Interact Only with Dogs Who Come to You for Attention
The best thing you can teach your kids to keep them from having an adverse encounter with your own dog or any other dog is this:
Only pet or play with a dog if he comes to you first. If you have to follow a dog around or go into his space to play with him or pet him, then he isn’t interested at the moment. Dogs like kids they feel safe with.
Read a terrific article from dog and kid relationship expert Madeline Gabriel about how to teach your kids to be that kid that a dog feels safe with.
Here’s a video that shows them how: https://youtu.be/vwg9NT_DLZA
Interact Only With Happy Dogs
Just like people, dogs have different moods. Even your own dog can be happy at some moments and tired, busy or even grumpy at other moments. Dogs don’t necessarily want your attention or attention from you kids at every moment. The safest dog for kids to interact with is a happy, relaxed dog.
You can tell a dog is happy and relaxed by his body language. If he’s all loose and wiggly, shows a happy panting face and is wagging his tail loosely, then he may be receptive to petting or play. If he’s stiff, closes his mouth during the interaction, turns away, walks away, yawns, flicks his tongue out or shows a half moon of white in his eye, then he’s not comfortable with the interaction. Parents, you should intervene if you see these signs while a child is interacting with your dog.
Read our previous article on how to speak dog for more details.
How to Tell if a Dog Wants More Attention from Kids
Dog and baby/toddler relationship expert Jennifer Shryock of Family Paws offers this protocol for deciding whether the dog wants more attention or has had enough:
Pet, Pause, Respect
Pet the dog (assuming he initiated and indicated he wants petting)
Pause…. after several gentle pets pause to see what the dog offers
- Nuzzles hand for more…. good
- Sweeps floor with tail and wiggles closer…good
- Turns away and disengages…. he is done
- Gets up and shakes off…. he is done
- Tightens facial features and becomes stiff…done!
- Checks in with handler often…done
Respect…now that the dog has given feedback that you observed during the pause…respect what the dog has communicated.
The hard thing for most people is to recognize when the dog has had enough. A dog may want several pets and then may choose to walk away and be left alone. We often put our desire to pet the dog over the need of that particular dog. This can backfire!
Family Paws Parent Education: Expert support and resources for families with dogs.
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