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Teaching Kids to Be Friendly – And Safe – Around Dogs

Happy young boy lovingly hugging his pet dog in the park

By Erin Ryan Goodnow

Whenever we encounter a dog on a walk, at the park or outside our favorite bagel shop, my kids can hardly contain their excitement to talk to the dog, love the dog and pet the dog. Most of the time, we are met with owners who are more than willing to let my children learn how to make friends. But we all know someone or have heard stories in media of injuries from dogs. Sometimes there is good reason to be cautious with kids and dogs.

The dog owner might want to be cautious of me and my two wild beasts…rather, children…coming head on at their dog. They know their dog best, and if the dog wouldn’t appreciate being pet, then people should back off.

My children are an age where they need constant reminders. So every time we see a dog that they want to pet, we are working on remembering to ask the owner first. Most people graciously agree, but we have met owners who don’t want my children to pet their dog. And there isn’t always an explanation for this lack of permission. And that’s ok. We say “bye bye” to the doggie and move along.

The dog might be friendly and open to some love from a child, but (I’m embarrassed to admit) my children often have food crumbs on their person. A dog’s keen sense of smell would immediately pick up the yogurt remnants on my son’s fingers or cream cheese on my daughter’s cheek – and their meeting could turn a little too affectionate. My children might get too excited and forget to be gentle. Or the dog could be feeling protective or any other emotion at the time, and I don’t want my children to do something to upset that.

As a parent, I want my children to meet dogs and have positive interactions with dogs to learn to love all creatures and also learn some social skills with their owners through the interaction. But I also want them to be careful.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends these tips to keep kids safe around unknown dogs and prevent injury or a negative interaction with a dog:

  • Avoid dogs that are wandering loose or unsupervised.
  • Always ask the owner for permission to pet their dog.
  • Let the dog see and sniff you before petting it.
  • Never bother a dog while it is eating, sleeping or taking care of its puppies.
  • Remind the child to be gentle and don’t pull on ears or hair.

Although you hope it never happens, some dogs turn aggressive and violent. These tips from KidsHealth can help:

  • Teach children to calmly walk away if the dog becomes aggressive.
  • Teach the child to stand still or “be a tree” if a dog comes after them; do not run toward or away from a dog.
  • If a dog tries to bite your child, teach them to use anything to be a barrier between themselves and the dog.
  • If ever knocked over by a dog, teach your children to roll into a ball, cover their face and lie still.

“Man’s best friend” can also be your child’s best friend, and hopefully, with the right training and education, your kids will never have to experience dog-bite injuries.

 

 

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