Animals and children: How children should and should not interact with their pet dog.

By Dr. Cecilia Boklin | Veterinarian, Kinabalu Animal Clinic

As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure that our children know how to safely care for our furry family member. Here are some important points that we can put into practice at home.

Children SHOULDinteract with their pet dog appropriately by:

#1 Being polite and kind to their pet dog. They follow our actions and gestures. So parents let’s show good examples!

#2 Learning to recognize when your dog is scared or anxious. So how do we know when a dog is scared or anxious? A dog might turn and bark, snarl, or growl. These are early signs that can escalate to a bite. A bite from any large dog can cause serious injury to a small child. So whenever your pet dog is showing these early signs, advise your children to step back and stop touching the dog.

#3 Play appropriate games with the dog.

  • Play fetch. This is where the dog willingly gives the ball or toy and remains politely still or sitting (waiting) before the ball is tossed again for it to retrieve back to the owner.
  • Training tricks. Puppies or juvenile dogs below a year old love to learn tricks that result in rewards such as yummy treats or bits of the dog’s meal or kibble. Teach your children to give short commands like roll over, sit and stay, etc. and then reward the dog with a piece of treat (or two) once the task is accomplished.
  • Walking and running with the pet dog (on leash for safety). All dogs need their exercise, and children can be a part of this too if the dog is well-trained and obedient.
  • Playing hide and seek. Hide and seek is a great way for dogs to learn to have fun, and by doing so, the dog will be able to practice its search and rescue skills.

Adults should make sure that the pet dog has a lot of positive association with the children. As parents, train your dog to associate the children with positive experiences so it will be more likely to tolerate your child just in case he or she accidentally interacts inappropriately.

Teach your child to regularly give food rewards for the dog’s calm, polite behavior such as sitting down and staying still. Always remember that it is crucial for all interactions to be supervised by parents, even if the child is generally well-behaved and the dog is very tolerant. Accidents can happen in a split second.

How children SHOULD NOT interact with dogs:

We, parents must educate our children to know these important points for everyone’s safety.

#1 Children should not disturb dogs when they are eating. Dogs are naturally possessive of their food and usually want to eat peacefully.

#2 Children should avoid taking a dog’s bone or toy while the dog is playing with it. Parents should teach their children that it is clearly wrong to steal toys from the dog. To build a tolerance in case the child makes a mistake, the dog can be trained to give up her toy for a reward. By doing this, the dog will willingly give the child the toy instead of being possessive of it.

#3 Children should avoid putting their face right up to a dog’s face. Teach your children to maintain an appropriate social distance. Dogs can get irritated just by putting your face right in front of the dog’s face.

#4 Children should not disturb animals when they are resting. Dogs also need a safe location, where they can be away from children and excitement. Children should avoid bugging the dog during their sleeping and resting time. If the child calls the dog from far and the dog chooses to get up and come over to the child voluntarily, then this is okay. But if the dog does not show any interest or respond, then it should be left alone.

#5 Children should not grab dog’s tail or ears. Unfortunately, this is the most common thing that small children do to their pet dog. To most if not all dogs, this is a rough type of handling, and they usually will react negatively towards this action.

#6 Children should avoid climbing on or trampling their dog. This is another type of rough handling that may result in injuries to both the child and the dog.

#7 Children should avoid squeezing their dog. This action can be painful and irritating for some sensitive dogs. Dogs can be trained at puppy stage to enjoy hugging or cuddling and close handling, but bear in mind that other dogs may not have the same tolerance as the trained dog.


Take home message for parents:

It is important to make sure your children interact with your pet dog appropriately, and we can do this by teaching them from an early age. Safety is the goal and unwanted injuries can be prevented.

For more information, kindly contact Dr. Cecilia Boklin at Kinabalu Animal Clinic located at Lot 6, Lorong Durian 3, Kian Yap Industrial Estate, 88450 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Contact: 088-385 804 Website: Facebook: Kinabalu Animal Clinic

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases. At Parents Avenue, we strongly recommend all our readers to seek medical advise from your local hospital or clinic. Thank you.

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