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Family taking home a dog from the animal shelter giving new home adopting the pet

This part is always crazy exciting!

The essentials

  • Even minor bites and scratches can lead to problems — Bites and scratches can carry diseases that can result in serious health complications without the proper precautions. 
  • Always be mindful when interacting with a dog — Move gently around dogs (especially when they’re not yours) to help them feel more comfortable around you. 
  • See a doctor right away when accidents happen  — Minimize the risk of infection by getting your child immediate medical attention for animal scratches and bites, no matter how minor they seem.

We’d like to think our furry best friends would never hurt a member of the family, but dog bites can and do happen. Regardless of their demeanor, breed, or history, there’s always a certain level of unpredictability as a dog adapts to a new environment. 

Records indicate as many as 1000 people a day require emergency medical treatment for serious dog bite injuries — and many of them are children under the age of 14. The good news is that injuries in both kids and pets are easily preventable when the right precautions are observed.

These strategies teach kids to approach and handle pets in a gentle, respectful manner, helping them build stronger bonds with each other and creating a safer environment for everyone in the house.

1. Ask before approaching a dog

Just like you would when interacting with a person for the first time, dog encounters are all about using our manners. 

If you’re a new dog owner, you can help your pup feel more comfortable in their new surroundings by letting them set the pace of your interactions. Let them come to you and give them praise and a treat whenever they do for positive reinforcement. 

When meeting new dogs on the street, take the time to say hello to the owner before saying hi to the dog. Make sure to ask the owner if you can approach their dog. Some dogs just don’t like to be touched by strangers, and they may lash out even if they seem friendly at first glance. 

It also helps if you pay attention to a dog’s body language when approaching them. Give them space if you notice them shaking, trembling, licking their lips, shifting their weight back, or if their ears are pinned back against their head.

2. Greet new dogs slowly

Once you’ve got the owner’s okay, you’ll need to get the dog’s permission. To avoid any potentially intimidating movements, you’ll want to teach your child to let the dog come to them. Avoid making direct eye contact, and gently hold out a relaxed, lowered hand so the dog can sniff the top of it and familiarize themselves with the new scent. If a dog comes up to you, that’s their way of saying they want to meet you.

“There is no surefire way to make friends with a dog right off. Some dogs are very stand-offish to the point of aggressive lunging and biting or may be so intimidated are fear-biters that can also be just as aggressive and damaging. 

Many times we use a calm voice, not baby-voice-squeaky talk as it can be very disturbing to some dogs, especially older dogs. The high-pitched voice makes them think a child is going to be harmful and the fight mechanism winds up.  

Approaching with lowered eyes and avoiding direct eye contact helps with some. Offering a hand lowered in a non-threatening manner may help. No matter what is done, there is no guarantee as to human safety until the dog gets to know them and this may take hours to days — and may never work in some dogs that have behavior issues to begin with. 

In the clinical situation, we use many of these techniques as experience “reading” the animal is needed. In fact, some animals become more aggressive in smaller rooms or confined to a kennel cage or run.” — Dr. Bruce Armstrong

3. Give dogs space

Don’t be discouraged if a dog backs away from you, tucks his tail between his legs, or looks to their owner for protection. Just like most people, dogs aren’t always in the mood to be social. Respect the dog’s decision, and help your child interpret their cues by slowly backing up and explaining they need a little space. 

👉 Never try to take a treat or toy from a dog. Respect their space when they’re eating and playing, and let them come to you when they’re ready.

4. Give treats the right way

If a dog feels comfortable enough to take a treat from you, take a second to protect your fingers by making it easily accessible to them. Lay the treat flat in your palm while keeping your fingers closed together. That way, you eliminate the risk of an over-excited pooch mistaking your pinky for a sausage. 

👉 Some puzzle toys and chew balls are designed to dispense treats for dogs as they play with them. Consider these if you’re worried about your kids getting hurt while giving treats.

5. Avoid screaming and sudden movements

Dogs are easily startled by loud noises and sudden movements, and if a child approaches them the wrong way, they may become too rowdy to approach safely. Some hunting dog breeds have an instinctual prey drive that can be triggered when someone runs away from them. 

👉 If your child is too young to properly control their reactions, it may be best to consider keeping them away from dogs until they’re a little older. 

Knowing the difference between an angry or scared pet is a skill that all children should know. If your dog begins to growl and approach your child, the first thing they should do is avoid eye contact and walk away slowly. If the dog attacks, your child should curl up in a ball face-down on the ground and cover their face with their arms. Submission is the best way to cause a dog to lose interest.

If you see aggressive behavior in your pet, call it out to your children and walk them through the cues that you observed while referencing the guide.

6. Never leave kids unsupervised

Until a new dog has had enough time to properly acclimate themselves to your home, we recommend keeping a close eye on your kids whenever they’re around. This usually takes a couple of weeks at minimum. Even the most well-meaning dogs can act unpredictably in unfamiliar surroundings, and adult supervision is an easy, effective way to guarantee everyone’s safety.

👉 As a rule of thumb, never leave pets alone with children under the age of 5. 

What should you do if a dog bites your child?

If and when an accident does happen, and a dog bites your child, the most important thing to do is to get them medical treatment as soon as possible. Even if a bite appears minor or skin-deep, a dog’s teeth can cause deeper injuries to nerves, muscles, and bones that can’t be seen on the surface. 

Other bites may carry bacterial infections like cellulitis, which require immediate treatment with the appropriate medications. 

You can help the doctor narrow down treatment options more efficiently by providing them with key details about the incident, including: 

  • The dog’s vaccination history 
  • Your child’s vaccination and general medical history
  • The nature of the attack (was it provoked or unprovoked?) 
  • In cases not involving the family dog, the name and location of the dog’s owners

If the wound isn’t bleeding heavily, you can clean it with soap and hold it under running water for several minutes before going to the doctor’s. More serious bleeding can temporarily be mitigated with the application of pressure but may require stitches to properly seal.

👉 No matter who’s injured, you should never attempt to treat a dog-related injury yourself. See a doctor for safe, effective treatment options.

If another dog bites you or your dog, ask their owner if they have their rabies record on hand. These vaccination certificates tell you if and when a dog has been vaccinated for the rabies virus. 

Whether you’re a pet owner or not, kindness and respect are principles parents everywhere should strive to instill in their children. 

Be patient with your kids as you teach them how to properly interact with dogs, and with new dogs as they slowly start to build trust with your family. Before long, they’ll be comfortable enough around each other to engage in safe play sessions with no risk of injury.

Frequently asked questions

How do you keep dogs and kids safe?

The easiest way to keep kids and dogs safe around each other is simply to be around. Adult supervision eliminates the risk of playtime becoming too rowdy and it gives parents a valuable chance to teach their kids safe ways to interact with animals. As an additional precaution, it’s also a good idea to keep your kids and dogs up to date with all vaccines, especially those for conditions like tetanus and rabies. 

How should kids act around dogs?

When teaching your kids how to act around dogs, it’s important to stress space and gentleness. Discourage rough petting, overly rough hugs or squeezes, loud noises like screaming, sudden movements, and running away. Start by having them slowly hold their hand out for a new dog and let the dog come to them. 

👉The best way to teach your children how to treat dogs respectfully is by setting an example with your own behavior. 

How do I train my dog not to be scared of kids?

Dogs can become anxious or afraid around children for multiple reasons, from a lack of early socialization and a history of negative experiences to sensory overload and an instinctual urge to protect their owners. You can train out this fear by using treats to create positive associations with children, setting up “safe zones” where your dog can go to be in a child-free space when they get overwhelmed, and most importantly, by teaching your children respectful ways to interact with animals. 

Can you train a dog to be good around kids?

Absolutely! Dogs are usually only aggressive around children for a reason, but you can help them get more comfortable by rewarding them with toys, treats, and praise whenever kids are around. Start by giving them treats with your child standing at a distance, then slowly decrease the distance between them as they begin to ease into the dynamic. 

What to do if my dog doesn’t like kids?

Never force a dog to interact with anyone they seem apprehensive towards, whether it’s a child or a full-grown adult. Respect your dog’s space whenever their behavior indicates they’d like to be left alone, and stress the importance of treating animals with kindness to your kids to prevent them from aggravating the dog further. Use toys and treats to form positive associations with children in your dog’s mind, and be patient with them as they adjust to their new home.