Furry Friends and Family: A Guide to Safe Dog Petting for Children
Children growing up with dogs learn valuable lessons about life, but this is not as simple as just getting a dog for your little one. You need to work and help both your child and your dog to learn how to interact.
A large focus needs to be put on teaching kids how to touch a dog. All dogs, no matter how sweet they appear, need to be treated gently, with respect and kindness. Even a fluffy Bichon Frise can be unpredictable or bite when frightened.
The reality is that some dogs feel very nervous around children. But with proper training, you can solve that issue. Today, however, we will talk about a different subject.
Why you should teach children how to interact with dogs?
Here is a reality check. There is no family dog breed that can handle all the touching. Even an easy-going dog deserves some respect. Now, you might have a dog that tolerates being handled a certain way, but that doesn’t mean that your pet is enjoying it. Teach your children the importance of animal consent—it is a huge lesson that can transfer over to respecting the autonomy of other humans as well.
Even a German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, French Bulldog, or Poodle can react. In fact, according to statistics and a study by the American Animal Hospital Association, the German Shepherd is third on the list of dog bites. Here is another fun fact, the Labrador Retriever is there as well.
Make sure to teach your child about safe dog interactions to prevent dog bites, because we all know what happens afterward. The dog is labeled aggressive and sent to a shelter. If a child is taught how to look for warning signs, and gently and respectfully pet the dog, the risk of dog bites decreases dramatically.
Growing up with dogs
Here is another statistic that might surprise you: among 4.5 million bite victims, half of them are children according to the Center for Disease Control.
There are many benefits to owning a pet and growing up with one, but you have to work on the communication and interaction between children and dogs. Pets teach valuable life lessons, including:
- Responsibility, as pets need food, water, and exercise
- Trust is another skill children learn, as a pet offers unconditional support
- Compassion is a life skill that children learn by taking care of their pet
- Children learn respect by gently touching their pet and learning about boundaries
- Pets are loyal and show a good example of loyalty to children
- How to teach your child to pet a dog?
If you own a dog, or you want to get a dog for your child, it is important to understand how you can prevent bites by teaching respect and gentle touch. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to help children touch dogs safely.
Step 1 – Pet the dog together
This is the first step of the long process. Start by taking your children's hand in yours, and then touch the dog together. We have to assume adults know what a gentle touch is. Kids need to learn that. And they can do it by holding your hand and petting the dog.
Step 2 – Model the pet
You do not go to step 2 immediately. Practice the first step for a while, and once your children understand gentle touch, you can move to the second step.
And that is modeling the pet. The proper way to pet a dog is with an open hand on the back. That is how your child should pet the dog. Get your child’s hand in yours, and practice petting the dog on the back. If your dog turns over and gives you its belly, you can pet it there as well.
Work on the direction of touching and modeling the gentle touch.
Step 3 – Praise and reward
Now it is time to be patient and praise both your child and your dog for showing calm behavior and proper manners. I recommend telling your kid to pet the dog with only one hand. When children use both hands, they can get a bit touchy and grabby. Things can get out of control, so tell your child to use only one hand.
Now, patience is a virtue. Do not expect results within one day. Or within a week. Practice all the time, and the results will come. Then, you can enjoy how your fur babies and real babies have fun together.
Understanding pet voice
Besides touching, there is one more thing you can work on with your child. And that is pet voice. Children need to learn to talk to dogs with a soft, soothing tone. Both you and your children should use it when interacting with pets.
Many behaviorists classify this voice as a “sing-song voice”. Kids tend to be loud when they play, and often, they are not aware of their volume and tone. Work with your child to establish a soothing and calming voice.
How to improve the bond between the two?
Creating a bond between a child and a dog is not a five-minute process. It is a long-term process that continues as your child is growing up. As a parent, both pet parent and child parent, you should correct both of your babies.
One way to improve the bond between your two babies is by having your little one feed your dog. Allow your baby or little child to hand-feed your dog in your presence. This way, dogs learn that kids give food as well. Even better, you can have your child provide tasty treats.
What do you need to pay attention to?
I want to stress this. We all love our babies and little ones. But we have to be honest. Little children tend to be wavy and grabby with their hands.
And being wavy around dogs can be a recipe for disaster. Your child might unwillingly and knowingly poke the dog and cause a reaction.
What you should do if you notice your kid is waving his hands around your dog? Gently hold your child by the arms, and talk about that being the wrong to act around dogs. This also ensures your dog that you are in complete control and that you can protect him/her if needed.
- At this point, I should also note a few things:
- You do not pull the dog’s tail
- Don’t pull the dog’s ears
- Children should not grab the dog’s fur
- You should not poke the dog’s eyes
- Children should not sit or ride the dog
- Children should not stomp on the dog’s paws
- You do not kick or hit the dog
- Children should not touch the dog while eating or drinking
- Teach your kids not to reach into the dog’s bowl
- Children should not interrupt dogs in any way while eating
How to play safely?
I would also like to talk about how children and dogs can play safely. I fully understand that roughhousing can be fun, but it is never a safe way for children and dogs to interact.
The best way for children to play with their dog is to teach fetch. Have your child hold balls and throw them to the dog. I can tell you my dog Milo loves it when children throw him balls. For one, children love to play with him for far longer than I do. And he has the energy to go rounds with them.
Another way to safely play is to have your kid with you while teaching tricks and obedience commands.
Last, but not least, I would say that you should never leave young children and dogs alone without supervision. Children under 4 should be monitored at all times. Children between 5 and 10 might take care of a dog, but not completely on their own.