BY: BRYONY VAN NIEKERK
There are two types of children: those who launch themselves with open arms at every dog they see, and those who cower and run away from anything with four legs. I definitely fell into the former category. Every dog, cat, horse, or pig, I approached with all the excitement in the world. It never occurred to me that not all animals are friendly or want to touched or kissed by a tiny strange human. And why would they? My dogs and cats at home loved me. I loved all animals. And so by my child logic, these animals should love me as well. Love + love = love right? WRONG!
Now that I am older, and infinitely wiser, I can’t believe I used to do that. Especially since my one of pet peeves are children who just run up and
want to touch my dogs (who by the way, do not want to be groped by small hands).
Children need to be taught from a young age how to safely and respectfully interact with animals, a life lesson which I think is very often overlooked. Especially if the child comes from a home where there are no pets.
So if you are looking for a few tips on how to dog-proof your child, or child-proof your dog, keep on reading.
Tips for Kids
Knowledge is Power
From a young age start teaching your child all about dogs; what it means when they are wagging their tail, barking, licking, raising their lip, growling. The more information you can provide them with, the more comfortable and confident they will feel around dogs. Discuss dogs you see when you are out and about, and ask them how they think that dog is feeling. Is he happy, sad, scared, nervous? Over time your child will learn how to pick up on and interpret dog body language or video for the Gram before attempting to correct his behaviour.
And don’t skimp on the uncomfortable details. Let your child know that dogs can be dangerous, and under the right circumstance can bite, whether they are big or small, fluffy or cute. Even the most good-natured dog can have an off day.
Ask for Permission
If your child encounters a dog that they would like to pet, always ask the owner for permission first. The owner knows their dog, and how they react to new people and more importantly children. Most dogs are fearful of children, especially if they have not been exposed to them because lets face it, children are often loud and make erratic movements which can cause a dog to react aggressively.
Just as important as asking for permission, is respecting and accepting the owners decision. If the owners
answer is no, it’s no. Hanging around and bothering the owner could result in the situation escalating, especially if the dog is reactive.
How you approach a dog makes all the difference. One should never run up to a dog, or approach them from behind, as you could startle them. Instruct your child to approach slowly, stop about halfway and invite the dog to come the rest of the way to them. By doing this, you are giving the dog a choice. They can either choose to come to you or not. Should the dog opt out of the interaction, provide your child with a noncontact option. They can wave at the dog or a blow kiss.
If the dog does come up to your child, have them squat down (if the dog is small) and sit parallel to them, not face on. They can also hold out a closed hand and let the dog sniff them first.
Pet, Pet, Pause
Children can often be a bit rough when it comes to petting animals, so you want to make sure that your child knows to
use soft, gentle strokes. Children should avoid putting their faces close to the dogs, and should not give them hugs either. Additionally, most dogs don’t like their heads, tails, legs and feet to be touched as they can be trigger points. ‘Safe’ zones tend to be the chest, neck and upper back.
A great method to use when petting a dog is the Pet-Pet-Pause approach. This entails giving the dog two pets/pats, and then pausing. This pause allows you to see if the dog wants you to continue petting them. It they nudge you, or move towards you, this means they would like you to carry on with the love. If the dog moves away, take that as a sign that they have had enough, and are no longer interested.
Tips for Dogs
Advocate for your dog
It’s ok to say no if a child, or even an adult, asks to pet your dog. Perhaps it is because they are eating, sleeping or even just decompressing with their favourite toy. Or maybe your dog’s body language and other cues are indicating that they are
uncomfortable with the situation. It is your job to advocate for your dog, and remove them from the situation.
Never force your dog into an interaction that they clearly do not want.
Positive reinforcement is your greatest tool, and should be used from a young age. Reward your dog with treats and love when they behave well around children, be it from a distance or from afar. This will lead to associating good things with children.
It’s important to remember that not all dogs will like children. Some will never be their best friend. And that’s ok. In this case, reward them for not reacting to children, and rather engaging and remaining focussed on you. A neutral reaction is a win as well.