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If you’re a “dog person,” interacting with dogs probably comes naturally to you. However, you weren’t born knowing what type of behavior dogs respond well to.

Many small children like dogs, but their loud or abrupt mannerisms can unsettle a dog. If a dog gets surprised or scared, they may lash out. Therefore, it’s important to teach your kids what to do—and what not to do—to avoid triggering a dog’s fight-or-flight response.

  • If your child encounters a new dog they don’t know, teach them to stay away. Don’t assume the dog is friendly.
  • Your child should also learn to stay away from a dog who is busy doing something that is important to them, such as eating or caring for their puppies. They will likely react defensively in such cases.
  • Sudden movement or loud noise can scare a dog. Teach your child to speak quietly and move slowly and gently around a dog.
  • Many children get excited when they see a dog, and their inclination is to run up to it and pet or hug it. However, it’s always safest to squat or extend a hand to a dog—and let them come to you.
  • Appropriate petting is also important to teach your child. Small children tend to interact with things in a forceful way. However, dogs need to be petted gently. Also teach your child to only pet a dog on its back—avoiding the head or belly—unless the dog invites such touch.
  • If your child comes across a hostile dog, it’s important that they know the best way to respond. Screaming and running away can further instigate a dog. Instead, teach your child to back away slowly without looking at the dog directly.

Dogs can be wonderful friends—to adults and children alike. However, behaving in a way that frightens or threatens a dog can lead to a devastating attack. Children between five and nine years old sustain half of all dog bites. Learning the right way to befriend a dog is an important lesson for children to receive early on.