In last week's blog post I introduced the idea of dog to child interactions – how to get the pair in the same space! Now let's look at what to do when the dog and child are interacting.
Dogs generally don't appreciate having anyone reach over them to pet the top of their heads. Instead, teach the child to pet the dog's chest, shoulders or side of the neck. If the dog is barely looking at the child's face and is just thrilled to be there with a happy, wagging body, then all is well and it isn't likely to matter what the child pets.
Teaching Your Dog How to Interact with Children
Personally, I like to see a dog approach and turn sideways, either leaning into the person or walking back and forth in front of the child with a happy body. If the dog is clearly social and trying to visit, but needs a bit more structure to prevent the dog from knocking the child over, let the dog approach, stop the dog a foot or two away, ask the dog for a sit – and then let the child approach the rest of the way. Better yet, train the dog to target their shoulder against the person's side (see video by Madeleine Gabriel below "Dogs Like Kids they Feel Safe With")
Next, give some thought to how long the interaction goes on. Consider implementing the "five second rule;" allow the interaction for five seconds, and then call the dog back – feel free to give a treat at that point. I'm fine with multiple rounds of interaction of this sort, as long as everyone seems happy and engaged. I do this so much with Brito that he automatically turns back to me after a few seconds, and it seems to go very well with all parties involved.
Sometimes dogs start out pretty well but then they seem to become uncomfortable, especially as the interaction continues. Make sure that you are familiar with dog body language and monitor the entire interaction. If you're not sure what friendly body language is, take a look at the posters and downloads on Lilli Chin's website to help you. She has all sorts of excellent resources, and they're free!
Teaching Children How to Interact with Dogs
And on a related but slightly different topic, the following articles by Madeleine Gabriel are among my all time favorite on the topic of kids and dogs. I think they are simply brilliant and not necessarily common knowledge, so it needs to be said: DO NOT magnetize your small children to dogs and remember that dogs have rights too! Take a look:
When it comes to strange children and dogs, I would be willing to bet that the number of dog bites could be slashed dramatically if 1) babies and children were not magnetized to dogs and 2) if dogs had the right to say "no; I don't want to visit."
Here's another excellent resource, again by Madeleine Gabriel. This video shows how to train BOTH children and dogs, to make greetings as pleasant as possible. This video is a winner so take the time to watch it
Dogs like kids they feel safe with
Don't Forget: Kids Have Rights Too!
OK — so now you have a child friendly dog hanging out with kid who likes dogs. Great! But what if the child doesn't like dogs? And doesn't want to visit? This blog would not be complete without one more paragraph:
KIDS HAVE RIGHTS TOO. If a child says they do not want to see my dog, even if the child's parent is insisting, then I thank the child for letting me know and I keep my dog away! Indeed, I will never allow any of my dogs to approach another person, (child or adult) without explicit permission from that person.
Teach children the words that they need to prevent adults from allowing their dogs to visit. I happen to believe that slightly nervous kids will come around on their own time if they are not forced into visiting with dogs before they are comfortable. They can look at dogs from a distance or toss cookies towards the dog, but they do not need to visit, and they should be taught how to say "NO."
And anyway, being able to speak up to adults and say "no" is an important life lesson for keeping kids safe in a variety of situations. If a child prefers not to visit a dog, respect their choices.
Photo credit: Pic 1 of kid and dog walking Jillian Neff; Pic 2 kid sitting, getting licked Mary Kriss.