Teaching Kids How to Approach an Unfamiliar Dog

By Linda Cole

When I was a kid, old enough to know better, I saw a dog chained to a parking meter. The owner was nowhere in sight. Kids raised with dogs have a tendency to view all dogs like their pet at home. That’s exactly what I did. As I approached the dog, it lunged at me and I had to jump back to avoid getting bit. It was a good lesson to learn. Kids can learn how to look at a dog and understand what the dog is telling them before they approach it. A child is more at risk for dog encounters because of their small size. A more aggressive dog isn’t as intimidated by a child as they are with adults.

It’s just as important to teach your children what to do when meeting an unfamiliar or stray dog as it is to teach them what to do if a stranger approaches them. Dogs are everywhere and sooner or later, kids will find themselves face to face with an unfamiliar or stray dog. The dog could be a family or friend’s pet, a dog in the back of a truck or a stray dog who’s trying to find his way back home.

Teaching kids how to read a dog’s body language is their best defense. Most dogs mean us no harm and they are experts at reading our body language. If a child shows fear or aggression towards the dog, it can lead to an unwanted and unnecessary confrontation, even if the dog and kid know each other.

Avoid direct eye contact with an unfamiliar or stray dog. Teaching kids how to look at a dog is as important as understanding the dog’s body language. To a dog, direct eye contact is perceived as a challenge. It’s alright to keep an eye on it, but don’t stare. If a stray dog starts to walk towards you, walk away from the dog, but do keep an eye on him to see what he’s doing. Even a friendly dog can bite if we give wrong signals.

Never run away from a dog, because running will activate his prey drive. A friendly stray may give chase because he wants to play, but it can be frightening to a child or adult when a dog is chasing them. Don’t kick at them or try to push them away with your hands. Teach kids to stand completely still with their arms held straight down next to their body if a stray dog approaches them outside. Stay calm and try not to tighten up because the dog can tell if we’re frightened. Most dogs will give a few sniffs and then be on their way if they’re completely ignored.

If knocked down by a stray dog, curl up in a ball with your hands over your head and remain still and quiet. Excitement from us will create excitement in the dog. The best way to keep a situation under control is by staying in control and remaining calm.

Enter a home with a dog as if there is no dog. Even if there’s a comfortable and safe relationship between kid and dog, the dog should be ignored until the greetings are over and everyone has calmed down. Dogs get excited when company arrives and the best time to give them attention is when everyone’s in a relaxed state of mind. Encounters with dogs happen because we don’t always understand them. They have days when they aren’t feeling up to par, just like we do.

When meeting someone’s dog who is unfamiliar to them, kids should be taught to always ask before approaching the dog. It’s only natural for kids to want to pet and play with a dog. However, even laid back, friendly dogs don’t always like having a child pull on their ears. Injuries can be avoided with one simple rule. Never try to pet a dog you don’t know. Dogs react the only way they can and will use a growl and bite, if necessary, as a warning to us to leave them alone.

Teaching kids how to approach an unfamiliar or stray dog, even if it looks friendly and is wagging its tail, can help protect them from negative dog encounters. As long as they aren’t threatened by us, most dogs will leave us alone. A stray dog doesn’t know we want to help them and we don’t know what they may have been through while living on the streets. A stray dog can be defensive, fearful or friendly depending on how it’s been treated by people it has met along the way. Teaching kids how to look at a dog and understand the dog’s body language is your child’s best defense when meeting an unfamiliar or stray dog.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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2 thoughts on “Teaching Kids How to Approach an Unfamiliar Dog

  1. when i walked my dog around the apartments and kid would run up. i would put my dog behind me tell the kid to stop and and ask them what they want. when they say to pet the dog i tell them the dog rules:1 ask your parent 2 ask the owner 3 hold out your hand and let the dog sniff it. only then may they pet my dog.

  2. So very important! One of our dogs is a bit skittish and I always cringe when I walk her and a kid comes running up to pet her. I don’t want to frighten the child, but I also don’t want Bear to snap at the kid. I always taught my children to ask the owner before approaching a strange dog and to never try to catch a dog that is running loose.

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