We often hear two main concerns from parents:
- Their child is scared of dogs
- Their child is overconfident with dogs
Both situations can cause problems. All children should learn how to interact with dogs safely. Make sure your children know and follow the 3 Golden Rules
1. Always Ask
This is the first rule because it is the most important. Children should ALWAYS ASK before approaching a dog. Not all dogs will want to interact with children. Some dogs will be scared of children or strangers in general. You also need to understand that the owner may say no if the dog is sick, in pain, tired or just having a bad day. Possibly the dog may be new to the owner and they don't know if the dog is friendly around children yet. Teach children to ask and if the answer is 'no' to just walk away calmly. If the owner says 'yes' then they need to follow Rule 2.
2. Where To Touch A Dog
Children need to know that if a dog's owner says 'Yes' then they should only touch a dog on the back and sides, as shown in green in the above poster. Children wouldn't like it if someone put their hands in their face or messed up their hair; dogs don't like having strangers anywhere near their head either.
It used to be that we taught children to touch a dog under the chin or on the chest, however, studies have been done that show this is actually very stressful for the dog and even if you think about it logically: if the child is leaning down to touch the dog under the chin their face will be close to the dog's face, so if the dog does react where is it going to bite? The face! You wouldn't stand your child behind a horse so why put it at the pointy end of the dog.
3. Stand Like A Tree
When children get scared of a dog they will often start squealing, waving their arms about and trying to run away. Unfortunately, this can excite a dog and cause more problems.
It is important to teach your children that if they get scared they stand like a tree. The aim is that the child will be so still and quiet that they are no longer of any interest to the dog (standing like a tree works for adults too!). Holding their elbows ensures that they keep still and can't move their arms around. Looking at their feet ensures they aren't making eye contact with the dogs.