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  • Writer's pictureCaryl Wolff

Dogs and Children

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

boy holding a black puppy
Teach dogs and children to be safe around each other.

Dogs and Children

What can you as a parent do to help ensure that your children and your dog have a good relationship? Dogs and children can coexist safely and happily. Teach your child how to act around dogs – their dogs and dogs that belong to someone else – and your dogs need to be taught how to act around children – your children as well as others. As a parent, please make sure that these interactions are successful. This is something that needs to be done every day. The day that you have a momentary lapse is the day that an accident will happen.

Dogs are a great learning tool for your children. They help them learn respect for other living things, give them (limited) responsibility for taking care of something besides themselves, and help them look at the world from a different perspective. Help your children realize that dogs are not stuffed animals.

This dog is yours although your children may take part in its care, even though you may have gotten the dog “because the kids always wanted a dog and promised they would take care of him.” Let your children participate in its care to the extent they are able at age appropriate levels, but please remember that you are the adult, and the responsibility for your dog’s ultimate care is yours.

Remember that dogs don’t think the same way as people do. Even though they are a part of your family, dogs will react instinctively unless they are trained otherwise. Sometimes those instincts mean biting.

  • Most dogs do not regard children as authority figures. They regard children as a lower rank in the pecking order than they are, and in dogdom, the higher–ups discipline the underlings with their teeth.

  • They may also regard children as threats or as prey – children scream and wave their arms and run around, and then the child comes over and tries to hug the dog, sometimes with disastrous results.

The most important thing a parent can do for any child is supervise the interaction of their dog with all children — children should never be left alone with a dog, no matter how loving or trustworthy the dog is. It only takes a split second when you leave the room to turn off the stove for your child to stick a pencil in your dog’s ear – and for your dog to bite your child. No matter how well trained your dog is, if you have children, there are going to be times when they act inappropriately around your dog – for example, your child may accidentally fall on your dog.

Remember, too, that your dog may tolerate behaviors from your children that he will *not* tolerate from your children’s playmates. That’s why it’s vital for you to supervise.

What You As A Parent Can Do

  • Always supervise child/dog interactions. Always.

  • Include your dog in everyday activities.

  • Involve your children in care of the dog at age-appropriate levels.

  • Teach your children that dogs are not toys.

  • Obedience train your dog.

  • Involve your children in obedience training at age appropriate levels.

  • Stand behind your children or have them sit on your lap when they are training obedience.

  • Tell the children that the dog has feelings just like they do and they should not do anything to hurt the dog.

  • Watch your dog for signs of stress, such as if he

    • becomes very still

    • stiffens his legs

    • flattens his ears against his head

    • stops wagging his tail

    • closes his mouth

    • stares at the child or you or off into space

    • bares his teeth

    • growls or snaps

  • Childproof your dog to

    • be handled roughly – his ears and tail being pulled

    • be accidentally stepped on

    • be accidentally tripped over

    • allow people around his food bowl

    • be awakened and not bite

    • stay calm around children running near him

  • Give the dog his own bed in a room other than the children’s room.

  • Praise your dog for good behavior around the children.

  • Praise your children for good behavior around the dog.

  • Refrain from giving the dog things he may protect such as a bone or rawhide.

  • Teach your dog to associate good things with your children such as giving him his favorite treat when children are present.

  • Teach your dog to take treats or toys gently.

  • Give the dog a place such as a crate where he can retreat and have time alone when you cannot supervise.

What You Can Teach Your Children about Dogs

  • You can take your children to zoos and pet stores and other places with animals to teach them about animals and their behavior.

  • Talk to them about how important animals are in our lives. Let them watch television programs about animals. There are also many books about dog and puppy care that are geared to children. You can read those books and talk to your children about what you have read.

  • Show your children how to handle your dog safely.

  • These are some areas that are especially important to discuss with your children.

  • To leave the dog alone when he is

    • eating

    • sleeping

    • sick

    • playing with his toys

    • resting in his bed or crate

    • growling or showing his teeth

    • stiffening or freezing his body

    • walking away from the child

  • To handle the dog properly (You can show them by using a stuffed toy and then have them practice.)

    • gentle stroking with a flat hand, especially from under the chin or along the side of his neck or body

    • move slowly around the dog

    • lower their voices around the dog

    • say the dog’s name before you go up to him

  • To refrain from

    • reaching over the dog’s head

    • hitting or kicking the dog

    • pulling, poking, or punching body parts

    • teasing the dog

    • chasing the dog

    • wrestling or rough play with the dog

    • playing tug-of-war

    • riding the dog

    • doing anything that overexcites the dog such as running

    • surprising the dog

    • putting their faces near the dog’s face

    • hugging the dog

    • taking a toy or food away from the dog

    • staring at the dog’s eyes

    • running near the dog

    • eating near the dog

  • To play the proper games with the dog

    • fetch

    • hiding a toy

    • hide and seek

    • obedience training

    • trick training

  • To become a tree and stand still so that if the dog gets tense, they will not move.

What To Tell Your Child About Petting Someone Else’s Dog

My personal preference is not to let your child pet someone else’s dog unless you are present. Here are some things that you should consider before you make your decision.

Look at the dog and determine for yourself if the dog looks like he wants to interact or if he is fearful. Some of the signs of a fearful dog are:

  • growling

  • looking away and avoiding looking at your child

  • tail tucked between his legs

  • licking his lips

  • cowering

These are also some considerations for your decision as to whether to let your child interact:

  • If the surroundings are crowded and noisy, the dog may be stressed.

  • Are there a lot of children in the area waiting to pet the dog? Only one at a time should pet the dog. How are THEY acting — calm or excited? This includes the demeanor of your child as well.

  • Do you have confidence that the owner knows how his dog will act to your child?

  • Make sure your child is not carrying food or does not have any on his face, hands, or clothing.

Realizing that kids are kids and you won’t always be around to counsel them when they see a dog and want to pet it, here are some guidelines to minimize risks.

  • Never go up to a dog that you do not know.

  • Never try to touch a dog through a fence.

  • If a person is with the dog, always ask permission if you can pet the dog – first from the adult that you are with and then from the

  • person with the dog.

  • Follow instructions of the owner.

  • Don’t pet the dog if you have any food.

  • Speak in a calm, normal, and friendly voice.

  • Look away from the dog’s eyes and slowly put your fist out so the dog can sniff it.

  • Move slowly — no running or jumping around.

  • Pet the dog from under his chin.

  • Never hug the dog or put your face next to his.

  • Never hurt the dog by pulling its tail or poking at him or hitting him.

  • Stop when the dog begins to pull away or looks uncomfortable.

  • Don’t take the dog’s leash.

  • Thank the owner and the dog.

What To Tell Your Child If He Is Playing at a Friend’s House and They Have A Dog

  • If the dog is in the front yard or on a porch and there is no adult there, don’t go in the yard or the house until you call for an adult to come out.

  • Remember that this is not your dog and he is not used to your being at his house. Remember that you are a guest in his house.

  • Let the dog smell you by putting your fist out so he can sniff it, and move slowly around him. Speak in your normal voice, no screaming.

  • Don’t run around or play rough games if the dog can come to where you are. Ask an adult to keep the dog away from you while you’re playing with your friend or ask an adult to be with you taking control of the dog when you and your friend are playing if the dog is near you. (Many children are bitten by dogs they know because adults have not been aware of this.)

  • Don’t bother the dog if he is eating or chewing on a bone or toy.

  • Don’t feed him snacks or treats.

  • If the dog growls at you or shows you his teeth, tell an adult immediately.

  • Don’t tease the dog, play roughly with him, or throw things at him.

What To Tell Your Child To Do If He Sees A Stray Dog

  • Don’t try to catch the dog or pet him.

  • Tell an adult.

  • Don’t stare at the dog.

  • Don’t tease the dog.

  • If the dog starts to come towards you, stand very still like a tree. Don’t look at him, and don’t scream or run. Keep your legs

  • together. Make your hands into fists and slowly put them up around your chin.

  • If the dog knocks you down, curl up into a ball with your fists around your ears. Stay very still and don’t scream or try to run away.

  • Always treat a dog with respect. If your child is doing something to a dog (whether it’s your dog or not) that you would not permit him to do to another child, then stop it immediately and prevent it from happening in the future. The safety of both your child and the dog is in your hands.

Thanks for visiting Dogs and Children. I make a small commission on any products or books I recommend.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only. It does not replace a consultation with a dog trainer, dog behavior consultant, or veterinarian and may not be used to diagnose or treat any conditions in your dog.

If you need help with puppy or dog training, we do both private in-person and virtual lessons via Zoom. Please contact us by calling or texting (310) 804-2392 or sending an email to . We look forward to working with you.


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