Dogs and Kids:
Tips for a Safe,
Happy Relationship

Dogs and kids can be a wonderful combination, or they can be a tragedy waiting to happen. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80% of dog bites in children come from the family dog. This sad situation can be avoided, if the adults in the picture just took responsibility for preparing both the dogs and kids to live together.

boy with golden retriever

A huge mistake people make is throwing children and dogs into a relationship without proper training (of both the dog and the child), acclimation to one another and adult supervision. Yes, it’s great to think of those adorable images of dogs and kids cuddling together in total sibling harmony, but don’t be fooled. It takes a lot of hard work and guidance all around to create a harmonious relationship.

All too often, the opposite occurs between dogs and kids, with the child provoking the dog and the dog snapping (or worse). The sad thing is that even though it’s not his fault, it’s the dog that ends up paying the price (sometimes with his life) – all because neither he nor the child was taught how to respect the other.

Don’t let your dog become one more statistic – one more once-loved canine companion that ends up at a shelter because of a situation that could have been prevented. Dogs and kids can live happily together if you take some common-sense precautions, such as the following:

Understand that dogs act from instinct, not rationalization.
I’ve heard people tell stories of dogs who bite “for no reason” or “without warning”. This is rarely true. It’s important to understand that when a dog bites, he has a reason – it just might not be a reason that we understand. For example, a child that is happily hugging and petting a dog may, from the dog’s perspective, be invading his invisible safety zone, setting off an instinctive “fight or flight” reaction. The dog might first give the child a warning to back off, such as growling or walking away. However, if the child persists in spite of the warning, the dog, feeling threatened, will react instinctively by biting. To an uninformed child or even adult, it might seem like the dog has bitten for no reason. But this couldn’t be further from the truth in the dog’s mind.

For this reason, it is very important to watch for a dog’s warning signs, which can include growling, walking away or stiffening his body, among others.

Dog communication is very different from human communication. Children will not understand these warning signs, making it extremely important that adults closely supervise and pay attention.

Children need to be trained, too.
When bringing dogs and kids together in close quarters, it is completely unfair to expect a dog, no matter how innately calm and good-natured he is, to endure the pulling, poking, prodding, taunting, teasing and tormenting of an out-of-control child. Dogs and kids both need to be properly trained as to how to behave around each other. Children need to be taught from the time they’re born that dogs (and all animals) are feeling creatures to be treated with respect, not toys for them to do with as they please.

Dogs can find many things about children to be frightening and even threatening. Children are often loud and their movements are quick, sharp and unpredictable, all of which can scare or threaten a dog. A child that stares at a dog, for example, can be taken as a threat. Dogs also don’t like the high-pitched screams and fast movements associated with children. This can actually remind them of prey in the wild and trigger a chase response. Again, when bringing dogs and kids together its important to understand that dogs act out of instinct, not rationalization.

Never let a child corner a dog and NEVER chain or tie a dog outside. It is just plain cruel, and a chained dog being tormented by a child will feel threatened and may very well react aggressively.

Also, if you must keep your dog outside in a fenced yard, make sure that he is protected from kids that might try to tease and torment him from the other side of the fence.

boy kissing dog

Respect is a two-way street. Children should not be allowed the privilege of interacting with dogs unless they can treat them as living, breathing, feeling creatures. One good way to teach kids this respect for dogs is to let them participate (in an age-appropriate way) in caring for the dog. Perhaps they can help at feeding time or to brush the dog. This is also an excellent way to show them how to be gentle with the dog.

Socialize your dog to children.
The best way to get your dog used to being around kids is to socialize him from an early age. If you don’t have kids, you could ask a friend with a young child to visit. You can also bring your dog to a park where there are a lot of young kids playing.

Buy Books About Dogs and Kids.

In addition to socializing your dog around children of all ages, you should make sure he has learned the basics of obedience training. Making sure your dog responds to basic commands could end up preventing a tragic situation.

Socialization and training are also important if you already have a dog as a member of your family, and you will also be adding a child to that mix. The time to start acclimating the dog to the sights, sounds and smells of a child is long before the child is ever brought into the home.

If you ever feel that your dog is acting aggressively, seek the advice of a professional who practices a gentle, humane approach to dog training. Don’t try to handle the situation on your own.

Provide a “safe haven” for your dog.
You know how sometimes you just need some space from your kids, even if it’s just locking the bathroom door and soaking in a bubble bath for a half hour? Well, your dog needs that same space (minus the bubble bath, of course ☺).

Providing your dog with a crate that will serve as his own private haven, where he can feel safe, secure and not bothered, will go a long way toward creating a harmonious home life with dogs and kids. Make sure, of course, that the kids know that this space is the dog’s, and it is totally of limits to them.

It’s YOUR job to supervise.
The bottom line is that you are the adult. You cannot expect a dog, no matter what breed or how gentle, to be the tolerant “big brother” to an overbearing child. You also cannot expect the child to possess the ability to interpret a dog’s warning signs or to know when they are crossing the line into a dog’s private space.

If you don’t have the time or desire to follow all the steps above when it comes to dogs and kids, then it’s best to wait before introducing a dog (or a kid!) into your family.

Whether you choose to adopt a dog from a shelter or go through a reputable breeder, please don’t make the mistakes that could cause an avoidable incident, and possibly end up costing your dog his loving home – and even his life.

This article just begins to scratch the surface on what you should know about dogs and kids. There are many wonderful books written on this subject, and I suggest you explore a few of them for more detailed information.

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