By Joan Orr and Teresa Lewin

As a dog trainer you are an educational resource for your clients and community. Offering information about safety and dog bite prevention is good for your canine and human clients and your business!

Here is a safety topic that is not frequently addressed, but can be important to your clients with families: dog safety issues relevant for the nanny or babysitter (we will just use the term babysitter to denote any child care giver). This involves safety for the children, the babysitter herself and even the dog. Most people don’t give a second thought to leaving their kids and dog with a babysitter, since the dog is part of the family, but there are in fact many considerations required to ensure that there are no accidents.

There are several aspects to this topic and we will discuss each separately. This is a lot of information for parents and babysitters to digest, so we have some handouts that can help you share the key points with your clients.

  1. Safety of the children
    • At home with the family dog
    • Out in community with dogs they might meet
    • With the babysitter’s dog in her home
  2. Safety of the babysitter
  3. Safety of the dog

Safety of the Children

Of paramount concern to parents is of course the safety of their children. Parents will take great care to select a babysitter or in-home daycare and will ensure that the babysitter knows first aid, has access to all emergency numbers, is aware of potential hazards in the house, knows to lock the doors and where the fire extinguisher is kept and on and on to the point that it seems that the parents will never actually get around to going out that first night with a new babysitter! Frequently overlooked as a potential hazard is the family dog. Most parents assume that the dog is friendly (and they are usually right) and will behave in the same way for a babysitter as he does when the parents are home (they may be wrong about this). Parents may have detailed protocols for suitable outdoor activities, including the use of the local park and avoiding strangers, but they overlook instruction on what to do about strange dogs the kids might encounter on an outing.

When evaluating a home daycare, parents will want to know about protection from household hazards such as guns, kitchen knives, fireplaces and poisons, but will dismiss the babysitter’s dog without a thought. Most family dogs are friendly and you would certainly wonder how someone with a potentially dangerous dog would consider taking children into her home, but the fact is that all dogs have the potential to bite if the stressors exist. There have been some tragic attacks “out of the blue” by friendly family dogs in babysitting situations that could have easily been avoided if both the parents and babysitters were better educated and informed about dogs.

There are three main situations in which a child could encounter a dog while under the care of a babysitter. These are:

  1. At the child’s home with the family dog
  2. Out in community with dogs they might meet
  3. With the babysitter’s dog in her home

Safety of the Child at Home with the Family Dog

Most people find it inconceivable that their family dog could be a threat to their own child (or anyone else’s child for that matter). They do not know that the statistics show that most dog bites are by a family dog known to the child. Parents are also generally unaware that both the kids and the dog might behave differently when they are not around. Thus it is important to educate the babysitter in basic safety precautions with respect to the family dog and to have rules that apply when the babysitter is in charge. Being proactive and having a plan for the dog/child/babysitter interactions sets everyone up for success.

Here are our babysitter rules. We suggest that you post these on your fridge and go over them with the babysitter and with your kids if they are old enough.

  1. The baby (and other children) are never left alone with the dog even for a second.
  2. In order to gain compliance from the dog the babysitter should use treats rather than force.
  3. Dog should not be bothered when eating, sleeping, chewing on something or in his special place.
  4. Children may not interact with the dog when the parents are not home.
  5. The babysitter has the right to refuse to look after the dog and to ask that the dog be confined or taken with the owners.
  6. If you are outside with the children, never allow them to interact with any dog, even if they know the dog, or the owner says it is OK.
  7. If you are outside with the children and see a loose dog in the distance, take the children back indoors, or leave the area in a calm manner.
  8. If a loose dog approaches, instruct the children to Be a Tree. That is stand still, fold their branches (hands folded in front) and watch their roots grow (look at their feet). The babysitter should be a tree as well. Stay still until the dog goes away or help comes. If the dog returns, resume being trees.