When meeting dogs:
Teach kids to extend the back of their hands for the dog to get familiar with their scent. Always present hands slowly and with a closed fist, and never over a dogs head. Explain that dogs get to know each other and people by scent, and it’s like saying “hello” in dog language.
Learn to recognize the signs of an animal in distress or an uncomfortable situation. If the dog has it’s head or tail down, is looking out of the corner of its eyes or the hair on the back of the neck is standing up, it is not ready for any interaction. Most of the time, failure to recognize that the dog is feeling threatened leads to people thinking that growling or snapping is coming out of the blue. Sometimes it just means that the dog needs a little more time to warm up to this new company, or may mean that they are just not comfortable around children in general.
When playing with animals, it is important for kids to realize that they have feelings too. Explain to the child, would you like to have your hair or your tail pulled (if you had one!)? One of the worst things an adult can do is make a blanket statement like, “That dog will bite you”. This causes anxiety and fear that children will apply to all animals. Teach kids to play gently with pets and even give them simple commands like “sit” and “stay”. This also teaches the animal that the child is in charge and they must listen. When they complete a command, reward them with a treat or a toy and vocal praise.
It is also the responsibility of the owner to teach their animal how to be comfortable around children. If you know your dog becomes stressed in a situation with kids, avoid schools or playgrounds on your walks. Always keep an eye out for children who may run up unexpectedly and try to pet your dog. If you feel that the anxiety caused by children is too much for your dog to handle, always consult a trainer or animal specialist to explore ways you can minimize their stress. By working together with animals and children we can work to stamp out future animal cruelty and unnecessary accidents.