Teaching kids to be safe and considerate around dogs

As we look forward to warmer weather and more time outdoors, it may be timely to think about how to behave safely and considerately around dogs.  Parents should teach their children how to behave around dogs, even if they don’t own dogs.  If you do have a family dog, recognize that not all dogs will behave as your dog behaves.  Some dogs are not comfortable around children and vice versa.  Direct supervision when your child is interacting with a dog is important.  The following tips should be reviewed with your children, to keep all interactions safe and comfortable for everyone.
Make it a practice to give dogs lots of space.  Activities like running past, biking or skateboarding directly alongside the dog may startle him.  This may cause him to snap, nip, bark or lunge.
Behave calmly when around dogs.  Screaming, running, jumping, waving arms, squealing, or surprising and erratic movements can also agitate or scare the dog.  A frightened dog may react aggressively.  Screaming and running away from a dog may trigger the dog to give chase and can be dangerous.
No dog should be teased, agitated, or otherwise bothered, including dogs in their yards.  Some children pester dogs by sticking hands through or poking sticks through the fence, teasing or even throwing rocks at dogs.  The best prevention of dangerous incidents with dogs and children is good supervision.  Accidents can happen in a split second.  When dogs in yards are startled by children running by, they may feel threatened or territorial, and rush to the fence in an over-aroused or aggressive state.  This may also lead to running and barking at the fence line, which may be misinterpreted as playing.  Children on the other side of the fence may run or scream, which encourages the dog to keep reacting in an over-aroused state.  This behavior should be interrupted immediately by supervising caregivers.  It is not funny when a dog becomes over-excited and barks or runs along the fence.  The dog is experiencing frustration and arousal, which can turn into aggression.  Children should instead be taught to give the dog space and refrain from playing near that yard.  If caregivers are watching children play near a yard that has a dog in it, this moment could be used as an opportunity to instruct the child on how to be considerate to animals, and to stay safe around dogs.
Always ask the dog’s owner if you or your children may greet the dog before approaching it.  If given permission, don’t rush up to the dog’s face or reach out for it.   Many people believe you should offer your hand for the dog to sniff, but, that isn’t a good practice.  The dog has a very strong sense of smell, so you don’t need to intrude into his personal space to introduce yourself. He may find this threatening and react negatively.  Instead, when meeting a dog, approach slowly.  Stop while still outside of the dog’s space, and let the dog approach you if he feels comfortable enough.   Always respect the dog’s choice about whether or not he would like to interact with you.  If he is trying to move away, he likely does not want the interaction.  Always leave him with some space to get away if he chooses.   When interacting with the dog, avoid staring at him, bending or looming over him, or trying to pet him on the head.  Don’t hit him, tug on him, try to hug him or chase after him.  Be careful not to startle the dog.  Pet him gently on his chest or side, while talking softly to him.  Both adults and kids should learn to recognize signs that a dog is feeling anxious or stressed, to avoid any unwanted interactions and keep everybody safe and comfortable.

Cheryl Wittevrongel is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and Certified Behavior Consultant Canine (CBCC-KA), in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.



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