Dogs can be great family pets, and many children love their family dogs. But children always need constant, close supervision when they’re near dogs to prevent dog bites and other injuries.
Preventing dog bites
Any dog can and might bite a baby or child.
Dog bites often happen in or around the home. Usually, it’s the family dog or a friend’s dog that bites. The most dangerous times are when a child is playing alone with a dog or when the dog is eating or sleeping.
You can reduce the risk of dog bites and other injuries by closely supervising children and dogs when they’re together and especially during play. Close supervision means being ready to step in straight away if you need to.
You can also take the following steps to prevent dog bites:
Teach your child to be gentle when playing with dogs.
- Separate your dog and your child when you can’t supervise properly, during noisy or energetic play, when food is present or when the dog is sleeping.
- Set up a dedicated dog-free zone for your child and a child-free zone for your dog.
- Ask friends and relatives to supervise or separate your child and their dogs.
- Train your dog to obey commands like sit, stay, drop and come.
- Reward both your child and your dog when they behave the way you want.
When to keep dogs and children apart
There are times when you should never let your child be around your dog or approach another dog. These times include the following:
- The dog is sleeping: make sure your dog’s sleeping area is in a quiet place away from activity areas, where it can sleep without being disturbed.
- The dog is eating or chewing a treat: separate your dog and your child at these times and also at family mealtimes or snack times. Only you or another adult should feed your dog. Don’t let your child play with or near your dog’s food or water bowl.
- Your child doesn’t know the dog: your child shouldn’t go up to the dog, even if it looks familiar or friendly.
- The dog is tied up: a dog that’s tied up can’t run away if it’s uncomfortable or scared. It might get upset instead and lash out at your child.
- The dog is sick or injured: pain or discomfort might cause the dog to be less easygoing than usual.
- The dog is with its puppies: if your child approaches the dog, it might get aggressive.
- The dog has taken a toy or some food away from your child: teach your child to call you rather than trying to get the toy or food back.
You can show your child how to pat a dog safely using the following steps. You might need to show your child how to do this several times:
- Make sure your child knows to always ask you if he wants to pat a dog, even if your child knows the dog.
- Walk towards the dog and its owner so they can see you coming. Stop three big steps short of the dog.
Always ask for the owner’s permission for your child to pat the dog, and wait for the owner to say yes.
- Move calmly towards the dog, but don’t move in a straight line – curve around towards the dog.
- Let the dog smell the back of your child’s hand – curl your child’s hand into a fist with her thumb tucked inside her fingers.
- Let your child stroke the dog gently down its back from its collar towards its tail, but avoiding the dog’s head and tail.
Your child should never hug a dog around its neck. This brings your child’s face close to the dog’s mouth. Your child also shouldn’t pat a dog on the head – many dogs find this behaviour threatening.
Your child learns best by copying what you do. Teach him to treat all animals gently and kindly, and to never hurt, tease, frighten or surprise an animal.
Teach your child not to approach an unfamiliar dog.
If an unfamiliar dog comes up to your child, your child should stand completely still, with her arms by her sides and her hands in a fist.
It’s best for your child to stay quiet and not to scream or make eye contact with the dog. Your child should keep his eyes looking at the ground.
If a dog knocks your child over, your child should roll into a ball and keep still.
Dogs and newborn babies
If you’re having a baby, it’s important to keep your dog in mind. It’ll be a big change for your dog when the new baby joins your family.
Preparing your dog
to meet your newborn
It’s a good idea to make any changes to your dog’s lifestyle in the months before your baby arrives. Here are some things to think about:
- Change your dog’s sleep or play areas.
- Put up gates or barriers to stop your dog from going into places like the baby’s room.
- Adjust your dog’s feeding and exercise routines.
- Train your dog out of unwanted behaviour like jumping onto your lap.
- Adjust your dog’s travelling arrangements so that your dog won’t be near your baby when they travel together in a car.
Introducing your dog
to your newborn
Here’s how to introduce your dog to your newborn for the first time:
- Greet your dog without your baby.
- When you and your baby are relaxed and settled, bring your dog in on a leash to see your baby.
- Allow your dog to smell your baby while calmly reassuring your dog and giving it lots of praise.
You can also promote safety by encouraging positive experiences and preventing competition between your dog and the new baby. For example, you could take both your dog and your baby for walks together or give the dog a treat when you need to spend a lot of time with your baby, like when you’re breastfeeding or changing nappies.
Some dogs accept babies into the family well. But you should never leave your dog alone with your baby, no matter how well your dog interacts with your child.
Looking after dogs
Dogs that are unwell or in pain will be unhappy, less tolerant and easily hurt. Pain and discomfort might even cause an easygoing dog to bite.
To prevent this, maintain your dog’s health. Nutritious food, clean water, comfortable bedding and shelter, regular exercise, safe socialisation and annual check-ups with the vet will help keep your dog healthy and happy. If your dog isn’t desexed, you can also ask your vet about this.
Seek immediate help if you’re ever concerned about your dog’s health or behaviour.
Obedience training is important for all dogs, regardless of breed, size or age. This teaches your dog good manners and appropriate behaviour. It’ll help your dog, other dogs and people stay safe.
Safely socialising your dog throughout its life is very important. This means teaching your dog to accept people, children and other animals as part of its life. Note that some dogs will never accept children or will always be aggressive. These dogs shouldn’t be around children.
If a bitch is pregnant or has puppies, she might feel tired, sore and protective of her babies. At these times, you might need to supervise the dog and your child more closely, or separate them altogether. Explain to your child what you’re doing and why.
Ask your vet for help if you need it.
If you’re thinking about getting a dog as a family pet, it’s important to be sure that you have the time and energy to train and supervise the dog so your children are safe around it. It’s also important to look into the right kind of dog for your family.