I live in a large community with A LOT of little kids. When my husband and I walk our two pups around the blocks, it’s pretty common to hear little voices say, “Awwww – look at the little doggies!” Then, we often hear the pitter-patter of their feet hitting the sidewalk, as they run over and ask if they can pet the pups. Since our Chihuahua, Diego, isn’t the most comfortable with kids, I hold him away and, unfortunately, say no. But, our toy Poodle, Gigi, is the friendliest little girl around. So, with her, we always say yes. I must say, I’m impressed by the kids who have clearly learned relaxed and gentle greetings. It’s a lesson all parents should go over with their kids to ensure a smooth “Hello!”
Here are some tips to help teach your kids how to greet an unfamiliar dog:
1. Understand Basic Canine Body Language
Dogs may not speak our same language, but they do communicate with us through body language. Before a child pets a dog, teach them to recognize the signs of a scared, anxious, or aggressive pup. They may include:
- Tail between the legs
- Lowered head
- Ears down
- Lip licking
- Backing away
- Lifting a paw
2. Know What Not To Do
Quick movements, hollering/shouting, and eye-level stares can trigger stress in a dog. Couple that with unintentional rough grabbing, hugging, and squeezing and it can lead to one very frightened Fido.
Here’s the thing: Even the calmest and most well-trained dogs have their limits. It’s natural. When dogs feel very scared or stressed, they let us know through body language (as I mentioned above). If kids ignore that body language and continue to shout, tug, hug, and squeeze a dog then it could lead to a bite. From your dog’s perspective: “Hey, I’m just protecting myself.” From your kid’s perspective: “That dog bit me and now I’m afraid of dogs.”
That’s why it’s so important to understand a dog’s body language and know what not to do. Some general tips:
- Avoid quick and wild movements. Do not run-up to an unfamiliar dog because it will freak him out and immediately put him on the defensive.
- Avoid loud sounds
- Don’t stare down a dog
- Don’t grab at a dog’s ears or tail
- No climbing on or trampling
- No hugging or squeezing
- Don’t interrupt a dog when he’s eating
- Don’t pull dog’s bone or toys out of his mouth
- Leave dogs alone when they’re sleeping
3. Always Ask Permission
Some dogs are great with little humans (AKA kids), and others aren’t. So, kids shouldn’t just assume a dog is friendly, quickly run up to him, and start petting him. Instead, kids should ask Fido’s mom or dad if they’re allowed to pet the pup.
Have an open conversation with your kids and explain that some people may say, “No, you can’t pet my dog.” And that’s okay! It’s nothing personal. Some dogs just aren’t used to children and pet parents may not feel comfortable with the unknown.
4. Approach Calmly
Dogs are downright adorable and petting a new ball of fluff is super exciting. So exciting that some kiddos have a hard time containing their energy. I get it! But, it’s important to keep greetings low key so the dog doesn’t feel overwhelmed or threatened.
When approaching a new dog, have your child calmly walk up to the dog’s side, leaving some room in between them. Ultimately, you want the dog to make the first contact.
5. Give The Dog a Hand
After your child approaches a dog (and leaves some space in between), have them slowly extend their arm out, offering a hand. The hand should be:
- Closed fist
- Palm down
- Extended at the dog’s nose level
- A little distance from the dog
Give the dog a little time to lean in and sniff the child’s hand. Dogs use their sense of smell to check people out and say “Hello”.
6. It’s Time To Pet
If the new dog appears calm after the hand sniff – and isn’t showing any of the signs I mentioned in #1 – then your child can pet the pup! A word of advice: Be gentle and don’t reach over the dog’s head. Instead, have your kiddo pet down the dog’s chest and side of the body.
7. If a Dog Pulls Away, Stop
Sometimes dogs will appear just fine, but after a few seconds of petting, he may pull away. If this happens, don’t have your little one follow the dog. Instead, take this as a sign: The dog has either had enough or just needs a moment.
If the dog comes back then let the petting resume!
8. Say Thank You!
Because why not use these interactions as another lesson in good manners?!