t startle them
It’s essential for them to understand that dogs can behave unpredictably when startled, so it’s important to avoid screaming, shouting, or making any other sudden loud noises around a dog.
10. Don’t run away from unfamiliar dogs
Unless it’s your own pet and you are all familiar with games of chase, it’s important for children to understand that suddenly running away from a dog can trigger their hunting behaviors and cause them to chase and even leap at them to catch them.
It’s important to take safety and other factors into consideration before giving a child a dog.
Teaching your children how to understand and properly interact with dogs is a great way to teach them about respecting animals in general and establishing healthy relationships with them.
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