Babies Children and Dogs

Meeting and Greeting a Dog

The correct way to meet a dog that you do not know is to approach side-on, without making direct eye contact. Glancing and looking away is fine. Fearful dogs will find direct eye contact very scary. Speak to the dog in friendly, engaging tones of voice. If the dog appears to be relaxed, crouch down on your haunches at least two metres away from the dog, still side - on and allow the dog to approach you. If the dog chooses not to approach; you must not force yourself on the dog. The dog may believe that it has no option but to defend itself against your threatening advances. At this distance, the owner can restrain or remove the dog where necessary. If the owner advises that the dog is not friendly - do not attempt to force yourself on the dog (even though you might want to demonstrate kindness). Once again, the dog may feel forced to defend himself against your advances and if he is fearful of people, you will have knocked his confidence further in his ability to deal with people without using aggression.

Left: Of course, do not even attempt to interact with a dog that is displaying fear or overt aggression. He’s pleading with you to leave him alone.

It is good advice for parents to te ach their children never to approach a dog that is tied - up. When they are old enough to understand, explain that dogs can feel scared when they are tied - up and can’t get away and will sometimes bite. Children may only approach and pet a dog if its owner is present and gives permission.

Above: Children (or adults) should never approach a dog that is tied - up and unattended by the owner.

There are many myths surrounding dogs generally and no area more so than in regard to our children. It is a dangerous misconception that the right way to introduce yourself to a dog is to hold out the back of your hand to the dog's nose. I cannot think of many better ways of getting a nervous dog to bite you! In particular, I fear for the safety of children whose faces are closer to the dog's teeth.

The theory behind this misconception is that the dog can smell whether you are friend or foe. This is absolutely a myth!

Let's keep in mind that the dog's sense of smell is many thousand times stronger than our own - he simply does not need a hand shoved up his nose to scent you. Furthermore, your action of offering your hand, particularly when reaching in over the dog's head may be misinterpreted by the dog as threatening or aggressive behaviour on your part . The dog may feel the need to defend itself, particularly if he's on lead and feels that he cannot back away from your advances.

Dogs Can Read Our Body Language

Dogs are masters at reading body language. Well before the dog is interpreting anything from your scent, he will have learnt much about you from your behaviour during your approach, especially if you are not confident - so, do not attempt to pet a dog if you are feeling nervous of the dog.

Good advice:

  • always enquire of the owner if you can pet their dog;
  • do not pet a dog that is tied up, especially if the owner is not there;
  • do not reach your hand out to the dog;
  • allow the dog to approach you;
  • do not approach a dog that has ignored your encouragement to approach you; and
  • stay away from any dog that you feel nervous about.

Food Guarding

We would like to be able to feel confident that if our children ha ppened to approach the dog while it was eating, the dog would tolerate the situation, without displaying any form of aggression. We need to understand the dog's natural instincts and behaviour in regard to food.

Should you reach out to take the food bowl whilst it is in the dog’s possession , you will risk being bitten. However, once you have possession of the bowl again, the dog will behave in what seems an apologetic manner. Having ignored the dog's attempts to warn you off; next time you to attempt to steal the food, he may feel a need to escalate that warning!

Conversely, you may be able to successfully intimidate the dog into not growling at you when you approach the food. But think ahead: the dog will not feel intimidated by a crawling baby or young child and because you have taught the dog that humans are indeed a threat to food in his possession, the baby or child is placed at risk

Let’s use our understanding of the dog to alter the idea in his mind as to what our approach to the food signifies. Do not teach the dog that you are a threat to the food by attempting to take it when he tries to warn you off. Do not scold the dog. Heed the warning and do not approach any closer. This way your dog can feel comfortable that he does not have to escalate the warning.

Place only half of the dog's meal in the bowl, reserving the yummiest bits, steak fat, leftovers, etc. Place the dog's bowl on the ground in the usual manner and move away. Return to the dog with more food in your hand before he has finish ed the food in the bowl. The moment you detect any warning such as tensing up or growling; stop where you are. Toss the food into the bowl. Repeat the sequence.

It will depend on the dog's past experiences as to how long it will take you to be able to approach the d og at the food bowl without him feeling concerned at all.

We want to achieve the ultimate result of being able to pet the dog and even move his food bowl, without him becoming concerned. (Start by always giving him further yummies after each occasion he has tolerated your petting or touching the bowl). Of course, this type of training needs to be carried out by an adult. Only when the dog is absolutely reliable, would you consider introducing a child to the scenario. And then , tie the dog on lead so that he can reach the food bowl and no further – your child is then provided with a safety gap

If aggression around food is a problem you might also consider increasing the number of meals presented to the dog each day, so that food is devalued as a resource, reducing the dog’s need to guard

It is helpful, to have the child give the dog his meal each day, to assist establish a pleasant association in the dog's mind towards the child. To start building on a great association from day one, your new baby could be included in all activities that the dog finds pleasant.

How should my children interact with dogs?

Keep in mind that most dog bites occur in children in the age group 0 to 9 . Most commonly, the dog is scared and is defending itself; or alternatively , it believes it has a right to discipline the child - perhaps the dog simply does not have sufficient respect or confidence in the pack hierarchy. Also understand that children of four years of age or under cannot correctly interpret dog warnings such as growling, lifting of the lips, hackles raised, direct eye contact, cringing, etc.

Ensure that you are leaving no doubt in the dog's mind as to the capability and reliability of the pack structure. (See separate notes titled, “Some Good Advice for Adult and Adolescent Dogs” or “For the New Puppy”.)

Teach your dog how to “settle”: increasing his tolerance levels in the process. Settling exercises include: tie - up or restraint exercise, crate training, sending the dog to bed, “parking” the dog (standing on the dog’slead to restrain him – he can sit, stand, lay - down, but cannot jump on you or others). Remember to provide plenty of exercise and stimulation for your dog through off - territory walks, training, chew toys, retrieve and tug - o - war games. He’ll then be more capable of settling on request.

Teach your dog how to play with humans and the rules involved. Retrieve and tug - o - war and variations on these games are the best. Playing is the most effective way of nurturing the human – dog bond. The dog must accept the rules of the game:

1. He must not grab or lunge for the toy; he must wait for the cue, YES.
2.He must give up the tug toy on the cue, LEAVE.

If your dog is not playing by these rules, seek further advice. The dog must be safe for your child/ren.

Give your dog a place to go to get away from your children: a bed or crate, another room or the backyard. If you can see your dog has had enough, send him or take him to his place and ensure the child/ren leave him alone. Explain to the child/ren what is happening. Some families will be fortunate to have a dog that can never get enough of the kids, but it is unfair to expect every dog to be this way.

Never believe that your dog is "completely reliable" with your child/ren. There can be many reasons why a dog bites a child: the dog may be in pain (perhaps unknown to you), the dog may feel threatened in aparticular situation and act defensively, many dogs will react defensively when suddenly woken, or when something has seriously startled them.


As your child's understanding increases with age, make an ongoing commitment to educate them in the handling of their own pets and also the appropriate interaction with other people's animals. In particular, approaching dogs that are tied up - a dog can be at his most defensive in this situation. Always check with the owner and supervise the situation. Try to encourage the child to stroke the side of the dog's face, rather then reaching over the top of the dog's head. Teach your child/ren the signs that dogs give to indicate they are scared or aggressive, to enable your child/ren to keep themselves safe.

A nervous child may gain confidence in stroking the dog's back while the dog's head is held by the owner. Placing the dog into the DOWN STAY position may also help in this respect. This dog must be very experienced and confident with children. Whilst we demand the dog's respect, ensure that the child learns to respect the dog!

No child deserves to be bitten. If your dog is behaving aggressively towards your child, you need to question if is it worth putting the child at risk while attempting to work at the dog's problem? In my opinion the answer is NO!

Read More

Successfully introducing your new baby to the resident dog, needs to be well planned and much thought about. Please read Amy's Blog if you are expecting.

Read More
Amy's Puppy Training App Icon
Sound Proof Puppy Training App
Available On AppStore
Available On Google Play