I spend a large part of every day out with dogs – rarely a well-behaved dog (otherwise why would you need me?), and often a dangerous dog, or a very excitable dog.
One of the worst things that can happen when out with a difficult dog is a small child running towards us, desperate to talk to the dog, and with no brakes in sight.
If the child is running towards an aggressive dog the risks are obvious. If the dog is excitable there is a high chance of the dog jumping on the child (to play), hindering the work we are doing in teaching the dog to be calm, and the child taking on much more canine love than they were expecting.
At the other end of the scale, we have the parent who violently drag their child out of the path of every dog they see (usually stemming from their own distrust of dogs). This will teach the child over time to be fearful of all dogs, regardless of temperament. Ironically, people who are nervous around dogs are more likely to be bitten by them!
The first thing your child should learn is to ask the owner of the dog if they can say hello (or the parent askes for them). Respect the answer of the owner, and if given the green light then approach in the following way:
– Walk calmly up to the dog
– Child holds out the back of their hand for the dog to sniff
– If the dog sniffs happily then gently stroke their head, starting at their chin (never go straight to the top of a dog’s head, this can make them uneasy)
– Try and match the energy of the dog during your interaction. Old dogs rarely want to play with high energy
The above sequence is just as valid for adults as it is for children.
Teaching your child to know when and how to approach dogs is important for their safety, the safety of the dog, and will allow them to enjoy dogs in a positive way.