Keeping kids safe around dogs
If you’ve got children and a dog, or you’ve got friends or family who do, you know how much fun that combo can be! But normal child activity - running, shouting and high-energy play - can be overwhelming for dogs. So it’s really important children learn to be considerate of their four-legged friends and know how to safely spend time with them. Take a look at our advice for keeping kids safe around dogs.
Never leave a child and dog together alone. No matter how used to dogs a child is - and visa versa - it’s essential for an adult to be actively involved at all times when they’re together.
Staying safe indoors
Top tips to teach kids:
Give dogs a safe space of their own. Just like us, dogs need their own space to relax. Create a doggy den or a ‘dog only zone’ where they can go, and leave them alone when they’re there.
Let dogs have a choice. Always give your dog the option to move away from any interaction - with children or adults - and not be followed.
Do not disturb. If a dog is eating, or playing happily on their own, give them plenty of space to enjoy their food, chew, or toy without being disturbed.
Let sleeping dogs snooze. Dogs need lots of sleep, so if a dog is resting, leave them alone.
Even if you teach children the rules of safe behaviour around dogs, you can’t leave it up to them to remember every time. When they’re having fun or being curious they may forget, which could put them at risk and cause stress for the dog. Always stay actively involved with their interactions – even at home with your own pooch.
Meeting other dogs & safety outdoors
Dogs are naturally social and like human company – so they might want to say hello! It’s a great idea to practise what to do if a dog approaches, so you and your children are prepared when you’re out and about. Teach them that they should always ask the owner if it’s okay before going near or touching a dog, and that they need to listen if the answer is no.
Let a dog that’s out for a walk enjoy doing what they want to do. This is their special time to sniff and explore, so they might just want to do their own thing.
If a dog you don’t know approaches you
- Stay calm, quiet and still.
- Don’t stare, as this can worry dogs. Keep your gaze upwards so you can still keep track of where they are without looking straight at them.
- If you’ve got something the dog is trying to get, like food, drop it away from you and let them have it
- If a dog jumps up, keep calm. Cross your arms, turn and look away. If you get knocked over, curl up in a ball and cover your head with your arms until an adult comes to help.
If you do want to say hello, here’s what to do:
- Always ask the owner’s permission before touching their dog
- If they say yes, stand calmly and quietly with your arms by your side and wait patiently for the dog to approach you. Then stroke the dog's side or shoulder gently.
- If the dog moves away, don’t go after them. Move away calmly and carry on with your walk or playtime.
Understanding dog body language
It can be hard to work out what dogs feel or think sometimes, as they can’t talk to us. But their body language can help us understand them better - dogs have many ways to communicate, and use their entire bodies to show other dogs, and us, how they’re feeling.
If a dog is relaxed they tend to have:
- Loose muscles, so their bodies aren’t stiff
- Tails and ears in a natural position
- Round eyes, without any whites showing
- Their tongues lolling out of their mouths
If a dog is worried or frightened they may:
- Look tense, with stiff bodies and tails
- Tuck their tail beneath their legs, or hold it firmly upright
- Look very alert, with wide, whitened eyes and a furrowed brow
- Hold their ears upright or pinned back
- Blink, yawn and lick their lips
- Turn away from anyone approaching
- Lift up a paw or lie on their backs with their tail tucked in.
If a dog is really upset,they might growl, snarl or snap.
All of these are ways to tell us they aren’t happy and need whatever is happening to stop right away. The more subtle signals usually come first, but some dogs might have learned that growling is the quickest way to get out of a situation when trying to make themselves feel safer.
Dogs who are older, unwell, injured, or in pain, can feel extra vulnerable – and could sometimes appear a little grouchy, just as we might! We can all empathise with just wanting to be left alone when we’re not feeling 100%. If a dog you know starts behaving out of character, it could be because they’re not feeling quite right. Help them out by leaving them well alone, and let their owner know so they can contact their vet for a medical check.
Book a family dog safety workshop
We’re offering online workshops for families with children under 14, aiming to build children’s practical skills for being safe around dogs, and to give parents the confidence to recognise when to intervene. Each 30-45-minute workshop is private, personalised based on your children’s ages and your pooch, and completely free!
Email us to book an online dog safety workshop for your family
The sessions are delivered by our experienced Education Team who visit hundreds of schools every year, giving interactive lessons about animal welfare and responsible dog ownership. Since the start of lockdown, we haven’t been able to visit classrooms but that hasn’t stopped us helping the nation’s kids learn all about dog safety – our team has virtually visited 14 schools, teaching more than 300 learners about the importance of being dog smart.
Find out more about our Education work