Dogs bring us so much joy, but their unpredictable nature can also pose a threat to young children.
To ensure safe interactions, make sure you teach your kids about proper dog etiquette. By understanding basic dog body language and behavior, your children can avoid dangerous situations and build healthy relationships with dogs.
Our knowledgeable experts have compiled a helpful guide on how to safely and respectfully greet dogs, ensuring that both humans and furry friends can interact in a positive and safe manner.
Table of Contents
Why It’s Important To Teach Kids How To Greet Dogs Safely
When encountering an unfamiliar dog, a child’s natural curiosity may kick in and cause them to reach out and try to pet them.
Unfortunately, not all dogs are friendly or approachable. More than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, and more than 800,000 receive medical attention for dog bites, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). At least half of those bitten are children. By teaching your children how to greet a strange dog in a polite manner, you not only prevent them from getting bitten or injured, but also foster a deeper sense of compassion and respect for all living creatures. Remember, responsible and mindful interactions with animals can positively impact both our lives and theirs.
How To Greet a Strange Dog
Here are 4 steps you can teach your children to follow when greeting a strange dog:
Respect is key when it comes to interacting with someone else’s pet. Before petting a pup, always get the caretaker’s consent and abide by their wishes — regardless of your feelings. Approaching an unknown pooch without permission could put both you and the dog in uncomfortable situations.
2. Approach Slowly and Calmly
To ensure a safe interaction with a dog, remain calm and approach slowly. Abrupt movements and loud noises can unsettle the dog and potentially lead to aggression. Approach from the dog’s side, rather than head-on, to appear less intimidating. Remember to prioritize the dog’s comfort and safety in any interaction.
3. Offer Your Hand to Sniff
Creating a positive first impression with a new dog can be crucial in establishing trust and comfort. As you approach the dog, consider offering your hand for a gentle sniff. This gesture allows the dog to become familiar with your scent and begin to feel at ease in your presence.
To execute this introduction, simply hold your hand out with your fingers curled and palm facing down, and allow the dog to approach you on their terms. It may seem like a small action, but it can make a big difference in building a new relationship with a pup.
4. Pet the Dog Gently
When approaching a friendly pooch, it’s important to know the proper way to offer a friendly pet. A wagging tail and relaxed demeanor are good indicators that the dog is comfortable with human interaction.
If this is the case, using slow and gentle strokes is recommended rather than slapping the dog on its head, which can be perceived as threatening. Instead, focus on petting the dog on their back or giving them some love under their chin. By following these tips, you can successfully enjoy some quality time bonding with your new furry friend.
Tips for Safe Dog Interaction With Children
As wonderful as furry 4-legged friends can be for kids, it’s of utmost importance that kids and dogs interact safely and positively. Teaching children about proper dog behavior helps prevent accidents and injuries, fostering healthy relationships between little ones and pooches.
In addition to the tips mentioned earlier, here are some extra ways to ensure safe dog interaction with children.
- Supervision: Watch as your children interact with dogs, especially if the dog is not yours.
- Don’t approach stray dogs: Teach your kids to never approach a stray dog, no matter how friendly the dog appears.
- Avoid rough play: Encourage your children to avoid rough play with dogs, as this can lead to accidents and injuries.
- Treats: If the dog’s person allows it, your child can offer a treat as a way to interact with the dog safely.
By following these tips and investing in the proper education and training, your child can form positive, lasting connections with our furry friends. Don’t let fear or uncertainty stop them from experiencing the joy of a relationship with dogs.
Watch this video for more tips:
What To Do if a Dog Approaches Your Child
As cherished members of countless households around the world, dogs are widely adored for their warmth and charm. However, an unexpected and sudden approach by a playful dog can sometimes catch small children by surprise, leading to fear or nervousness.
Luckily, navigating such incidents can be achieved through understanding and clear-headedness, preventing any potential for harm and promoting a positive and enjoyable experience for everyone involved. If a dog approaches your child, teach them to follow these guidelines:
- Stand still: Teach your child to stand still and avoid running or screaming. Running can trigger a dog’s prey drive and cause the animal to chase after them.
- Avoid eye contact: Teach your child to avoid making direct eye contact with the dog, as this can be interpreted as a threat.
- Use “tree pose”: Teach your child to stand like a tree, with their arms at their sides and their feet together. This will make them appear less threatening to the dog.
- Wait for help: Teach your child to wait for an adult to come and help them. If there are no adults around, they can slowly back away from the dog.
In summary, when encountering a dog, it’s crucial to teach your child the proper methods of handling the situation. Emphasize the importance of standing still, avoiding eye contact, and keeping a safe distance.
Practicing the “tree pose” can be a useful strategy to avoid agitating the dog. Also, suggest that your child remain calm and avoid sudden movements or loud noises that may provoke the dog. Remember to prioritize safety and seek help when necessary.
What Not To Do When Greeting a Dog
Greeting a dog is an important interaction that requires caution and proper etiquette. There are several things you should avoid doing when greeting a dog, such as:
- Staring at the dog in the eyes: When approaching a dog, don’t stare directly into their eyes, which may be perceived as threatening.
- Approaching the dog too quickly or directly: Reaching out too quickly or directly can also make a dog feel uncomfortable or scared.
- Reaching out your hand or arm toward the dog’s face: It’s best to avoid extending your hand or arm toward the dog’s face, as this may make them feel trapped or nervous.
- Making loud or sudden noises: Sudden loud noises or running away can startle or agitate the dog.
- Teasing or taunting the dog: Above all, teasing or taunting the dog is never acceptable behavior.
By following these guidelines, you can ensure a safe and respectful interaction with any dog.
Tips for Helping Children Overcome Their Fear of Dogs
If your child shows signs of being afraid of dogs, tackle their fear head-on. Understanding where their anxiety stems from can allow you to take the necessary steps to help them overcome this fear.
An unpleasant experience with a dog, or a child’s lack of experience with them, can be two sources of dog-related anxiety.
There are a number of things parents can do to counteract their child’s fear. For example, some suggestions involve introducing the child to friendly dogs in a safe and controlled environment — possibly a friend or family member’s adult dog.
Arm your child through teaching about dog body language and safe ways in which to interact with dogs gently. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs use their body gestures and postures to express themselves.
They rely on these types of communication to let people and other dogs know their emotions, especially if they feel stressed, frightened, or threatened. They hope that the gestures will work to calm the situation and keep them out of trouble.
In dealing with their dog phobia, it’s important to acknowledge that progress may take some time and that patience and support for your child during this time is critical.
Check out this helpful guide to learning dogs’ body language:
Raising Dog-Savvy Kids: A Lifelong Skill for Safe and Happy Dog Interactions
As a responsible parent, you know that teaching your child how to interact safely with dogs is an essential life skill. By using positive reinforcement, educating them about body language, and practicing with dogs they know, you’ll help build your child’s confidence and foster healthy habits for engaging with our furry friends.
Remember, it’s critical to always have your child ask for permission from the dog’s person before approaching any unfamiliar dog. Teach your child to walk away if the dog displays any signs of discomfort or aggression.
By instilling these principles early on, you’ll keep your kid safe when they encounter dogs throughout life.
What About Really Big Dogs?
Teaching kids about how to approach dogs is one thing. Teaching kids about approaching BIG dogs is another.
Below are a few tips to emphasize with children who are greeting big dogs for the first time.
This section was written by Jennifer Costello, a veterinarian assistant with 10-plus years of experience in the veterinary field — a proud pet parent of large Newfoundland dogs:
Hey Kids! Want to Meet My Big Dogs? Here Are 7 Rules:
1. No Running
Kids see my Newfoundlands as big brown teddy bears, so they come bounding toward us. If I see children running full force at one of my dogs, I tell them to stop and walk up to us slowly.
I try to explain how running toward a dog can scare them, especially if they aren’t paying attention.
2. Be Quiet
Since I have kids, we go to a lot of kid-related functions outside. Most children are out releasing their energy, which is great — except when they are standing in front of my dogs and me.
I simply ask that they tone it down for a few minutes so the dogs feel more comfortable with them.
3. One at a Time, Please
We usually attract a crowd. Therefore, it’s important that only 1 or 2 children pet the dogs at a time so they don’t get overwhelmed.
4. Keep Your Face Away
I don’t know what it is, but kids always want to put their teeny faces right in front of my dogs’ faces and have a conversation with them.
It drives me crazy. Not because I think my dogs are going to bite them, but because there is some other dog out there somewhere who will bite them if they do this.
So if I can tell them why this is a bad idea, with any luck they will hear me and avoid a future incident.
5. Ask Permission
It’s important to teach children to ask permission to pet a dog. Some dogs may not like to be petted, and some dogs might have certain areas they don’t like being touched.
And some pet parents, like me, like to be able to put their dog in a sit position before the meeting begins.
6. Stand to the Side
Some people may disagree with me on this one, yet I’ve found that this approach works better with very large dogs.
I have kids put their hands out for the dogs to sniff and then stand to the side of them.
Most young kids are smaller or at eye level with my dogs, so I feel if they are standing on the side of the dogs this is less threatening to both the dog and the child.
7. Don’t Touch Body Parts
My dogs are big and fluffy, and kids want to touch them everywhere, but I ask that they keep the main touching to the dogs’ torso area and stay away from the ears, mouth, legs and tail.
Given that one of my dogs has suffered from major ear infections in the past, he’s not fond of his ears being messed with. I try to spare him the agony of someone tugging on his ears by directing their touch.
My dogs are great with kids, but sometimes kids aren’t so great with them. I’m a firm believer that teaching children how to safely approach large dogs — or any size dog — should be taught at home by their parents.
Unfortunately that doesn’t always seem to be the case, so the least I can do is provide a bit of education while I’m out with my family and my dogs.
Sorry, kids — my dogs, my rules.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can my child pet a dog on a leash?
Ask the dog’s human for permission before petting any dog, even if the dog is on a leash.
How do I know if a dog is friendly?
Look for signs of a relaxed and open body posture, wagging tail, and other forms of happy expression.
What should I do if a dog runs up to my child?
Teach your child to stand still like a tree, with their arms at their sides, and to avoid making eye contact with the dog.