Young children are naturally drawn to dogs. It’s as if they can sense that dogs are often loyal, affectionate, and always ready for the next adventure! Of course, as with any animal, there are some safety measures to keep in mind. Use this checklist to ensure each encounter is a happy one for your young children and their furry friends.

1) Are They Meeting the Dog in a Neutral Location?
When your small child first meets a dog, the setting can play a role in how the dog responds. For example, meeting the dog inside the dog’s home may trigger him or her to protect the house and family against newcomers. Also, if the dog feels cornered, he or she may feel scared and respond with aggressive behavior out of fear or anxiety.??On the other hand, when introductions happen on a walk, the dog may feel more comfortable and ready to greet strangers. Another excellent location for young children to greet dogs is at the park or on the lawn where there is plenty of space for the dog to run, play, and retreat.

2) Did the Owner Give Permission to Pet Their Dog(s)?
Before approaching any dog, even one the child knows well, the dog should show signs of being ready to receive the attention. However, such signs can be difficult to read at times. Therefore, if the dog belongs to someone else, be sure to ask the dog’s owner or caretaker if the dog is friendly to young children and if it would be alright for your child to pet him or her. If the dog belongs to your household, teach your children how to know when the dog wants to be approached for petting and when he or she would like some alone time.

For instance, startling a dog when the dog is sleeping may result in him or her waking up with aggressive behaviors. In this example, such aggression could be avoided by letting him or her wake up to his or her name being called from a distance instead.

3) Do They Know How to Use Gentle Hands?
Another way to prevent accidents with any animal is to teach young children to use gentle hands. As dogs are closer to their height, children tend to grab and pull whatever is within reach, which may include tails or ears. These areas can be sensitive and may prompt a quick and protective action like growling or even biting in an attempt to stop the pain. Gentle hands will mean soft and tender petting habits that dogs will appreciate.
On that note, just like people, dogs can have other areas that they prefer to be left alone. Some dogs, for instance, do not like people to play with their paws. Therefore, in addition to young children learning gentle hands, try to find out which areas might bother the dog if touched too hard.

4) Do They Know How to Play the Calm Game?
Imagine being surrounded by a child running towards you excitedly as he or she makes loads of high-pitched noises that indicate either something is wrong or it’s time to play in a hyper manner. Since dogs cannot ask what is wrong, they tend to match the energy level of the child with either playful excitement or heightened anxiety. By teaching your child to take a few deep breaths while walking calmly towards the dog and asking the dog’s permission with an extended hand before petting him or her, the dog will more likely match the calm mannerisms and welcome the attention.

5) Where are the Children During Feeding Times?
It is important to let children show dominance with feedings for well-trained dogs who will politely sit and wait for their release command to eat. For those who get excited over dinner and crowd the bowl, it may be best for an adult to handle feeding time. In this way, young children will not be caught up in the excitement, which can lead to the dog showing possessive behaviors in an effort to protect his or her food.

Also, when feeding your dog, try to teach him or her to sit politely as you pour the food into the bowl at a higher level. Then, after the dog is calmly sitting and acting relaxed, teach him or her to stay and wait for the command to be released for eating. Practice this routine after the dog begins to eat as well to ensure he or she does not become overly possessive at feedings. With patience and consistent training over time, your dog can learn to allow you to pick up the food bowl and set it down repeatedly without being aggressive, which will help keep your young children safe.