How to Safely Introduce Your Child to an Unfamiliar Dog
By Tania of Chicky Chicky Baby
“Look Mommy! There’s a dog over there! Can we go pet it? Can we, can we, can we puh-leeeeze??”
Kids and dogs can be a wonderful combination, but before you let your precious offspring, or yourself for that matter, near those of the unknown canine variety there are some rules of engagement you should learn first that will keep everyone involved happy and safe.
Commit these steps to memory for the next time you want to safely introduce your child to a strange dog.
1. Assess the situation
Determine if the dog is on a leash and if that leash is being held by a person and not tied to a tree or something else non-human. If the dog is not leashed, walk away slowly and calmly and leave that dog alone, especially if the dog is running around with a couple of other dogs. You don’t want to mess with a pack of unknown dogs. If the dog is tied up, ditto. Tethered dogs are frustrated dogs and frustrated dogs often bite. It’s best to just move along.
2. Engage the human first
You have established that the dog is, in fact, leashed and said leash is being held by a warm body. See the other end of the leash, the one not attached to the dog? That’s the dog’s owner.
(We’re assuming. It could be the owner’s ex-boyfriend, but even though the breakup was messy they decided to be civil for the dog’s sake so the owner decided to let the ex have special visitation days – probably Tuesdays and every other Sunday – and do you really want to open up old wounds? Didn’t think so.)
The person holding the leash is who you want to engage first. Standing a safe distance away – I suggest at least six feet, or the length of a typical leash – make sure to ask the dog’s owner if you and your child may pat his or her dog. The harsh reality is this – even though the dog looks cute he may not like strange people petting him. Don’t be offended, there are lots of dogs out there who would love a good scratch. Just remember, never, ever, walk up to a dog and start touching it no matter how badly you want to squish his cute, fluffy face.
3. Get the dog’s permission
By now your kid can hardly contain his or her excitement and wants to bury their wee little hands into the dog’s soft fur. Uh uh uh, not so fast. Now you need the dog’s permission. Instruct your child, or better yet show them, to make a loose fist (all the better to keep sensitive fingers from being nipped), palm side down, and hold it out for the dog to sniff. Don’t shove your hand in the dog’s face, let him come to you. If he doesn’t, if he hides behind his owner or barks or growls, then he’s just not that into you and you should take a clue from your childless single days and move along to another dog. A nice one who wants to spend time with you.
Once the dog has sniffed your hands and is willing to be touched you can pat the dog. But how? I’m glad you asked….
4. Remember the Yes and No Touching Places
The best place to touch a dog is on his back, the side of the neck, the chest or under the chin. I know, you want to pat him on the head. Everybody wants to pat a dog on the head. Bad idea. Touching a dog on the head can be seen by the dog as an aggressive act. Also, the dog can’t see what you’re up to when you reach for the top of his head so if you put your hand there the dog is going to raise his head to gauge what you’re doing, lifting his mouth up closely to your hand. Do you really want delicate child fingers near dog teeth? Right, stick to patting his back.
Pat the dog slowly and softly. Treat him with respect and, please, don’t let your kid try to hug the dog. I don’t care if you have a dog at home and your kids treat him like a bean bag chair, strange dogs are not for hugging. I cannot stress this enough.
5. Have your child practice on dogs that need the most love
Now that you and your child have gotten your fill of some good doggie lovin’ good luck trying to convince the little tater tot to stop asking you for a puppy. If you’re not in the market for one take your new skills and volunteer at a local animal shelter and put all this knowledge to good use with some dogs that really need the love.
Published February 27, 2009. Last updated June 28, 2018.