If you got your dog as a companion for your children, you need to know that happy canine and child relationships don't happen by accident. Young puppies play rough and have sharp teeth and claws. They aren't born knowing how to behave with their new human companions. They're used to playing with their littermates—puppies play with their mouths and feet, they play rough, and they like to make each other squeal. Your puppy needs to learn that teeth do not belong on human skin.
Neither do children automatically know how to “play nice” with puppies and dogs. They need to be taught that ears aren't for pulling and eyes aren't for poking. If you have an adult dog—or adopt one—the same rules apply. Too many people assume that nice dogs will put up with anything a kid dishes out. That's not fair to the dog, and it's not necessarily true. All too often we hear about a dog that bit a child “without warning.” Very few dogs bite without warning, but if the child doesn't understand the dog's signals and neither do the adults who should be in charge, the dog may eventually nip.
All interaction between puppies and children should be closely supervised by a responsible adult. That doesn't mean watching out the window while they play in the yard—it means being in a position to intervene immediately if necessary. Teach your puppy to sit or lie down for petting, and teach your children how to interact with the pup without getting him all excited.
Older dogs and older children don't usually need such close supervision, but both need training. For your dog, that means at least basic obedience training and lots of socialization from puppyhood on. Children should be taught to understand that dogs are not toys but living creatures who feel pain. Don't assume that because a dog and child know one another there's no risk of a bite. Most children who are bitten know the dogs that bite them and are on the dogs' home turf. A child will often take more chances with a dog he knows, and dogs are more confident and more protective in their own homes.
Children are much more likely than adults to be bitten, and boys get bitten more often than girls. Most bites happen because the children weren't taught how to behave around dogs. You can increase your child's safety with dogs—at home and in public—by teaching them these basic rules for interacting with dogs. Even if you don't have kids, teach your neighbor kids—everyone benefits when kids know how to be safe around dogs.
- If you see a dog you don't know and he's with someone, ask if it's okay to pet the dog. Some dogs don't like kids or are afraid of them. If the answer is yes, then approach the dog calmly and quietly, and …
- Always let the dog sniff your open hand before you try to pet her. Never reach suddenly over a dog's head without letting her sniff—you may frighten her and she may bite because she's afraid.
- If you see a dog running loose or in her yard alone, do not approach the dog. Never try to approach or pet a dog that doesn't have a person with her.
- Don't tease dogs, even if they are tied or inside a fence or car. Teasing is mean. Besides, the dog could get loose and bite you. Don't shout at dogs and don't pretend to bark or growl at them.
- Don't grab food, toys, bones, or other things away from a dog.
- Don't bother a dog that's eating, sleeping, or caring for puppies.
- Never stare at a dog's eyes, especially if you don't know the dog.
- Never run away from a dog—he'll probably chase you and might bite.
- If a dog barks, growls, or shows you her teeth, puts her ears back against her neck, and walks on stiff legs with her hair sticking out, she's telling you she's angry and she'll bite if you come closer. If you see a dog acting like that, look away from the dog's face and walk very slowly sideways until the dog relaxes or you're out of sight.
- If a dog comes close to you, “be a tree”—look up, not at the dog, and cross your arms with your hands on your shoulders.
- If a dog attacks you, “be a ball”—curl up on the ground on your knees with your face tucked onto your legs and your arms around your head. Lie still and don't scream.
- If you get bitten, tell an adult right away. Try to remember where you were when you got bitten, where the dog lives if you know or which way he went if he was loose, who else was around when he bit you, and what the dog looked like.
- If you see a dogfight, don't try to break it up! Stay away from the dogs, and find an adult to help.