Dogs and Kids: Here’s how kids should interact with Fido

I am taking a step away from dog training advice this week to talk about a related subject: teaching kids how to behave around dogs. A significant number of people who bring their dogs to training classes or hire a trainer to come to their homes have children or grandchildren that interact with the dog on a regular basis– sometimes the dog was even adopted as the child’s personal pet.

Every day the adoption centers at shelters and rescues in New Orleans are visited by excited young kids who want to pet and play with the dogs they get to see. Unfortunately, what I witness a lot in all of these situations are children who unknowingly frighten or anger the dogs, although usually not to the point where it becomes dangerous.

As adults, we need to make sure that very young children are never left unattended around dogs and cats. Even a second is too long– it only takes one second for a serious bite or scratch to occur from an otherwise friendly pet. With older children (I would say ages 4 and up) there should be a few basic rules in place for dealing with family pets and animals that belong to someone else.

Here are some pointers:

  • If the dog is sleeping, eating, or chewing on a toy, leave him alone. Talk to the child about how she would feel if another child came over and took away her snack or favorite toy suddenly. Or if someone was to scare her awake by grabbing her hair or hugging her with no warning. To get the dog’s attention in any of these scenarios, the child should call the dog from across the room and be prepared with a reward in exchange for the food or toy.
  • If it is rude to do it to your friends, it’s rude to do it to a dog. That includes getting right in the dog’s face, sitting on the dog, pinching cheeks, pulling on ears and hair or screaming at him.
  • Always ask permission from the adult owner of a dog before petting the dog. Once the grown-up says it is ok, pet the dog on the back closer to the tail. If the dog offers a lick or sit, you may be able to scratch behind the ears. If he rolls over, it’s probably ok to give a belly rub. Keep your face away from the dog’s mouth.
    When a dog is behind a door or fence or in a kennel, don’t bang on the glass or rattle the bars. Never put your fingers through small openings to touch the dog’s face.
  • With the family dog, get the kids involved in exercise, play and training. There are plenty of ways to use games to teach both the children and the dog polite behavior and help them bond.

We are holding a Dogs and Babies workshop Sunday, Sept. 10 at 9 a.m. at the Metairie Small Animal Hospital. For more information on this subject, to see more details about this class or to register, visit www.la-spca.org/training/workshops.