Many dog lovers’ initial response when seeing a dog walking towards them is to say hello while bending over and petting their new friend.
This innate human behavior can send many dogs running for cover or even put them on the defense. Children tend to move more quickly, make higher pitched noises and touch dogs more obtrusively than grown-up humans. For that reason, it is even more important to follow a few rules to keep peace in the neighborhood, be kind to our furry friends and to prevent dog bites.
Rule #1: Always ask permission to say hello. This sounds overly simple but I cannot express how frequently children race up to pet my dog. I have socialized him to love people but tell them, ”he’s very friendly” in hopes that the next time they see a big lunky Lab that they will ask.
Rule #2: The best way start a good interaction is to have the child approach slowly and let the dog sniff their hand. It gives the dog time to feel comfortable with your little one and gives the child a task. Conversely, running mock speed at a dog can be a very scary for some. When flight or fight are a question, it is best to be on the safe side.
Rule #3: During the interaction, if the dog backs away or shows any signs of fear or tension, do not force it. That dog is clearly communicating disinterest and cornering the dog can result in a negative situation for dog and child. Additionally, do not allow your child to boink a dog on the head, grab around the neck, or lean over. I have seen many dogs retreat from these actions. Tell your child to pet the dog gently so they learn kind interaction with all animals. I praise children when they use a soft touch on my aging dog and they love the praise. Positive reinforcement works for many species.
Rule #4: Follow the advice of the dog’s guardian. If the person holding the leash asks you to hold on a moment while they get their dog in a “sit”, they are doing you a favor by preventing muddy paws from landing on your child’s shoulders. Additionally, there are some very sweet but shy dogs out there who would benefit from more positive interactions. I usually do not coach my clients to allow a dog to eat treats from a child’s hand until I know the dog. While it is nice for some dogs to create positive associations; it is a terrible idea if the dog has food guarding issues or has not learned to gently take treats from human hands. Giving kids a couple tips on how to interact with dogs they do not know will keep them safe, it only takes a moment to steer them in the right direction.