How Do You Introduce a Child To Your Dog?

by Guest Writer – Tina Harper, a friend and accredited trainer here in Austin.

Let’s face it – most children LOVE dogs.  They have to go say “hi” to any pooch they see, especially if it looks like one that they either have at home or have interacted with in their daily lives.

And, let’s face it – not all dogs love children.   Some, in fact, have a very strong dislike for the fast moving, unpredictable, sometimes slightly sticky small people.  In order to keep your children safe, as well as your dog, below are a few pointers  – whether you have the child, the dog, or both.

Hello Doggie!

For those holding a small hand:

  • Teach your child how to properly approach a dog they don’t know – it all starts with asking the person holding the leash.  Many poor child/dog interactions start off badly and just get worse, so make sure that the greeting has the best possible chance of being successful.
  • Don’t allow your child to greet a dog that is already interacting with someone else, or another dog.  I’ve had children get between two large dogs that were busy sniffing each other, and try to give one dog a treat.
  • Learn what a dog’s body language is telling you, and how to respond.  This is a tricky subject. A wagging tail, for instance doesn’t mean he is happy as we were often led to believe. In fact, it can signal impending aggression. Many trainers are happy to walk you through the simple steps on how to properly greet a dog without unwittingly asking for a challenge or presenting yourself in an overpowering manner. And this will also be covered in another blog post.

For those holding a leash:

  • If your dog is not child friendly, and this isn’t a behavior that you are trying to correct, please try to take them to places where children are not likely to be.  If your dog is one that will actually bite children without provocation, you need to head to your nearest training center to work this issue out.  As a trainer, I can accept that not all dogs will be excited to see children, but I cannot condone a dog that will bite when in a social setting. Many times I’ve seen people very upset that a child even thought of approaching their dog, and blamed the child for their dog’s behavior, when it was actually the dog at fault.  And, keep in mind that if you aren’t fond of children, this might affect your dog’s behavior when the non-adult crowd looms.
  • If a child comes to approach your dog without asking, you have every right to stop the child and tell them that before they are allowed to pet your dog, they must ask you.  My dog, Metric, LOVES kids, but he also likes to lick their faces and knock them down if I’m not watching him.
  • With a trained dog, walk the child through how to properly greet your dog, or, better yet, have them run through a few tricks.  I’ve had kids tell Metric to sit, down, shake, “high five” and a few other things.  It keeps his training in tact, while also making the interaction enjoyable for everyone involved.

With a few key items in mind, your dog or child can learn how to greet one another properly.  A successful interaction ends up with one walking away giggling, and the other walking away with a wagging tail and maybe even a few treats in their belly.

More about Guest Author, Tina Harper

Tina has had a lifelong obsession with animals.  As a small child, her pockets would hold surprises for her mother, including but not limited to earthworms, toads and pill bugs.  Every summer, even now, she can be caught chasing lightening bugs.  Most of her early teenage summers were spent at the Louisville Zoo volunteering – most of the time was shoveling elephant dung, but it also afforded her the opportunity to become involved in the people/animal interaction. She is training dogs professionally for companion animals or to modify behaviors to help make homeless pets more adoptable.  Her own dog, Metric, has afforded her many learning opportunities and still does.  She is currently working on her first book.

Photo Credit: horizontal.integrationon flickr

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One Response to “How Do You Introduce a Child To Your Dog?”

  1. Tina Harper 10. Jun, 2010 at 3:38 am #

    Amy –

    I agree. There are a good number of children entering the big box store that I train at, and many haven’t learned how to greet a dog. Many times people don’t know HOW to greet a dog, and can’t pass that knowledge along.

    As a trainer, I encourage the whole family to come to the training classes, and only one of the benefits is to be able to have the kids learn how to approach dogs correctly. Kids are wonderful sponges, and if handled correctly can be an advocate for greeting dogs properly. I’ve had many children remind Mom and Dad or their friends how to approach a new dog! When I hear that, I KNOW I’ve been successful!

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