Getting along together

  • To help prevent misunderstandings dogs, children and adults need to learn how to approach and communicate effectively. Supervising children and dogs when they are together and teaching both children and dogs how to behave around each other are the keys to preventing dog bites. Young children do not have the skills or understanding of how to interact with a dog appropriately. The child may have no concept of the pain they may be inflicting on a dog when they handle it roughly.

    Important dog behaviour to recognise

    Dogs have a special way of communicating with each other and humans. A dog's body language may give us clues about how a dog is feeling. Some dogs perceive eye contact or staring as a threat or challenge.

    A dog should be left alone if it:

    • Lifts its lips
    • Growls
    • Backs away
    • Raises the hair on its back
    • Stares at you

    Teaching children how to interact with dogs

    Children learn most effectively by "doing". Many of a child's life skills, such as crossing the road, grooming and eating are learned from the parent, with the parent modelling the desired behaviour. Telling children "don't…!" will not give the child the necessary information or skills to perform the correct behaviour.

    Model the desired behaviour with the child. Tell them what you are doing and why you are doing it.

    Approaching a dog

    350x215_AJA8283_2Children should be taught not to approach a dog without adult supervision.

    Whether the dog is familiar or not, your child should always ask their parent or carer if they want to pat
    a dog.

    The next step is to always ask the dog owner for permission to pat the dog. Only when they say it is
    okay to pat the dog then consider proceeding to the next step.

    If the dog does not know you or your child then the owner of the dog must introduce any new people to the dog. By holding, patting and speaking to the dog, the dog owner should reassure the dog that contact with a stranger will be pleasurable and not a threat.

    Even if it is a familiar dog, you still need to closely supervise your child. There should be at least one adult per child and one adult per dog. This is regardless of how well you know the dog.

    Use the dog's name as you approach it and speak softly. The dog should be approached on an angle, not from the front or rear. Move slowly and calmly and always be gentle.

    Curl your fingers into a fist and slowly extend the back of your hand and allow the dog to sniff it. Then gently pat the dog under the chin or the side of the chest. If the dog doesn't sniff the hand or if it backs away, do not attempt to pat it. Being faced with an open palm or being patted on the top of the head or the shoulder may be threatening for
    a dog.

    Praise the child for being involved and demonstrating the correct actions. Also praise the dog for being calm and compliant.

    What to do when approached by an unfamiliar dog

    Teach children to never approach an unfamiliar dog, even if it looks friendly.

    When approached by an unfamiliar dog, children should be taught to stand still like a statue with their arms by their sides and hands in a fist or hands tucked into their armpits, look at their own feet to avoid eye contact with the dog and importantly, not to scream. It is most likely that the dog will sniff the child then walk away.

    If knocked over by a dog, teach children to curl into a ball, stay quiet and wait until it goes away.

    Introducing a new dog into a household with a child

    getting along 01Ideally choose a puppy that has already had friendly experiences with children such as in the breeder's home. If accepting an older dog then you need to gain as much information as possible about the dog's life and assess the response of an older dog to children before accepting it into your home. Temperament testing may be available from the place of adoption or it may be best to have a veterinarian or qualified animal behaviourist assist you with this assessment. 

    Prior to the arrival of the dog, children should understand that the dog must always be treated gently and quietly. When introducing your new dog and your child follow the information found above in Approaching a dog.

    The child should be encouraged to take on age appropriate responsibilities such as grooming or keeping the water dish full however you still need to make sure this is being done competently as ultimately you are responsible for your dog. Older children can "learn" to teach their dog good manners such as "come" or "sit" on cue.

    Introducing a new baby into a home with a dog

    Young babies and children should never be left alone with a dog.

    A new baby in the home will most probably require some major changes to the home routine which will affect the dog. If any adjustments to the dog's routine are likely, gradually introduce the changes in the months prior to the baby arriving.

    There may be changes that need to occur such as which rooms the dog is allowed access to or where the dog will eat or sleep. Again, prepare well before the baby arrives.

    Babies and dogs need strict and close supervision at all times. Make sure the dog does not have any unwanted access to the baby such as whilst on the floor or in the baby's room. Close the door or use a door barrier which cannot be breached by the dog.

    To help the dog get ready for the arrival of the baby, bring home something from the hospital that smells like the baby and allow the dog to sniff it. There are numerous CDs available that have the sounds of babies crying and children playing that can be used to help the dog learn that these noises are just a part of everyday life.

    Gently introduce pleasant but 'child like' contact with the dog, for example stroking and gentle pulling of the ears, tail or paws. The dog should be rewarded for being relaxed and accepting the contact. The dog should be taught how to gently accept toys or food from an adult's hand after an appropriate verbal cue such as "take".

    Rewarding a dog when the baby is in its presence creates a positive association for the dog. Shouting at the dog or locking it outside will create a negative association for the dog. Interaction between the dog and adults should not be exclusive to times when the baby is asleep. Taking your child with you when walking the dog is one way to create a positive association between the two.

     As dogs and kids grow up

    growing upAs children grow up with a dog, hopefully the relationship between them becomes one of love, mutual respect and understanding of each other's needs and behaviours. However, as a dog ages, is unwell or if in pain the behaviour of the dog can change. Situations such as moving house, visitors or other changes to the dog's environment can also cause a dog to feel unsettled. If a bitch is pregnant or has puppies she may feel tired, sore and protective of her babies. Be aware that her behaviour may be different from what you may be used to. Treat her gently and allow her space to be a mother. Be aware and make the appropriate changes such as increasing supervision of dogs and kids, separating them if you need to and communicating with your children so that they understand what is occurring.

    If you are concerned about your dog's behaviour then seek help immediately from your veterinarian.