How To Keep Children Safe Around Dogs


Recently, we have had a couple of clients with small kids who experienced their dog suddenly nipping, lunging, or biting their kid, apparently ‘out of the blue’. This is quite a common problem for families with small kids and dogs. Kids like to hug, kiss, and reach out to touch in sudden quick movements. Most kids squeal, shout, jump, run, and attempt to put things in the dog’s face, etc. They like to take things away from a dog, or tease the dog. 

Unfortunately, these are all things that dogs don’t generally like. It is important to understand that a dog never does anything without something triggering his behavior. It could be something very subtle or unnoticeable to the untrained eye. It can be something in his environment, like a dog barking outside and your kid runs by at the same time. It can be something your child has done on a few occasions that the dog doesn’t like and then suddenly snaps.  It can be something physical. Perhaps she is in pain. When a dog reacts, aggressively or fearfully, it is usually due to a perceived threat. 

 Dogs and puppies make associations constantly based on these basic principles:

 What is safe for me - versus neutral - versus dangerous for me

They quickly learn that by operating on their environment, these rules apply:

 What works for me - vs neutral - vs what doesn’t work for me

So if your child is doing something that frightens your dog, or makes her uncertain, she is forced to react to make the scary stimulus go away.

 To keep kids safe around dogs, follow some very simple rules:

 1.    Never leave kids alone with your dog, unsupervised.

2.    Teach kids to respect the dog’s choice:

-      Leaving them alone when they are resting and 

-      Letting the dog choose if he or she wants to come. 

-      Holding out the palm of the hand to let the dog sniff before engaging

3.    If the dog is being wild around your child, show your child ‘how to be a tree’:

-      Standing still as a tree with the arms either crossed or hanging down the sides.

4.    Teach your child not to take anything away from the dog if he or she has it in his possession, like a toy or food.

-      You can train your dog to form a positive association with kids (and adults) around the food bowl. This has to be trained with adults only: 

·     Walk by the food bowl several times a day and toss a treat into the bowl. 

·     Teach your dog to sit before giving him his food

 If your dog is showing signs of aggression around food or toys (like growling, snapping, barking, biting) – contact a professional trainer for help to avoid any bite incidents, or the situation from escalating.

 The rules below are a great set to teach your kids. Check out for more advice on keeping kids safe around dogs. There are great resources about body language too.


Teresa's Bad Rules 

These are rules that kids in Teresa's dog obedience classes call the "bad rules" because they don't like some of them. 

Following these dos and don’ts will help promote child safety around dogs and prevent dog bites. 

  1. Do not hug a dog, put your face close to his face or lie on him. Do sit beside your dog, rub his chest or scratch him on the side of the neck.

2. Do not play chase-me games with a dog. Do play hide and seek - where the dog has to find you or an object that you hide. 

 3. Do not play tug-of-war games with a dog. Do play fetch with the dog - teach the dog to trade the object for a treat so he won't try to tug. 

 4. Don’t lean over or step over a dog. Do respect a dog's resting place - go around him or ask an adult to move the dog.

 5. Do not bother a dog who is sleeping, eating, has a toy or bone, is hurt or has puppies. Do wait for the dog to come to you for attention. 

 6. Don’t dress a dog up in play clothes. Do dress up your stuffed animals. 

 7. Do not hit a dog or poke him with a stick. Do be gentle with dogs. 

 8. Do not pull a dog's ears, tail or fur. Do scratch the dog's chest or the side of her neck - most dogs enjoy this. 

 9. Do not stick fingers or hands into the dog's crate. Do ask an adult to let the dog out of the crate if you want to pet her. 

10. Do not play in the dog's crate. Do play "in and out of the crate" with the dog- toss a treat in - dog goes in to get it - dog comes back out - toss another treat in etc. (with adult supervision). 

11. If your dog does not welcome you with wagging and panting-leave him alone. Do wait for the dog to come to you for attention. 

12. If your dog gets too rough or excited, be a tree (stand still with your hands folded in front and look at your feet) until he gets bored and goes away. 

13. Do not run and shout around a dog that is not in a crate. Do be calm around dogs; involve the dog in an activity such as chewing on a bone or playing fetch so he doesn't feel that he needs to chase you to have fun. 

© Joan Orr and Teresa Lewin 2002 

March 6, 2019