Knowing how to approach and interact with dogs is important in avoiding conflict between humans and our canine companions, especially when it comes to children.

Patricia McConnell, an expert in animal behavior, said in her book “The Other End of the Leash” that if you see a dog you want to pet, you should stand sideways and avert your gaze.

Do not move any closer to the dog you are hoping to pet. If the dog approaches you, then the dog wants to be pet. If the dog does not approach you then the dog does not want to be pet and it is best to stay where you are and let the dog be.

While this is a simple enough rule to follow for adults, there are some important things to teach your kids when it comes to child to dog interactions.

Whether your child is outside playing and a loose dog approaches them or if they are simply wanting to pet a leashed dog, these tips can help keep your child safe and help him or her to be dog savvy from a young age, leading to better interactions for both your child and your dog.

  • If your children are outside playing and a dog is walking by, teach them to never run out at the dog. Any person moving swiftly and directly towards a leashed or unleashed dog is scary, and that person can be perceived as a threat. Instead, teach your children to continue playing, or if they are interested in meeting the passing dog, have them stay at a safe distance and ask the owner if it is okay to pet their dog.
  • If the owner gives the okay for your child to approach, have the child walk up slowly and make sure the dog is facing your child so he or she isn’t surprised by being pet. Have your child extend his or her palm up for the dog to sniff. If the dog seems okay, then the child can gently scratch under the dog’s chin. Hands coming over the head is considered rude to dogs, whereas under the chin is a polite way to initiate a new greeting.
  • Make sure your child knows to never hug or grab a dog’s face. This is unpleasant and scary for a dog, who may feel restrained and want to get away.
  • If you have a dog at home, create a space where only your dog can go. A crate with the door open works, or even a room that is off limits to the kids. Allow your dog to escape the hustle of the house when it needs to rest.
  • In addition to respecting your dog’s safe space, also teach your child to respect your dog’s personal space. Tail pulling, ear pulling, sticking hands near a dog’s food, grabbing its face, climbing, and riding your dog are never acceptable behaviors. As a parent, it is important that you teach your child how to respect and live with your dog. It is not up to your dog to tolerate uncomfortable human behaviors.

Teaching your child good dog manners will help both your child and the dog, and mutual positive experiences will lead to better human-canine communication overall.

Kristina O’Keefe of North Attleboro blogs at kristinascritters.com to promote the status of animals in society.

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