Having a dog as a family pet can be an amazing experience for children. They can teach children responsibility and empathy, as well as being a great way to get everyone outside, helping to keep the whole family fit and active!
Being able to understand and interact safely with dogs is a very important skill for children to have to keep not only them safe, but also your new four-legged family member.
As our dogs can’t speak it’s important that we learn to understand their way of communicating! Watching their body language helps us to understand how our dogs feel.
Signs a dog is uncomfortable
- Turning their head away
- Seeing the whites of their eyes
- Being tense
- Having their ears back
- Licking their lips
- Pacing around
- Growling or baring their teeth
- Low body posture or cowering
If a dog your child is interacting with is showing any of the above signs, it’s important they know to leave the dog alone and if they don’t then you as a parent intervenes.
Younger children can be more at risk with dogs because they tend to be more unpredictable. They can be excitable and may shout, scream or try to hug and kiss the dog, often not knowing when to stop and move away. Some dogs can find this attention threatening or frightening and may act defensively. Hugs and kisses are not a way that dogs communicate with each other, and they can find these behaviours stressful, especially if they come from a child whose body language cues they don’t understand. As parents it’s important that you monitor any interactions and intervene as soon as your dog shows the first signs that they are uncomfortable.
Top safety tips
- Never leave children unattended with a dog – even for a few minutes!
- Dogs may be protective of their toys and bowls or food, so children should always keep a safe distance around these.
- Train your dog not to jump up on people – it may be fun when they’re a puppy but that cute pup will grow into a much bigger dog that could seriously injure a small child.
- Let sleeping dogs lie – never let children disturb a resting or sleeping dog.
- Teach games so kids and dogs can interact safely like hide and seek, dog ping pong, hiding the dogs toys, making treat trails, making dog puzzles and having toys on long ropes so teeth and little hands stay separate.
There is a free webinar available with more info on dog body language and communication around children at: https://kidsarounddogs.co.uk/collections/webinars/products/the-language-of-dogs-a-basic-yet-comprehensive-guide-to-dogs-body-language-by-debby-lucken