Whether you own a dog or not, it’s important to teach your toddler how to behave around dogs. Today you’ll not only see these furry friends around the neighborhood sidewalks and parks, but also in restaurants, grocery stores, and even on airplanes. Dogs have become more and more accepted in public due to the increase in emotional support and service dog registrations. This means that your toddler could be interacting with a dog on any given day in a variety of different settings. In order to assure that your child, the dog, and the dog’s owner have a pleasant and safe interaction, here are a few tips!
Model the Behavior You Want
If you’re a dog lover, it can be easy to go straight to petting a dog even though you’re trying to teach your toddler not to do that! Remember that your child will likely mimic your actions in these situations. Even if you see a dog you know well, treat every interaction like you’re meeting the dog for the first time so she can understand appropriate pet safety behavior.
Talk to the Dog’s Owner First
Be sure to greet the owner and ask permission to say hello to or pet the dog. Some of the dogs you meet will be service animals and should not be touched. Let your toddler know that these service dogs are special and they’re “working” when they’re out and about. Remember that it’s never appropriate to ask why an owner needs a service dog.
If it’s not a service dog, follow the owner’s lead so he or she can help guide the experience for you and your toddler. After you ask, “Is it okay to say hello/pet your dog?” the owner can let you know if the dog is comfortable with children, if it’s shy, or if it really loves a good belly rub! Talking to the dog’s owner is an essential first step in assuring a safe, polite, and enjoyable interaction.
Be Gentle, Let the Dog Come to You
Many dog lovers will see a friendly-looking pup, outstretch their arms, and run towards it as if it was a long-lost love. It’s no surprise that a toddler may want to do the same thing! But regardless of how warm and approachable a dog may seem, after the owner gives the okay, it’s still important to allow the dog to approach you first. Dog trainers suggest holding out a hand and allowing the dog to sniff it. Kneel down so you’re at eye level with the dog and your toddler. Show her how to outstretch her arm and present a friendly hand to the dog. Be patient and gentle and allow the dog to come to you. Give it a minute or two to sniff your hands and become familiar with both of you.
If the Owner Says ‘No Petting’
The owner may not think it’s appropriate for you to pet the dog. Maybe the dog is in training, hasn’t had any interactions with children yet, or has aggressive tendencies. If you’re a safe distance away, it’s okay to wave and talk about the pup. “Yes, that’s a brown doggie. He’s big and strong, isn’t he? We can wave but we can’t pet him today because he’s still learning.” Quickly grabbing your toddler and running in the opposite direction can spark a sense of fear in both her and the dog. Let her know that some doggies need extra time alone with their human moms and dads. Yelling or running away can trigger some dogs to react, so it’s always best to remain calm, avoid sudden movements or noises, and slowly walk away.
Dogs with Food or Toys Need Space
Dogs can be possessive over toys and food. Teach your child that if a dog is playing with a toy or enjoying a treat or meal, it’s best to give him space. If you have a new dog in the home, it may try to play with your child’s toys. Be sure your toddler understands that she should never rip a toy away from the dog. She should always let an adult know when the dog has a toy that doesn’t belong to it.
Always Supervise Dogs and Kids
Remember that dogs and little ones under the age of five shouldn’t be left alone. Even if everyone is on their best behavior, dogs and children can still be unpredictable. In order to maintain proper pet safety at all times, always have an adult in the room.
Other Behaviors Children Should Avoid
Lastly, teach your little one these rules to promote kind, gentle treatment of dogs:
- Don’t squeeze or hug the dog
- No running or yelling around the dog
- Don’t try to ride the dog
- Don’t tug or pull on his tail or ears
- Don’t disturb him while he’s sleeping
It will take time for your toddler to master “dog etiquette,” but starting young is the best way to ensure a lifelong sense of respect and safety around dogs.