Even if you’ve got the friendliest dog on the planet, a dangerous situation can develop in mere seconds. Although they mean no harm, children can do a number of things to trigger aggression in dogs. A child can easily stumble onto a sleeping dog, yank a dog’s tail or pull their hair too hard. If a dog is startled or in pain, he may bite. Defensive aggression is a natural response in animals, and domestic pets are no exception.
Getting too close to resources Many dogs don’t like to share their toys or food, and they may become aggressive if a child comes too close while they’re chewing on a bone, playing with a toy or eating a meal. Playing inappropriately Some children find a dog’s aggressive behavior amusing. When they discover that certain actions can make a dog growl, lift his lip or snap, they repeat those actions. If repeatedly provoked, a dog may eventually feel the need to escalate his “message” by biting.
So many people assume that all dogs should be willing to tolerate absolutely anything a child does. They feel that even a grumble or a lifted lip is grounds for euthanasia or re-homing. Some parents even allow their children to chase, hit, poke, attempt to ride and otherwise terrorize family pets—and fully expect the animals to put up with such treatment. Miraculously, many dogs do! Despite dogs’ sometimes graciuos attitude, this kind of behavior from kids is grossly unfair to a pet. It’s not good for the kids, either. Allowing a child to mistreat an animal does nothing to teach her respect for other living beings. It can also put her at risk of injury if the dog she mistreats decides he’s finally had enough.
Supervise to Prevent Problems
The best way to avoid potentially dangerous situations is to supervise all interactions between your dog and your kids—even if your dog is friendly and gentle. Remember, it takes only a few seconds for things to go awry. Monitor both your children’s and your dog’s behavior when they’re together and watch for signs of trouble. If you supervise diligently, you can step in when necessary and prevent bad experiences.
Learn to Read Your Dog
Some signs of trouble are obvious. If a dog shows his teeth or growls at a child, he’s clearly feeling uncomfortable and aggressive. But it’s unwise to wait until you see these dramatic behaviors. It’s much safer to learn to recognize your dog’s early, subtle warnings.
Training your dog is only half of your job! In addition to teaching your dog how to behave around kids, you need to teach your kids how to behave around dogs.
Children need to understand that not all dogs love them. Teach your kids to always ask pet parents for permission before approaching any animal. Have mock greetings at home so that your children can practice what they’ll do when they want to pet a dog they don’t know.
In addition to learning that they should never touch strange animals without permission, kids must understand that they should never reach through fences or car windows to pet dogs who are unattended—even if they know the confined dogs.
Teach your children how to handle dogs gently. Show your children what polite petting looks like, and have them practice with a stuffed animal. Discourage unpleasant treatment, like poking, pinching, slapping, hugging and pulling on fur, tails or ears.