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7 Ways Kids Put Themselves in Danger Around Dogs

Warning: some of these will shock you. Because we’ve all been led to believe that a good family dog will “tolerate” anything from us or our kids. But should they have to? Respect is a 2-way street. If we want our dogs to respect our kids, we have to teach our kids to respect our dogs. That starts with learning what makes our dogs stressed out, scared, or nervous.

1. Hugs

This one was kind of a shocker for me too, back in the day. Hugging is such a natural way for little kids to show affection and friendliness – but dogs don’t get that memo. Why not? Let’s look at how dogs interact with each other for our first clue. They simply don’t hug to show affection. In fact the closest dogs come to hugging is when one grabs the other with his paws in a rude, domineering display. So while your child is thinking happy, loving thoughts as she hugs a dog, the dog is feeling trapped and not understanding why the little person he loves so much would do something like this. If you think your own dog loves to be hugged, check out his body language next time someone hugs him. Does he turn his head away, lick his lips, have wide eyes, or ears back? Then he’s not enjoying it. Even if your own dog eventually learns that hugging is positive, what if your child goes to a friend’s house and their dog doesn’t like hugs? Your child will do what she’s always done with her own dog, and that could put her in danger of a bite.

What Dogs Love Instead:

Your child can hug a friend (or you!). It’s fun, positive, and safe, and no one will mistake her sweet intentions.

2. Kisses

Yep, this one too. Dogs don’t see it as a sweet little kiss – they see a face stuck in theirs. Getting in a dog’s face is the cause of many dog bites to children every year. Thankfully, there’s a safe way for kids to kiss their adorable dogs. Check it out below.

What Dogs Love Instead:

Teach your kids to kiss their dog the Family Dog way (courtesy of Justine Schuurmans). All they have to do is kiss their hand and wipe it on the dog’s body in a smooth stroke down their back. Then all that love your kids put into their kiss goes to your dog. And there’s zero risk of a misunderstanding.

3. Hands reaching over their head

Let me ask you this, did you like being patted on the head when you were a kid? If you’re anything like me, you thought it was pretty annoying. Dogs have a blind spot at the top of their head, and it makes them uncomfortable for someone to be touching them where they can’t see. Plus, dogs really would prefer to be stroked instead of patted. In fact, if you watch a dog get patted on the head, you’ll probably see them duck a little – just like we did when we were kids J

What Dogs Love Instead:

Stroke a dog with one hand from his collar to his tail. Using just one hand is important because dogs can feel trapped with two hands on each side petting them. Ahh, much nicer!

4. Playing rough

This includes pushing, pulling, sitting on, or riding the dog. Even if it’s a big gentle dog who “tolerates” this stuff, it’s still really uncomfortable and even painful for them. Again, it all goes back to respect. If you want your dog to respect your kids and not do stuff they don’t like (like stealing their stuff or jumping on them) you’ll need to teach kids not to do stuff the dog doesn’t like.

What Dogs Love Instead:

Check out our blog post 5 Seriously Fun Games for Kids & Dogs for cool games your kids can play with the dog.

5. Being disturbed while resting

When your dog is asleep, it’s extremely startling to be woken up suddenly, even if your child just came up to pet them. Do you like it when someone pounces on you in your sleep? I didn’t think so! If your dog is resting in his crate, it makes him even more uncomfortable to be bothered, because now he can’t get away.

What Dogs Love Instead:

Your kids get to make a Do Not Disturb sign for the dog! It’s a great reminder to put on or near the crate. If someone bothers the dog, all you have to do is point at the sign!

6. Hands in their food bowl

We don’t want a dog sticking his nose in our child’s dinner plate, so we don’t let our child stick their hands in the dog’s bowl. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to make sure a dog is comfortable with people being near his food bowl (because inevitably a child is going to take a tumble and land in the food bowl, move the bowl without thinking, etc.). But testing a dog out all the time by sticking our hands in the food bowl is unnecessary and unsafe.

What Dogs Love Instead:

Teach your dog to love having people near his bowl by tossing extra yummy food in while he’s eating his kibble. Kids can help do this with close adult supervision. Teach kids to walk away when the dog is eating. Try asking them, “How would you feel if someone snatched away your cookie or stuck their hand in your plate?”

7. Being carried by kids

This one is mainly a problem with puppies and small breeds. Kids don’t know how to securely carry a dog, and it’s easy for the dog to be dropped or accidentally squeezed to tight. A bad experience like that can make a dog wary of being held or handled by anyone.

What Dogs Love Instead:

Show your kids how fun it is to get a dog to follow them with treats. They can drop the treats on the floor in a trail behind them or hand them to the dog. Tell them, “This is how cool kids move their dog from one place to another.”

Colleen Pelar, family dog specialist, often says, “ Good kids and good dogs will still have misunderstandings every day.” They need parents like you to be the hero and help them live happily and safely with their dog. We know you can do it.

Feel like you need a hand up? Our virtual and in-person dog training programs were built just for families. Check them out here.


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