Pets are cherished members of many families, providing companionship, joy, and learning experiences for children. However, it’s crucial to recognize that pets, particularly dogs, can pose risks, especially to young children who may not yet understand how to interact safely with them. By following some key guidelines and maintaining vigilant supervision, you can help ensure that your home remains a safe environment for both your children and your pets.

Close Supervision: The Golden Rule

Supervision is essential. Never leave a young child unattended with any pet, regardless of the animal’s size, breed, or known temperament. Even the friendliest dog can react unpredictably if startled, threatened, or provoked, and an accident can occur in mere seconds. Always keep these points in mind:

  • Constant Presence: Always be within arm’s reach when your child is interacting with a pet and never let a child be at face-level with a pet.
  • Be Ready to Intervene: Stay alert and avoid distractions, such as phones, computers, or TV, when supervising.
  • Understanding Behaviors: Recognize that children might unknowingly provoke pets by acting in ways that the animal finds threatening or irritating.

Key Situations to Avoid

Certain scenarios significantly increase the risk of incidents between children and dogs. Avoid allowing your child to be around your pet in the following situations:

  • When the dog is sleeping: Ensure the dog’s sleeping area is in a quiet, undisturbed location.
  • During mealtime: Keep the dog and child separated during the dog’s eating times as well as family snack and mealtimes.
  • Unfamiliar dogs: Children should not approach dogs they don’t know, no matter how friendly they appear.
  • Tied-up dogs: Dogs that are tethered cannot escape if they feel threatened and may react aggressively.
  • Sick or injured dogs: Pain can make even the gentlest dog react defensively.
  • Nursing dogs: A mother dog near her puppies may become protective and aggressive if approached by a child.
  • Possession of toys or food: Teach children to call an adult if a dog takes their toy or food.

Preventive Measures for Dog Bites

Educating children and taking proactive steps can help prevent dog bites. Here are some recommendations:

  • Teach gentleness: Show your child how to play gently and respectfully with dogs.
  • Separate during play: When children are engaging in noisy or vigorous activities, keep pets in a separate area.
  • Create safe zones: Establish pet-free areas for children and child-free areas for pets to ensure safety.
  • Proper training: Train your dog to obey basic commands such as sit, stay, drop, and come.
  • Appropriate interaction: Teach your child to stay calm and still if approached by an unfamiliar dog. Running can trigger a chase response.
  • Feeding times: Only trusted adults should feed dogs. Children should not play with or near a dog’s food or water bowl.
  • When visiting others: Ask friends and relatives put up their dogs when you bring children around them, if you do not know how the dog might behave.

Safe Interaction Practices

Children should be taught safe ways to interact with dogs, including how to pet them correctly:

  • Avoid direct eye contact: This can be perceived as a threat by dogs.
  • Ask for permission: Always ask the dog’s owner if it’s okay to pet the dog.
  • Calm approach: Walk towards the dog calmly, taking a curving path rather than a direct one.
  • Let the dog sniff: Present the back of the hand for the dog to sniff before petting.
  • Gentle petting: Stroke the dog gently on the back, avoiding the head and tail.

Teaching Safety Rules

Children must understand certain “nevers” when it comes to interacting with dogs:

  • No squeezing or rough handling: Teach children not to squeeze, drop, or jump on dogs or back them into a corner.
  • No teasing: Pulling tails or ears, taking away their toys, or otherwise teasing, is prohibited.
  • No disturbing: Never bother a dog while it’s eating, sleeping, or with its puppies.
  • No face-level interaction: This prevents accidental bites to the face.
  • No fingers: When hand-feeding a treat, put the item in your palm with your fingers and thumb held close together.

Patting Dogs Safely

Show your child how to safely pat a dog by following these steps:

  • Seek owner’s permission: Always get permission before approaching a dog.
  • Controlled approach: Walk calmly towards the dog, stop a few steps away, and let it see and smell your child’s hand.
  • Gentle stroking: Pet the dog gently from its collar to its tail, avoiding the head and tail.

Handling Unfamiliar Dogs

Teach your child what to do if they encounter an unfamiliar dog:

  • Stand still: Instruct your child to stand still with their arms by their sides and hands in a fist.
  • Stay calm: Avoid running or making sudden movements which might provoke the dog.
  • Do not approach: Teach children to never approach an unfamiliar dog.


By implementing these strategies and teaching your children how to interact safely with pets, you can minimize the risk of accidents and ensure a harmonious relationship between your children and their furry friends. Always remember, the key to safety is vigilance and education. Through your efforts, you can help prevent harm and foster a safe and loving environment for your entire family.