Dogs can be incredible creatures. With wagging tails and faces that seem to grin, children are often drawn to dogs.
Whether you have a family dog of your own or you enjoy meeting dogs when you go outside, it is essential to teach your child how to be safe around dogs. While many dogs are friendly, others become stressed when meeting children and other strangers.
These are some of the safety skills to teach your child to make their canine encounters safer.
Adults, pay attention
One of the most critical elements to a safe dog encounter is adults who are paying attention. As a parent, you should watch that your child is kind and respectful of the dog. The owner should watch their dog for signs of stress, such as:
- Tense brow
- Changes in ears or overall body posture
If you notice a dog showing signs it is stressed, give them space to feel comfortable with their surroundings. Often, when a dog becomes too stressed, it becomes more likely to bite.
Always ask permission
Not all dogs are friendly. Teach your child to always ask permission before approaching a strange dog. The owner will know best how the dog is feeling and how they tend to respond to children.
Take your time, please
Up until recently, many trainers and parents taught children (and other adults) to approach a dog with your hand out for them to sniff. While the idea is in the right place, this tends to be an adaptation of the human behavior of shaking hands.
Unfortunately, dogs do not understand the gesture as a polite one. More commonly, a dog will see someone sticking a hand in their face as an invasion of their space.
Instead of sticking their hand out, teach your child to approach the dog slowly, leaving a small gap, and then face away (a dog knows you cannot attack if you are not facing them). As the dog becomes comfortable, allow the dog to approach at their own pace to sniff your child. From there, read the dog’s body language. If the dog seems happy with the encounter, instruct your child to pet the dog’s back or shoulder gently.
When you take a few extra moments to slow down the approach and make the steps to greeting a dog more intentional, you can make the encounter safer for your child and the dog.