Growing up with dogs can be a wonderful and educational experience for children. A dog in the family can teach responsibility, empathy, and respect for other living beings’ needs and boundaries.
When sharing a living space, it's crucial that parents ensure kids and dogs alike feel secure and are safe at all times. This requires a proper understanding of how to interact with dogs and how to read their body language.
Dogs are intelligent beings, but their intelligence level is similar to that of a two-year-old child. Dogs rely on body language and facial expressions to communicate how they're feeling; dogs will always communicate how they are feeling, it is just a matter of understanding what they’re telling you.
For this reason it’s essential to take the time to learn about and understand dogs’ body language and how to interact with them safely.
Young kids (0-5yrs): With younger kids in the house, you will need to manage your environment in ways that keep everyone safe. Management tools may include baby gates and x-pens to create barriers between child and dog when needed, while plenty of exercise and enrichment will help keep a dog relaxed and content within the household. Kids this age and dogs should never be left unsupervised.
Older kids (5+ yrs): As children grow, they begin to understand dogs’ needs and are more capable of helping out. Parents can start by teaching their kids basic rules for interacting with dogs safely:
Always approach a dog slowly and calmly
Let a dog sniff you and give consent before attempting to pet them
Pet a dog gently on their backs or stroke their chest
Avoid approaching a dog’s head from above
Avoid erratic behaviour and shouting/screaming around a dog
If a dog is scared, give them space
Don't hug, kiss, grab, pull, squeeze, climb, ride a dog, ever
Do not put your face near a dog’s face
Give a dog space when they are eating or playing with a toy
Remember that an animal is a living soul and can be harmed by or react to our actions.
Observe body language and learn to read what a dog is telling you
It's equally important for kids to detect and recognise the different signs of stress or anxiety in dogs. If a dog is exhibiting any of these behaviours, kids should be taught to stay away and to go find an adult:
Turning their head away/trying to hide their face
Yawns unrelated to sleep
Regardless of age, there are general factors to consider before introducing a dog into a household with children, such as:
The dog's history with kids
The kids’ history with dogs
The kids' age; young children may run, yell, and be unpredictable, which can be alarming or threatening to some dogs.
The kids’ ability to understand instructions and whether they're ready for the responsibility of caring for a dog
Raising a dog with kids can be a rewarding and beautiful experience,, but it requires focus, discipline and ongoing management to ensure everyone's safety and well-being. By teaching kids how to interact with dogs safely and respectfully, parents will be sure to foster a positive relationship between their kids and their furry friends.