Dogs and Children: Proper Interactions and Bite Prevention

Tara Stermer, Guest Blogger
April 22, 2019 

Dogs have been seen as a learning tool for children for generations. They are often added to families to teach kids how to be responsible, compassionate, and help with
the bonding stages. We all love the TV shows, and news stories, of the heroic dog that helped their child during a crisis. Whether it is a fire, a well, a stranger, or an attack from another animal. We tend to humanize dogs, because we consider them part of the family. 

However, in the most serious situations, we forget that even us humans cannot, and will not put up with the very same behaviors we expect a dog to put up with. One of the worst cases I have seen was a child that was attacked by the family dog after 2 years of living together. The child required plastic surgery and multiple stitches. The family reported to us that the dog never showed any aggression at all to the child in the first 2 years. The child could lie on him, take his toys from him, kiss him on the nose, etc. They asked me if I thought it was a mental problem with the dog. Maybe “rage” syndrome, is what they asked. 

Having the family pet bite or attack your child, is the most heartbreaking situation that can happen for everyone involved; but it is not “rage” or a mental problem. It is a communication problem, and a double standard problem. I tend to place humans in the same situation as the pet daily so people understand what they are asking their pet to tolerate, so here are some examples of what we would not tolerate from a child, but ask a pet to.

“We forget that even us humans cannot, and will not put up with the very same behaviors we expect a dog to put up with.”

Example one: Being jumped on when we are sleeping…
You had a tough day and finally get to relax on your friend or relative’s couch to unwind. All of a sudden a child comes running in screaming, and jumps on you. Would you be perfectly content with this? Would you allow your child to do this to another human? Would you allow your child to do this to you or their sibling everyday?Probably not! There would be a talk about proper manners, or how to be calm around people and respect personal space. But we allow children to do this to our dogs, and are surprised when the dog “suddenly” bites them. We immediately blame the dog, and state that the dog has a mental problem, rage, or blame the “breed”.

Example two: Taking food off your plate…
If you were sitting down for dinner and your child grabbed food off your plate, would this be acceptable to you? If your child grabbed food off their sibling’s plate at dinner, would this be acceptable? It would most likely cause the child that lost his or her meal to start yelling and screaming. Proper etiquette around feeding is not just for humans. Dogs will become just as defensive about their plates as you or any human would be.

Example three: Bullying for toys…
If your child was on a playground and another child came up and roughly pulled their toys away, you would most likely confront the parents of that child to not allowing bullying. If your child came up and grabbed a book from someone that was sitting and reading, would you allow this or teach the child that was inappropriate and rude behavior? While some dogs will tolerate this behavior, as some children on a playground would, allowing bullying behavior should not be acceptable to any being.

Example four: Inappropriate touching…
If you got a letter home from school because your child was chasing and smacking another child, maybe pulling the other child’s hair; would you ignore the behavior? We have all seen what happens when siblings start poking each other, pulling hair, or pinching each other. Parents rarely tolerate this behavior towards other kids or adults, but think this is cute when they do it to a dog. After one long 20 pound hanging hug, normally we step in and explain that is a “bit too much affection” to others, but not dogs…

So what kinds of interactions are ok with dogs? The same interactions we would expect from a child with other children or with adults.

Sharing is caring: Playing fetch is a great way to show sharing. Your child throws the ball, and it is just like sharing toys. Have the dog drop the ball and back up, or you get the ball and give it back to your child (if your dog is overexcited about play) to throw again.

Working together like schoolmates:
Teach your children to give simple commands like sit, stay, down, and roll over. Just like kids in their class, they will learn to work side by side instead of rough housing and wrestling all day.

Proper petting/touching:
Children should be petting a dog, gently and on their backs; not grabbing or getting in their faces. One way I practiced this with my own child was to teach her she could only pet the dogs if she sat in my lap. This is the safest and most educational way to teach a child dogs can be pet only if an adult is present. Proper touch is very
important, and it is not given if the dog is uncomfortable with it.

Warning, I am approaching!
Teach kids to say the dogs name prior to approaching the dog, so the dog knows they are coming. They should approach slowly and not run at them. Know your dog’s body language- if they look stiff, are wide eyed, or heavily panting- stop your child’s approach.


Tara Stermer is the owner of K9 Workingmind, Training By Tara LLC. For more information visit www.trainingbytara.com