Children and Dogs: Important Information for Parents
Starting Off Right
Below are some guidelines to help you start off on the right foot. Remember, children should never be left alone with a dog or puppy without adult supervision.
- It’s safest for both your child and puppy if your child is sitting down whenever he wants to hold the puppy. Puppies are squirmy and wiggly and may easily fall out of a young child’s arms and be injured. If held insecurely, a puppy may become frightened and snap or nip in response.
- Have your child offer the puppy a toy to chew while being petted. When puppies are teething, they tend to chew on everything, including hands and arms, so having a chew toy handy will divert the puppy’s teeth away from your child. An added benefit is that the puppy will come to associate
pleasant consequences (getting a treat) with being held by your child.
- For larger dogs, have your child sit in your lap and let the dog approach both of you. This way you can control your child and not allow him to get carried away with pats that are too rough. You are also there to teach your new dog to treat your child gently.
Petting and giving affection:
Children often want to hug dogs around the neck. Your dog may view this as a threatening gesture, rather than an affectionate one, and may react with a growl, snap or bite. You should teach your child to pet your dog from underneath the dog’s chin, rather than hugging him or reaching over his
head. You should also teach your child to avoid staring at, or looking directly into, your dog’s eyes.
Children tend to become somewhat fearful and anxious when a dog tries to take a treat from their hand. This causes them to jerk their hand away at the last second. The dog may then jump up or lunge to get the treat, which may result in the child being knocked down. Have your child place the treat in an open palm, rather than holding it in his fingers. You may want to place a hand underneath your child’s hand to help guide him.
Children run with quick, jerky movements and have high-pitched voices. These actions are highly stimulating to a dog. Consequently, your dog may respond by chasing or jumping up on your child.
Encourage your child to play quietly around the new dog until both become more comfortable with each other. Your dog also needs to learn which behaviors are appropriate and which are not. Our handout “Dealing with Normal Puppy Behavior: Nipping and Rough Play” outlines procedures for discouraging rough play and encouraging appropriate play. However, most children under the age of 10 are not capable of carrying out these procedures, so it’s helpful to teach your dog a “leave it” command that you can use when play gets too rough. Taking an obedience class together is a good way to teach your dog to respond to commands.
Punishing your dog for inappropriate behavior will not help. If he learns that being around children always results in “bad things” happening to him, he may become defensive in their presence.
- Your dog won’t know the difference between his toys and your child’s toys until you teach him.
- Your child must take responsibility for keeping his playthings out of your dog’s reach.
- If, and only if, you catch your dog chewing on something he shouldn’t, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise, then give him an acceptable chew toy and praise him lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.
- Don’t give your dog objects to play with that could cause confusion, such as old socks, old shoes or old children’s toys that closely resemble items that are off limits. He can’t tell the difference!
- Dogs can be possessive about their food, toys and space. Although it’s normal for a dog to growl or snap to protect these items, it’s not acceptable. At the same time, children need to learn to respect their dog as a living creature who is not to be teased or purposefully hurt and who needs time to himself.