Last updated: 23 Oct, 2023
Published on: 11 Jul, 2023
Dog & Kid Safety 101
Are you preparing to welcome a new tiny human into your home? Or do you already have kids and plan to adopt a furry best friend for them? Exciting times!
With some knowledge and preparation, you can ensure everyone in your whole family is safe and happy whenever they're together.
How can I keep my kids and dog safe together?
Actively supervise and physically separate.
First things first - always actively supervise when your child and your dog are not physically separated. You can make physical separation easier by setting up playpens and baby gates to create barriers. Another good idea is to train your dog to follow you when you leave the room to ensure they are not left alone together. Make sure babies, young children and dogs are closely supervised at all times (within arm’s reach and without distractions) when they’re together, especially during playtime.
Never place children on top of or next to your dog. Keep their face out of the dog’s face, and get into the habit of putting yourself between the dog and baby (like when you’re sitting on the floor or couch).
Set up a safe space for your dog.
Set up a safe area, like a bed or crate, in a quiet place in the home for your dog to retreat to when they need space. Teach your kids that it’s a special alone place for them to go to and that they’re not allowed in it when your dog is there. You can even stick a line of masking tape about a metre from the area to help kids (and adults!) learn boundaries around the dog. They can call the dog over the line to them, and if the dog comes, great! If not, leave them alone (and never enter the space while the dog is in there).
Learn your dog's language.
Our dogs are always telling us things and use their body to communicate. These gestures can be subtle, so it’s important to make sure that you and all other adults and kids in the household are familiar with dog body language. This will mean you can spot any early warning signs that your dog is stressed, scared or frustrated, and you can separate them from your child immediately before it escalates.
The earliest signs that your dog is uncomfortable are signs of avoidance behaviour - turning their face away, leaning their bodyweight away, trying to walk away.
Other common early indicators that your dog is uncomfortable and should be separated from your child include:
Turning their head away
Tense facial muscles
Quick and shallow breathing
Excessive grooming, like scratching or licking
If in doubt, anything less than an enthusiastic yes should be considered a no from your dog. One way to find out is by doing a 'consent test'. Stop the activity and see if your dog tries to restart it. Watch this short video to see how to do a simple test to see if your dog is really enjoying the activity.
What should I teach my kids?
If your small humans are old enough, teach them to gently and safely interact with your dog (and other dogs!). This can include:
✔️ Teach your children to ask your dog for permission to pat them first. They can do this by calling the dog's name happily - if the doggo shows a positive response, they can give them slow, gentle pats from their neck to bum. It’s important that they’re also taught to ask dog owners whether they can give their dog a pat first and to start by offering their hand to sniff, and never to approach dogs tied up outside without their owner present. Read more about the best way for kids to approach a dog for a pat here.
✔️ Avoid touching any areas your dog doesn’t like being touched (like their paws or face), and only gently touching them (so no grabbing their ears or tail).
✔️ Respecting the dog’s space by not getting in their face, making sudden loud noises near them, cornering them or trying to pick them up. This includes teaching them not to give the dog forceful hugs and kisses and instead showing their affection in ways the individual dog likes - this could be gentle belly rubs, chatting or reading to them, or waving and blowing kisses to them.
✔️ Learning the signs of when the dog has had enough interaction (or would like more!) If they’ve given them a gentle pat for a few seconds and the dog starts to move away, shake off, turn their head or yawn, it’s time to give them a break.
✔️ Not touching their food or water. This includes giving the dog space when it’s meal time and not standing over them, never grabbing food from their mouth, and leaving them alone when they’re snoozing.
Teach your child that anything they wouldn’t like done to them, the dog wouldn’t either!
If you are worried about the safety of your child or dog, please seek help from a force-free behaviourist or trainer as soon as possible.
Lili Chin’s dog body language illustrations are a wonderful resource to share with your kids.
Read more about introducing your new baby to your dog here.
Further resources for introducing kids and dogs and learning more about a dog's body language:
Banner image: Cottonbro Studio via Pexels