Teaching your child how to interact with dogs and some important signs to look out for

I can’t stress how important it is from an early age to teach your child to interact with dogs correctly and the importance of learning to read a dogs warning signs! As a mum and dog trainer, I often see people unknowingly doing silly things involving kids and dogs. Being unaware of the danger that these simple things can cause is potentially putting your child or dog at risk.


Harper with some very relaxed and happy dogs

There have been too many dog attacks on kids in the news lately and it saddens me to think that in many cases with a bit of education, some of these things could have been avoided. Bites are usually a last resort, so it is likely that the dog has given some kind of warning that they are stressed or unhappy in a situation, but this sign has been missed. I am here to help educate you guys as parents so you can educate your children and learn to understand your dog and other dogs a bit better.


Setting these rules from the very beginning is SO important. As soon as your baby is no longer a fragile new born and starts to see your dog and becomes interested, start teaching them about the rules and boundaries around your dog and other dogs.


Paxton and Cooper

Here are the most important rules you can teach your child to interact with dogs appropriately and safely.


Teach them to be gentle.

This is an obvious one… but again, so often I see kids being rough with dogs and their parents just watching them do it. This isn’t good enough! Teach your child how to be gentle with a dog. Show them how to pat them nicely. Tell them that the dog likes it when we are nice and gentle with them. Show them by example and give your child lots of praise, reward and encouragement when they are doing the right thing.


Teach them to always ask before patting a stranger’s dog.

Don’t just stick your hand in a strange dog’s face for them to have a sniff. Some dogs won’t tolerate this. As a rule of thumb, ALWAYS ask before patting a dog and ask where the dog likes to be patted. This is a big one I am teaching my children every day and I can’t stress it enough! My children have no fear of dogs, they love them! But they need to learn that not all dogs are as happy-go-lucky as ours is. If a dog is tied up at school or outside a shop and the owner is not there and you do not know the dog, you should teach your child not to pat them. Even if a dog appears to be friendly, you just don’t know. It may be stressed because it can’t see its owner, it might be anxious, etc. It’s not worth the risk. If the owner hesitates when you ask them and says the dog is a bit anxious or isn’t always friendly, respect that dog, give it its space and move on. Again, it’s not worth the risk.


Teach them to call the dog over to them, rather than sticking their hand in the dog’s face.

To some dogs, putting your hand out in front of their face to sniff can actually come across as quite threatening. If you would like to pat a dog, rather call it over to you. If it comes to you, then give it a pat. If it doesn’t come to you, it could be a sign that the dog is uncomfortable and doesn’t want to be patted, so as above, respect that dog, give it its space and move on.


Teach them that not all dogs like to be patted on the head.

Some dogs love being patted on the head, some hate it. Some dogs love being patted on the bum, some hate it. Our dog, Cooper, doesn’t like being patted on his head. He won’t do anything to harm you but he will duck his head. It can be quite threatening for a dog if you come straight for the head. As mentioned above, if asking to pat a stranger’s dog, make sure to always ask where the dog likes to be patted, call the dog over to you and then go for that spot.


Teach them to read the signs when the dog is uncomfortable or has had enough.

Dogs use body language more than you may realise and it is important for you as a parent and/or dog owner to be able to read a dog’s body language and respond to it, so you can protect him if he is stressed and uncomfortable.


Things to avoid that will potentially aggravate, hurt or stress out a dog


Make sure your child does NOT:

  • Climb on the dog
  • Chase the dog
  • Pull hair, ears, tail, etc
  • Stick fingers in the dog’s eyes, mouth, nose ears, bum
  • Play with the dog’s food or water bowls
  • Stand over and watch the dog eat
  • Annoy/wake a sleeping dog
  • Take the dogs food out of a dog’s food bowl
  • Take anything out of a dog’s mouth
  • Tease a dog with a toy or food that you know it wants


What are the warning signs to look out for?

A dog will most likely let you know when and if he is stressed in a situation before reacting with a bite. Some of these signs are obvious and sometimes these signs are quite subtle and hard to read if you are not familiar with them.

Subtle signs that a dog may be uncomfortable are:

  • A simple yawn
  • Rolling their eyes
  • Licking the lips
  • Turning their head away
  • Quick and shallow breathing

More obvious signs include:

  • The dog trying to escape or remove itself from the situation
  • A little growl
  • Baring their teeth
  • A bite

Cooper trusts that I will always be there to look out for him around the kids. He loves them, but they can drive him a little nutty at times. Often, when he’s had enough, he’ll just get up and move away. But sometimes, he will literally just look up at me and give me the eye roll or the yawn. At that point, I make sure the kids leave him alone or I let him outside for some space. I always make sure to point it out to the kids when it happens, so they can learn to read his signs too. To help avoid your dog from becoming anxious around children, make sure that your dog knows that you have his back, that you love him and will always look out for him.


How do I know if my dog is happily playing with the kids?

As a general rule, you can tell a dog is ok and feeling comfortable if their body language is loose and relaxed. Dogs that have a loose mouth, tail and eyes are displaying a more relaxed body posture. Dogs that have a stiff body posture and/or a tight mouth are telling you and your children that they are uncomfortable and you must step in by telling the children to give the dog space or calling the dog away. Some dogs will let out a little growl as a warning and some may bite. A bite is usually the last sign your dog will give, it’s their last resort. So, make sure to watch out for the earlier signs as mentioned above and move your child away from your dog before it’s too late.


Cooper looking very relaxed with Paxton


Princess Harper with one of my very happy dog walking clients, Gus. He is also amazing with children and very gentle.

Finally, and MOST IMPORTANTLY never ever leave your child alone and unattended with a dog. Always make sure to supervise and step in if you feel the dog is uncomfortable or the child is at risk. And please, if you think your dog is a risk to your children, please seek the help from a dog trainer/behaviourist ASAP. 

To have a read on how you can teach your dog to behave around children, click here.

If you have any questions on this topic or would like some help or guidance with any of it, please feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email via the CONTACT tab. This is such an important topic. Please spread the word and share this article around to all parents and dog owners.

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Mel xox

Ps. This article was first published on Mamamia


A Cooper Sandwich

Disclaimer: This is a personal blog. I will not be liable for anything that happens to your dog or children by following my advice and tips. If you have real concerns or worries about your dog and/or safety of your children, please seek out a professional to come and assess the situation.



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  1. […] Dog trainer and supermum, Mel, was kind enough to share some tips about teaching children to safely interact with dogs and the warning signs to be aware of. To read the full article and for more great info about dogs and kids, head here. […]