Interactions between Children and Dogs

March 15th, 2014

Sadly, it’s a story often told. A cherished family dog bites a child seemingly out of the blue, and the owners feel the only appropriate thing to do is to put their suddenly aggressive pet to sleep. This does not need to happen to your family. While the actions of both children and dogs can be unpredictable, you can teach children to interact with your dog in ways that will minimize the possibility of your pet instinctively lashing out.

Dogs by nature are pack animals. They tend to defer to the adults in a household as pack leaders, but will view children as being equal to or subordinate to them. This can result in behaviors such as growling when a child is near their toys or food, and can go as far as biting if they feel threatened. Therefore, establishing a good relationship between your dog and your child starts with you. First, consistently train your dog to associate interactions with your child as positive. This begins with always supervising them when they are together, and making sure that your child is interacting with your dog in a kind manner. For example, you should teach your child to gently pet your dog rather than tugging on his fur. Other things your child should avoid doing to your dog include shouting, poking, awakening, pinching, and hugging. As a positive step, encourage your child and dog to play together and have your child teach your dog tricks rewarded with treats.

You should work with your child to recognize the signs of when your dog is feeling anxious, scared, or tired and should be left alone. These include cowering, panting, backing away, pacing, or moving especially slowly. Finally, be sure to give both your child and your dog generous praise after they have enjoyed a positive play session together. You can read more about this important topic on the website of animal behaviorist and veterinarian Dr. Sophia Yin.