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Positive Dog Parenting®

by Rolan Tripp, DVM and Susan Tripp, MS/P

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Preventing Aggression
To Children

Muzzles as Cookie Masks

Pet Professional Tip

Be an advocate for children and pets.  Always recommend they be supervised when together!

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It is never permissible for the dog to be aggressive or threaten a person, adult or child. If your dog is fearful of your child - growls, snaps, nips, or bites - an animal behaviorist should be contacted immediately.


If left to their own devices, children may hurt family dogs or be hurt, even fatally.  In 2007, there were 32 fatal dog attacks in the USA. Dog bites are the fifth most frequent cause of visits to emergency rooms in the category of activities common among children. A 2003 Center for Disease Control (CDC) study reported 368,000 dog victims (1008 per day) were taken to hospital emergency rooms.  Most victims who receive medical attention for dog bites are children, half of whom are bitten in the face with boys between the ages of 5 and 9 years seen the most.  

Dr. Illana Reisner, University of Pennsylvania, says, "Any breed - or mix - is capable of biting…even a perfectly nice, trustworthy, family pet." Dr. Reisner advises parents to never leave a newborn infant alone with any dog, even very small dogs.

It is important that children be taught and praised for all appropriate interactions with pets, and corrected instantly for any inappropriate interactions. Young children should be supervised at all times.

If obtaining a new dog, the first preventive step is to avoid any time where the dog is alone with any child until you have a high confidence factor. Supervision is the key to child safety around dogs!

There are some signs to look for that indicate a dog is becoming stressed by a child's presence. These signs include licking of the lips, yawning, looking away, acting more stiff in his or her body postures, and attempting to move away from the child. If the dog has a tendency to guard possessions or food, children should not be allowed to be around the dog when either has food or toys. The food or toys should simply be removed from the situation. This will likely reduce some of the tension.

Leaving the relationships between dogs and children to chance may lead to failed relationships at best, and a death sentence for the child or dog in the worse cases. While some dogs tolerate more than their fair share of abuse from the normal activities of children, there are many reasons why dogs snap and harm children. Don't take chances, Establish rules to keep children and dogs safe and happy.

So, how can parents help dogs and children to get along? Here are four important guidelines for teaching children how to act and what to do around dogs.

Preventing Dog Bites

Set ground rules for safe play.  Children and dogs benefit from the exercise and enjoyment of play time. Keep play safe by insisting children follow the rules. Rough play and dog wrestling are against the rules. So is running around shrieking and waving arms wildly. Rule one, be calm and relaxed around the dog. Rule two, stop play if the dog gets tense or wild. Rule three, children must start and stop games. (This rule helps the dog to see children in control.) Fetch is one of the best games for children to play with dogs. Children must start the game by asking dogs to sit or lie down and end the game by instructing the dog to drop or give the ball back. Tug-of-war games are not allowed unless the dog will sit and release a toy immediately at any time on cue.

Let sleeping dogs lie. Supervise the activities of children around dogs until you feel the child has learned not to lung at the dog or surprise the dog with hugs and kisses. In general, dogs should be left alone when they are eating and resting. Insist on children calling the dog to them. Show children how to offer the back of a hand to sniff before petting a dog. Never leave a child alone with a dog unless you are certain both the dog and child have learned to respond consistently to each other.

Show children how to train dogs. Have children feed the dog meals instead of leaving food out. Use feeding time as a training time. Have children hand feed the first 5 to 10 kibbles in exchange for the dog following an instruction such as sit, lie down, shake, watch, etc.  Training gives children and dogs a structure for interacting with each other. Stand behind the child as the back up to insists on the dog responding. Training with food helps dogs to associate children with goodies. Set the example for children by giving the dog lots of praise for good behavior. Encourage children to do the same with lots of, "Good dog!"

Children walk dogs not the other way around. Dogs need daily physical and mental exercise. Walking the dog away from home provides both. Use head collars, like the Gentle Leader, or the Easy Pull harness to keep dogs from pulling on leash so that children can walk dogs with an adult near by. You want the dog to associate the child with these fun excursions. Bring treats along and have part of the walks become training activities.

Improving Relationships between People and Pets!

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