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Kids & Dogs: Keep It Safe! – Part 1

It’s 1987. My parents (who don’t even like dogs) let me “play doggie” and share a drink with this big ol’ dog! They tell me it happened so fast yet someone had the time to get out a camera… Fishy… Cute photo? Sure looks cute. You can’t help but assume it’s where I started my career as a dog trainer. Except…

Except it wasn’t and dangerous isn’t cute. Our job as parents is to keep those we love safe. Once you learn the rules and how to tell if your dog is stressed, you can do everything in your power to prevent dog bites!
The first in my list of rules for child & dog safety starts here. It will be easy for you to implement and follow these new rules once you learn a few tips.

Never allow children to interrupt a dog while it is eating or drinking.
It’s also never safe for a child to interrupt a dog while resting, chewing on a bone, pig ear, or Stuffed Kong or grooming themselves.  Let sleeping dogs lie applies here, too.

Now that we have that covered, let’s talk about a few more ways you can keep both your dog and child safe.

Don’t let your kid ride your dog like a horse. Just because this lovely mastiff is the size of the horse, and probably has been professionally trained to accept this behavior from a child, it doesn’t mean it’s cute. Or safe. It’s just dangerous.

When dogs (and people) don’t like what is being done to them, they can only tolerate so much. The stress stacks. First, maybe it’s mild annoyance but it can quickly build into full out defense. With dogs, that can easily escalate to a bite.

A kid riding a dog sounds awfully stressful to me.

Dog ears and tails are not tug toys for children. Never allow it. Teach your children that this is a rule and enforce it in your home. How would you feel if I came up to you and tugged on your ear? Did your mom do that to you as a child? How did it feel? I’m guessing pretty crappy. How would you feel if I ran up to you and pulled your hair? Again, crappy. We’re better than this!

Teasing dogs is mean! My guess is that if you’re old enough to read this, you’re old enough to have been teased or bullied at some point in your life. Some children tease dogs by dangling toys in their face and refusing to give the dog a toy. Some kids may steal toys from dogs and some children may do the same with treats. It would be maddening to have this done to you! Don’t let your kids do it to your dog. Treat others as you wish to be treated.

Hugging is rude! As humans, we have been hugged since birth. We grow up associating hugs as a sign of warm affection. The problem is that your dog didn’t have this same upbringing. It’s unnatural for dogs to be hugged and very few dogs tolerate it. Read Part 2 to learn appropriate ways to show affection to your dog.

Next up, let’s talk about how to tell if your dog is stressing out.
It’s all about body language. Many people don’t see the little signs our dogs give us when stressed. Sure, they may understand growling but most dogs communicate their feelings long before a growl. Bites don’t come out of nowhere. Learn the warning signs and you’ll be well on your way to keeping your family safe!

Here are some signs your dog may be uncomfortable:

  • Whale eye (seeing more white than normal)
  • Lifting a front paw
  • Moving very slowly
  • Moving away
  • Furrowed brows
  • Stiff tail
  • Tail moving slowly lower or higher than normal
  • Tucked tail
  • Hair raised along the back of your dog
  • Cowering
  • Licking lips when no food is nearby
  • Panting when not hot or thirsty
  • Ears to side or pinned back
  • Yawning when not tired
  • Hyper vigilant
  • Pacing
  • Suddenly won’t take treats
  • Stiff posture

Now that you know the signs. Can you take the pass the body language quiz? Identify the warning sign from each picture. Check your answers below.

Note: Pictures are by artist Lili Chin and are used without permission. Check out her awesome doggie drawings at her website. She is an invaluable force in educating pet parents about dog safety thanks to her drawings.

If you frequently see these behaviors from your dog in any context, contact a Certified Professional Dog Trainer ASAP!

Answers: 5. Licking lips 4. Panting 3. Head turn, paw lift 2. Cowering and ears tucked 1. Stiff, raised hair


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