How to Introduce a Dog to Young Children

Whether you have small children and are thinking of getting a dog for them to play with or whether you’re taking your small children to visit someone who already has dogs, you should be prepared to introduce the dog to the child. Regardless of the circumstances, dogs and children alike are curious by nature and will want to play with each other, and as children account for about 70% of all dog attacks, it is essential that interactions between dogs and children are done under adult supervision and that the interactions are pleasant for the dog and the child.

When introducing a dog to small children, some general guidelines should be considered:

Allow the dog to initiate the interaction. If the dog doesn’t know you or your children, then having a stranger come up to pet Killer might not be a good idea. Let the dog come to you in its own time to ensure that the dog doesn’t feel threatened.

Make sure that your child knows not to pet the dog on top of the head and not to hug the dog. This might seem natural, but dogs don’t really like it. Instead, let your child pet the dog under the chin or on the side of the head.

Ensure that your child isn’t holding and food or snacks when introducing them to the dog. Dogs are instinctive and when they see food, they will try to grab it, which might scare your child, and if the child starts crying, it may scare the dog.

Let your child know beforehand not to take any of the dog’s toys or to try and pry a stick or object from the dog’s mouth. Dogs are territorial in this regard and when something is taken from them, they may react aggressively.

Don’t allow interactions if the dog seems tense or if the child is scared. If the dog is tense, its behavior is unpredictable and therefore dangerous. If the child is scared, the dog will pick up on the negative signals the child sends out and may react accordingly – negatively.

Always ask the dog’s owner for permission to approach the dog. Some owners don’t like it when strangers pet their dogs and the dog might pick up on the owner’s negative signals, which may cause the dog to react aggressively to your approach.

Loud children may intimidate a dog, so tell your child beforehand to approach the dog calmly, slowly, and to speak in a gentle voice. If the dog gets scared of the child, its behavior might become unpredictable.

Keep an eye on both the dog and the child. If the dog stiffens its body, looks away from the child or seems uncomfortable, cease all interaction, as these are signs to back off and that the dog feels threatened. If the child seems uncomfortable, get the two away from each other before the dog realizes the child is uncomfortable or scared.

Some herding dog breeds like German Shepherds have a tendency to nip at ankles in an attempt to herd. This can frighten a child and cause them to cry, which might intimidate the dog in turn. If a dog playfully nips at a child, interaction between the two should be stopped before nipping becomes a habit and progresses to aggressive playtime. Ensure your child knows beforehand to stand still if the dog attempts to herd them, as this will prompt the dog to stop its behavior.

When a dog is tied to a leash or chain out in the yard, don’t allow interactions at all. Children tend to tease chained dogs, which might cause the dog to react aggressively to the child when the child comes near or when the dog is finally unleashed.

An old dog is a dangerous dog to have around small children. Old dogs may have impaired vision or hearing, and can therefore easily misinterpret a child’s movements and actions as being aggressive. The dog will retaliate to the child’s perceived aggression and might attack the child. Older dogs might also suffer from arthritis and being touched or hugged by a child might be painful. If interactions between an old dog and small children are inevitable, explain to the child that the dog can’t hear or see properly or that the dog’s body is sore, so that the child can be more careful in their approach.

During interaction, never leave a dog and child alone. Playtime between a dog and child should always be done under adult supervision to ensure the safety of both species.

Successful and mutually rewarding interactions between dogs and children require a lot of time to ‘practice’ being safe, and also require a lot of patience. Allow supervised interactions at least twice a week to allow the child and dog to get used to each other and to form a trusting bond.

For more information regarding interactions between canines and humans, click here.