You might have had some concerns about what happens when your child comes into contact with an unknown dog. Likewise if you are a dog owner and your dog is introduced to children. What advice should you give to children about how to approach and interact with dogs?

We all know how unpredictable some dogs can be. And we all know how unpredictable some children can be. Combine the two and it can be cause for trouble. This can be especially true when it comes to an unknown dog; it becomes a question of security for both the child and the animal.

So, how should a child react to a dog?

Responding to an unknown dog

When confronted with an unknown dog, a child's instinctive response will depend on their age, as well any previous experiences they have had with dogs. They may also be influenced by the type of dog approaching and how it is behaving.

For the child minder, the size and breed of the dog will influence the response you take, although other factors may also intervene. Typically, you will consider the demeanour of the animal, its behaviour during the meeting, the owner's attitude, and the animal's state of health (and hygiene).

Your response will influence your child so it's important to not only teach them how to best respond, but to also lead by example.

It might seem obvious, but if you come across a dog that appears aggressive, do not let your child have contact with it. Similarly, if the dog seems timid, it is again better to avoid any contact. A shy dog ​​can become aggressive if it feels the need to protect itself. Similarly with an injured dog.

Hyperactive and overly playful dogs can also cause accidental injury to your child, even if they are small. Unless the owner shows you that the dog is well-trained and there is no risk to your child, then it's recommended not to take any risks.

When it comes to the health of the dog, some diseases (known as zoonoses) are transmissible to humans. If the dog appears dirty and unkempt, avoid letting your child come into contact with them. This should apply whether the owner is present or not. If the dog appears to be abandoned, contact an association that can take care of it.

Guidelines for children when interacting with dogs

To give your child and the dog the best chance of a positive interaction, here are some guidelines that you might like to teach your child.

First and foremost, it's important to teach your child not to run towards or after the dog. The best approach is to remain calm and relatively still, allowing the dog to approach on its own terms. You should also remove any food your child may have in its hands so as not to tempt the dog.

Children should also be taught how to be gentle with animals, both when in their company and when petting them. It's important that children don't pull or tug on the animal, or scream and squeal in their vicinity. Moreover, it's vital that children know not to insist on touching the dog if the animal does not want to be touched.

We recommend always asking the owner of the dog if your child wishes to pet it. If the go-ahead is given, teach them not to look the dog directly in the eyes and to hold out their hand, palm facing down, to the dog's nose.

Even if the dog seems calm, receptive, and non-aggressive, and the owner has given their permission to you and your child, always be vigilant and do not let the child and dog wander from your sight or reach. Remember that a young child should never be left alone in the presence of an animal, unknown or not.

What have you taught your child about interacting with dogs?

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