Kids and Dogs: How Kids Should and Should Not Interact with Dogs

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By Dr Sophia Yin

When a child is bitten by a four-legged family member, it can turn the household upside-down. Owners feel puzzled and confused. “They sleep together all the time,” they might say, or, “He’s always been really good. He even lets Timmy sit on him.” In a majority of cases, the bite seems out of the blue. The humans can’t fathom why their once-trusted companion would bite an innocent child. But anyone who reads “dog” or can see life from the pet’s point of view would most likely say, “I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”

How Kids and Dogs should and should not Interact

The fact is, a quick perusal of YouTube or a thorough investigation of a bite reveals that often the bite occurs because humans, especially children, are extremely rude. Parents may view their kid’s behaviors as cute and assume that because their dog is tolerating the behavior now, he will have an endless fuse and always put up with it, rather than eventually exploding. In other words, parents expect dogs to behave like saints, even when they are pestered to the point that would try the average human’s patience and cause her to blow up!

For instance, I recall one tragic case where an infant was left at home with the babysitter and the family pitbull. The infant was allowed to incessantly crawl after the dog, tailing the dog as if she was an armed criminal. He followed her from corner to corner as she kept trying to get away from the baby, but the dog had no escape. While the parents were able to take a “vacation” from their child by hiring a babysitter and leaving the house, the dog was left at home to fend for herself. Ordinarily, a person being pestered this way with no way to escape would eventually turn and yell and possibly even resort to violence. A dog might do the same—turn and bark, snarl, or growl. But when all of these early signs are ignored, escalation to a bite can be the next step. Unfortunately, a bite by any large dog at her wits end can cause serious damage to a child, and in this case it resulted in death.

More often than not, cases where the dog bites a young child are tragic—often more so for the dog. The dog may be relinquished to a shelter, where he has a low probability of safe adoption. Or he may be euthanized after a quarantine period. The worst part of the story is that these bites could often have easily been prevented just by understanding the types of actions that drive a dog to feel bullied or pestered so much that he feels he has to bite.

Understanding What the Actions that Might Cause the Family Dog to Bite are Common Sense

In fact, understanding what can drive a dog to bite the family kids is pretty simple. They are the same things that drive humans to need a break from their kids.

Reason 1: For instance, most people dislike it when others stick their grimy hands in their meal. Similarly, dogs want to eat in peace.

Reason 2: We teach children that it’s clearly wrong to steal toys from each other. It’s also rude to steal toys from the dog. Kids should be taught to leave Fido’s toys alone. To build in a tolerance in case the child makes a mistake when your attention has lapsed, dogs should be trained to give up their toy for a reward or even a sequence of rewards. That way, they will willingly give the child the toy instead of feeling possessive. (See Perfect Pup in 7 Days, chapters 1 and 6 .)

But the Low Stress Handling® book and DVD now.

Reason 3: Kids frequently can’t help but get in your face. They often have to be trained to maintain the appropriate social distance. Similarly, putting your face into a dog’s face, even if it’s all in the family, can be irritating to the dog, especially when the dog has no control over the child’s behavior.

Reason 4: Most people dislike being disturbed when they are resting or sleeping. But fortunately for us humans, we can often close or lock our bedroom door. Similarly, dogs need a safe location where they can be away from kids and excitement. Kids should avoid bugging them in their “private” location or any time they are sleeping or resting. If they call the dog from far away and the dog chooses to get up and come over to the child, this type of interaction is okay. But if the dog chooses to be left alone, he should be.

Reason 5: Kids dislike being handled roughly, and so do dogs. Dogs can be trained to tolerate or sometimes even enjoy this handling, so that they are not reactive when an accident occurs (See Perfect Puppy in 7 Days, chapters 1 and 6), but in general children should be taught to be polite.

Reason 6: It’s rude to climb on, step on, or otherwise invade someone’s personal space. It’s also rude to do the same things with dogs.

Reason 7: Loud screaming can frazzle humans, imagine its effect on the more sound-sensitive dog!

Reason 8: We often forget that even some friendly gestures, such as pinching a child’s cheeks, may be irritating. In general, dogs dislike being hugged, even by family members. You can tell by the expression on their face. (See the Body Language of Fear and Anxiety in Dogs poster and chapter 7 in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days.) You can train dogs, especially as puppies, to enjoy cuddling and hugging (See Perfect Puppy In 7 Days chapters 1 and 6) and other close handling. But even so, it’s important for children to know the types of interactions their pet likes and also to realize that other dogs may not have the same tolerance as their dog does.

Perfect Puppy in 7 Days

Types of Child-Dog Interactions That are Appropriate

With all of these DON’Ts, it must seem like kids can’t interact with pets at all. In reality, they just need to be taught to be polite and kind to pets, instead of treating their companion like he’s stuffed animal. Parents should also teach their children to read the signs that Fido is fearful or anxious, so that the child knows to back-off.

Once the children understand that they should be kind to their pet, they can be taught appropriate games to play. For instance, fetch where the dog willingly gives the toy and remains polite before it’s tossed is fun for dogs who love to retrieve. Kids and pets love to learn tricks that result in rewards such as yummy treats or bits of the dog’s meal/kibble (See Dog Tricks). All dogs need their exercise, and kids can be a part of this too if the dog is well-trained. Hide-n-seek is a great way for dogs to learn to have fun, and the dog is practicing his search and rescue skills.

Adults should ensure that the dog has lots of positive associations with the kids. The kids can regularly give food rewards for the dog’s calm, polite behavior, such as automatic sits.

Even if the child is generally well-behaved and the dog very tolerant, it’s essential for all interactions to be supervised. Accidents can happen in a split second.

A Final Take-Home Message

The key is to teach both the dog and the children to be polite. Make sure your children interact with your dog the same way you want them to interact with you. Follow these simple do’s and don’ts and everyone will be safer and happier.

What sorts of activities do your kids and your dog engage in?

Dr. Yin passed away in 2014 but her legacy lives on here.

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38 responses to “Kids and Dogs: How Kids Should and Should Not Interact with Dogs

  1. hi Vivian:

    Yes they may be printed and distributed “as is” for free.

    You may also translate it to other languages if
    1) you include the translated words under the english description).
    2) You include who it was translated by
    3) and you keep the rest of the poster the same (e.g. with my wordmark and copyright intact).
    4) you send me a pdf or jpeg of the final version.




  2. Hi Dr. Sophia,
    Your pictures are so wonderful, they are interesting, easy to understand.
    May I have the honor to print them for promoting positive training purpose?
    Thank you very much!
    Best Regards,
    Vivian Wong

  3. As a rescue volunteer, I can’t tell you how many dogs we have gotten in for exactly the behaviors you are illustrating!

    Once the dog bites he/she’s got a very difficult strike against him/her.

    Great job on the illustrations.

  4. hi
    i have a small toy poodle who is now 4.5yrs old and she has been a big part of our lives… i have 2 kids aged 9 and 12 and they have always gotten along.. about 6mths ago things changed and the dog started to hump my youngest daughters leg allt he time one time it got so bad that she growled at us when i tried to get her off my daughters leg… she bit my daughter. ever since then she is very nasty to her (9) and tries to bit her most days. she doesnt do it when im in the room but when they play she bites her. just small nips…she also hates males. not sure why but tries to attack them…i got her at 5wks old and hasnt been bullied by a man… i would like to know what to do.
    i was thinking of getting her put down but the kids love her.. i spoke to an animal behavioural person and she cant garrentee that she cant fix this and being a single mum i cant really afford the $250…

  5. Hi Dr. Sophia,

    Your posters are incredible.
    Can I use this article in my blog?

    Thank you very much!!

  6. $250 is pretty cheap for a vet behaviorist or CAAB behaviorist because these services require a lot of time and education and experience on the part of the resource.

    I have plenty of articles/videos on my web site (check the dog training and behavior issues page) for those who can’t afford $$ but are willing to put the effort in. You’ll have to search around a bit. I would start with the Perfect puppy in 7days book to start working through the learn to earn program and understand body language. But then you’ll also want to read How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves to understand why she’s fear aggressive and the general principles of what to do.

  7. I too would like to use these wonderful illustrations of impolite behavior. They would be used at gatherings such as fairs etc. Thank you

  8. Fantastic post – love the illustrations!!

    One of the things I ask my clients with children (not toddlers but older kids) to do is take the child to a pet supply store and allow them to pick out a special toy the will be theirs to play with the dog. The toy only comes out during playtime with the child and all play between dog and child is directed to that toy. I encourage them to get extra large toys that can be thrown or pulled along the ground for the dog and keep childrens fingers away from the dog’s mouth. I also love games such as hide and seek as appropriate child dog interaction. And, of course, allway supervise child and dog!

    Staci Lemke, RVT, CPDT-KA
    Manners For Mutts Dog Training

  9. this is the wisest and best written article ever, made on this issue with kids and dogs. really well done, my compliment .I hope that many people will read and learn from this, so no more dogs have to die because people dont understand, that dogs are not toys and have to say stop, at one point..

  10. I love how you illustrated this as it’s exactly what I teach kids when I do workshops and field trips. I will often incorporate the kids when possible in my training sessions with the family dog. I find the kids tend to listen more to me than to the parents and I love teaching them. I also use “bounce back” recall games that the whole family can enjoy with thier dog as well as Hide and Seek Runaway.

  11. I really enjoyed this and would like to have affordable copies to give out to parents in our practice to hopefully prevent the disaster you described. I especially liked the way you compared the human interactions with the dog/human child interactions.

  12. I agree that people with or without kids need to train. Both the dogs and the people in the home about respect. Respecting space, respecting feelings and not to allow inappropriate behavior to continue weather it be directed at a person or an animal. This all goes back to respect. Children need to be “taught” appropriate behavior. As far as I am concerned if you have a pet it should not be separated from the family unless it is for the safety of the pet, for example open doors or long term stressful situations. Why have a pet if it cannot be with you? Aren’t they there so they can enrich our lives and for us to enrich theirs? People aren’t born with knowledge. It is the responsibility of the adults to teach the kids and train the pets. As far as food or anything hitting the floor, my dog stops and waits for permission to have it before he grabs it unless it is “his” toy. Respect is really the answer here.

  13. Hi,
    I am a very experienced dog owner and feel there is one very common problem you have over looked in the above. Kids playing chase or run away with the dogs. One thing that they do, do with their peers.
    I have spent the past 40 years trying to teach children not to do it but they just don’t seem to understand.
    Maybe you can explain why this is not a good practice.

    1. I just adopted a German Shepherd and although he is so loving, he freaks out around my granddaughter. He plants his feet and does a stern bark that even scares me. I need to get him used to everybody in the household. So should I allow my six year old granddaughter to take him for a walk with me so he’ll get used to her or how or what do you suggest?

  14. Thank you for that wonderful article with amazing illustrations. Some people just need to see it illustrated. I rescue corgis and mostly take the ones with behavior issues, I have so many come in with a bite history and sadly its usually a child that’s bitten. The one thing I would like to say is this: playing certain games like chasing the dog or sometimes even hide and see with a herding dog can be an issue. Corgis can respond by ankle biting {herding} small children. Other herding dogs are prone to that behavior too.

  15. Great article. It is also important not to punish a dog for growling. Growling is a warning tool for the dog, and if it is discouraged the dog may learn to skip the warning and go straight to the bite. Instead, avoid behaviors that cause the dog to growl.

    1. YES! This is so important. Even as an experienced dog handler, I still sometimes scold my dog not to growl at my hyper 2 year old boy and then am like “what? why would you scold him? Thats the equivalent of telling another child not to speak up when my child is hitting him or something. Duh.” haha. It’s tempting because growling is seen as something bad but its the perfect warning we need. Dogs have no other way. Growling is talking. Showing teeth is talking. It may look bad but its all they have.

  16. Hi .my neice is 9 and aggravates my dog.she puts her face and hair into his face , puts him in her doll pram and carries him by his belly area or generally annoys him. She has been told many times he will bite and he’s a yorkie terrier age 5.

    1. Isn’t this answer literally written out and illustrated above? Stop letting that kid do that to your poor dog.

  17. My dog is about a year & a half old & loves my granddaughter who’s 2. When she stays the night & I put him to bed he won’t go to sleep or stay in his bed like he normally does when she’s not here. He whines & cries & barks occasionally. It’s like he’s on guard cause he knows she’s here or something. Please help I would appreciate any help.

  18. I understand all the reasons dogs bite kids and see some safe interaction ideas but they all seem to start with the basis of slightly older child understanding how to be kind to the animal. I specifically need resources on how to make a 2 yr old understand how to be gentle and kind to our dogs. We’ve tried everything but the second she gets over excited impulse control goes out the window and she starts getting way to rough with the dogs. I’ve been separating them anytime I have to do anything where all eyes can’t be on her (like making dinner or cleaning) but I seems unfair to the dogs to shut them in the basement so much- granted it’s for their own safety. We’ve tried everything we know of with my 2 almost 3 yr old. Redirection and going over gentle touch constantly, pointing out when they are anxious and showing her she’s scaring them, separation, time outs, even yelling and spanking once when she jumped on my Shepard (scary moment). Nothing is getting through to her fully. It seems to be an age impulse control issue. If she’s calm she’s great with them but if she’s excited and energetic (which is often) she gets way to rough and try’s to chase them and grab them thinking she’s playing with them. So far all I can find is resources on training the dog to be around kids but not much on how to help a toddler understand how to be nice to the animal. Help!

    1. A 2 year old is too young to have impulse control. Interaction between your child and your dog will require constant supervision over the coming years as your daughter develops self control and an understanding and ability to interact appropriately. You will need to constantly remind her of appropriate ways to interact with the dogs, praise specifically positive interactions and pre-empt inappropriate interactions. When you cannot closely supervise the dog and child you will need to separate them.

  19. Hi,

    I’m an avid dog supporter and lover. I also have a 18mo son. What this article doesn’t provide are parenting strategies. Though it is super logical and thoughtful, a toddlers brain doesn’t understand logic until 3yo – develomentaly that lobe is not functioning as it does later on in life. Basically, they don’t have the biology to understand these reasonings (or the life experience). I’d love any parenting strategy suggestions as they are hard to find. The more common issue is that kids without dogs are afraid of them so I have seen a lot of suggestions for rectifying this. Just not the reversal. My son LOVES dogs, and his personality is animated which isnt always best for small or rescued dogs. Thanks in advance!

  20. Thank you so much for the visual aides! My son is 8 years old and SUPER hyper. These posters will help him understand the way he needs to interact with our 1 year old Golden Retriever puppy. Right now, our dog Hudson regards my son, Jacob, as a litter mate. He will push himself between Jacob’s legs to play. This is all great for Jacob, until he falls down and hits his head on the floor. Then he gets upset and Hudson is left not understanding what he did wrong. I’ve been struggling on how to train my kids with Hudson so I’m really looking forward to using the posters as a reference. Thank you!

  21. I like your list, thanks.

    Please also consider adding “staring” or hard, sustained eye contact to the list. Not only do most kids automatically do this, but when they are instructed not to stare down the dog, they purposefully initiate staring as if it’s some sort of game.

    Even worse, if the dog growls many “parents” yell at the dog when it’s the child needs to be taught some manners.

    I recently blacklisted a neighborhood family from my home because of this problem.

  22. It’s good to know that you shouldn’t expect an animal to be infinitely patient with your child’s actions. My wife and I want to make sure that our kids can grow up while being respectful to all life forms. We’ll be sure to look further into our options for teaching them how to respect animals sometime soon.

  23. We follow all of these but after getting custody of 3 boys ages 7,9 and 11 our dog has changed he bullys the kids for what ever they have. Attempts to take non food related items and displays dominance. We have tried letting them work with him giving treats when he dose what is asked but half the time he tries to snatch it. But our 9 month old he was raised with he is a diffrent dog respects her space wont take anything from her. It’s like he sees the pack order like this Dad, Me the baby, himself then the 3 boys I’m at a lost how to fix this issue out the pecking order

  24. I read this because I need help. I have a cousin who has had a pitbull for 12 yrs now and the dog is deaf and can barely walk. She has a 10 yr old son who has not been treating the dog nice. I’ve recently been made aware that her son hides behind a wall and shoots the dog with a Nerf gun. The dog has resorted to growling and charging the son when he comes near her. I told her this isn’t good for either of them and she just laughed. What now because it’s only a matter of time before something goes wrong.

  25. I like that you mention the importance of making sure that your children understand how to behave around animals, such as avoiding touching their food. My husband and I are ready to get a dog since we have wanted one for a while. We should make sure that once we get our pet from the Labradoodle breeder that we teach our kids how to behave around animals.

  26. I am developing virtual content for the dog safety portion of our Town’s Safety Town. We have previously used your handouts in our office and love the content! May I use the images and descriptions for a slideshow type presentation? The origination would of course be cited at the end of the video.


  27. Thank you for your wonderful information and how kids should and should not interact with dogs. I thoroughly agree with the reasons you give. Kids definitely should be taught on how to interact and behave with dogs properly. This should be common sense, however your dealing with kids and they don’t have much common sense. Thanks again for sharing.

  28. I want my son to grow up around dogs so that he’ll get along with them once he’s older. I liked your advice about making sure your kids don’t take toys away from the dog. I think things like this and reading to dogs are great ways for kids to learn how to react to other children from a young age. If your kid read to a dog before going to school then they wouldn’t be as nervous to read out loud.

  29. And please stop calling your canine a “nanny dog”. People end up believing it and asking dogs to do things that they should not.

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