Dogs and kids: Nine simple tips to help keep everyone safe

[Article by contributing writer Melissa Grant, North Bend resident and pet trainer/owner of Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs.]

As early as I can remember I’ve always loved animals, especially dogs. When I was in grade school, we used to have a pet “show-and-tell” day. I remember being as young as six and asking for a dog. My mother tried everything she could to satisfy my urge for an animal friend: a goldfish named “Gloria”, a Chameleon, Guinea pigs and an ill-advised cat that terrified her every day.

Those animals were fine – and enjoyable – but they weren’t dogs.

I felt compelled to seek out dogs wherever I could, even taking to fence climbing to visit neighbors’ pets. More often than not, while hugging and kissing these magical creatures, I would get bit and go home crying to my Mother. Her response was always the same: “You go back over there and tell Mrs. So-and-so that you are VERY sorry for making their dog bite you!”

Young Melissa (author) showing how NOT to interact with a dog “back in the day.”

Looking back now I realize she was right. It was my fault, but I was never taught how to properly interact with a strange dog. In fact, I eventually got my own dog and he bit me – and everyone – too. But back then no one really gave it much thought. That’s just what dogs did.

Times have changed and today we expect much more from our dogs. No longer relegated to the back yard or garage, dogs have become more like family members and less occasional playthings.

Since we expect so much more from our canine companions, we must also bring more to the table and expect more from ourselves. It is no longer acceptable to be completely ignorant of dog behavior – or to raise children that have no idea how to behave while in the presence of a dog – even if it’s not their pet.

If you have very young children, they should always be supervised around animals so that you can be mindful of how they interact and teach them to always be gentle. Older children can easily be taught how to interact with animals to avoid bites with a few simple tips:

  • First and foremost children should be taught to respect any animal’s space. While not true for all, MOST animals don’t appreciate warm hugs like people do. Also consider making the dog’s bed, food dishes and crate “off-limits” to children
  • Strange, loose animals should never be approached, especially if there are no adults around to supervise. Leave the area and tell an adult
  • Be sure to teach kids to ask the owner if you can pet their dog and the best way to approach that animal. Even if the animal seems friendly, wait for an ok from the owner.
  • Teach children to never hit, climb on or pull a dog’s hair, ears or tail.
  • Children should learn to never take food or toys away from dogs and to never tease dogs with such things.
  • They should also learn to never yell, scream, run towards or make sudden movements around dogs.
  • Teach children to walk quietly and confidently away from an aggressive dog. If the dog goes after them, teach them to stand quietly with their eyes down and fingers laced together. If knocked down, teach them to put their arms over their neck and roll up into a tight ball.
  • A dog, no matter how small, is not a toy and children should not be allowed to pick the dog up and drag it around.
  • Kids should be taught to interpret canine body language over time. Educate children to read dogs at a level they can understand. They should know a wagging tail doesn’t always mean friendly, and bared teeth aren’t the same as a smile.

Following these simple tips can help your kids and your animals safe. Taking some basic obedience classes that involve your children can help strengthen their relationship and teach the dog that the child should be listened to as much as the adults in the household.

Getting a child a pet has many health, behavioral and creative benefits. With a little education and work we can make sure growing up with a dog is a wonderful experience for the entire family.

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