If a dog bites, there’s always a reason. And the reason is never, ‘Just because I can.’ There are social dogs, shy dogs, fearful dogs, and aggressive dogs. You never know what kind you will run into on a walk, or at a park. Young children don’t know how to decipher body language to tailor their interaction with a dog. It’s up to the parents to teach their kids what NOT to do when meeting a dog. It’s up to the parents to show them how to approach a dog safely.
When dogs feel threatened or uncomfortable, they might back away, or growl. This is a warning telling you to back off.
- They tell you when you are behaving rudely.
- They tell you if you are being too forward to their liking.
- They let you know if they want to interact with you.
- They show you if they are curious about you or if they are not interested in the least bit.
All this, they communicate with you. For the purpose of this article, lets only go over what your kids should or should not do when meeting a dog for the first time. Because they will not know how to interpret the dog’s cues, it’s best to have them get into the habit of interacting with every dog in a non-threatening way so when they grow up, they can teach their kids, and the cycle of life goes on.
Understand, dogs cannot talk in our language. They cannot tell us in words to stop doing this or that to them. They do not have arms to fling your hand away. If someone grabbed me, I have a voice to scream for help. I have arms to push against them, or legs to kick. If someone is irritating me, I can say something, or I can create distance between us. I don’t have a leash attached to me, keeping me from running away. If a stranger all of a sudden runs toward me with arms stretched out and they try petting my head, damn rights, I’m going to slap their hand away! Or kick them! I don’t care how upbeat their voice sounds. Dogs are not the same as humans, but they still have their own way of communicating. We need to learn it.
There is a proper way to introduce yourself to a dog that allows them to understand in dog speak. Your children need to respect this. To respectfully greet the dog on their terms. Remember this when you’re walking on a trail or playing in the park with your kids.
- PERMISSION! ALWAYS ask the dog owner if it is okay to pet their dog. I always get permission from the owner even if their dog comes up to me first. You don’t know the dog. You don’t know how it will react. If it has any social issues, the owner will tell you. They could be working with a nervous dog to slowly build a trust level with humans. It doesn’t help their progress when someone provokes a negative response. Asking for permission will help prevent causing a non-social dog to bite. When you ask, the owner can let you know if their dog is friendly or social enough to pet, or if you need to ignore it. Asking gives the owner a chance to guide you on how they prefer you to approach or handle their dog – this is especially helpful when the dog is in training. Lastly, it is just a respectable, polite, and sensible thing to do. There is such a thing as etiquette. Teach your kids to respect both dog and owner.
- APPROACH CALMLY! Don’t run at the dog! Once you receive permission, if you are further away, walk in a half-circle towards the dog, eyes diverted from his, ending with your body facing at a slight angle to his, or almost parallel to him. By walking in a half-moon curve, it is less threatening and is polite behavior in dog speak. Walking head-on in a direct straight line towards the dog is threatening, challenging, and is just plain, bad, rude manners. Don’t stare intently into their eyes as you approach them. It will be interpreted as you are challenging them. Do not come up from behind and surprise the dog.
- LET YOURSELF BE SNIFFED! For as long as it takes! NEVER OVER THE HEAD! Do not put your hand over their head where they cannot keep an eye on it. Fearful, aggressive dogs do not react well to this. Unless the owner gives the okay that their dog is social and loves to be handled. ALWAYS let the dog sniff your hand first and decide for themselves if they want to continue this greeting. If they do, then turn your hand palm up slightly cupped and move it under the dog’s chin and pet gently. Pet under the chin or the chest area.
- Don’t bend or hover over the dog. If you’re tall, kneel down or squat but don’t hover.
- Don’t stare directly into the dog’s eyes.
- Don’t grab and hug the dog tight.
- Don’t scream, or wave your arms around as you’re approaching a dog.
- Don’t get in the dog’s face by putting your face and hands in front of it, ogling endlessly over it. It gets annoying. Some dogs are pretty good with it, but kids don’t know how to read the cues. It’s better to teach them at a young age to respect a dog’s personal space. This applies to your own pets at home, as well.
- Don’t grab and yank the dog’s ears, tails, or any part of the body. This applies to anyone’s pets including your own.
- NEVER approach a stray dog or a dog without its owner. Teach your kids about rabies and other diseases and parasites that wild animals or a stray dog can carry. Teach your kids to NEVER approach a dog chewing on a bone. Dogs are generally possessive of bones and will feel threatened that it will be taken from them, and they will defend it.
- Don’t stick your hand through a fence or into a car to pet a dog. If your kid is walking around the neighborhood and sees a dog in a yard, no matter how cute it looks, teach your kid to not go up to the fence to try and pet the dog. The same goes for a dog alone in a parked car. I know it is SO common sense, but I have seen kids, teenagers, and adults do this!
Getting bitten by any animal can be a painful and traumatic experience for anyone. Teaching your kids to respect dogs, and how to show themselves as less of a threat when meeting for the first time will make it a more pleasant experience for them both.
Thank you for reading this post. Was there anything else I left out that you think will help our readers? Or did you have a painful experience that you want to share?