The numbers of dogs in the UK have soared since lockdown, and now it is estimated that there are 12.5 million dogs in the country, with a third of all households owning at least one.
This means that all children will come into contact with dogs at some time – whether at home, when visiting friends and family, or just when out and about.
Whether as dog lovers we like it or not, dogs are a hazard – and they are especially so for children. They have teeth, claws, a mind of their own, and even the most friendly and playful, especially if not trained, can knock a child over or just get over-excited. So how can parents teach their children how to be safe around dogs – and what do children need to know to have the perfect relationship with the dogs that share their lives, and to grow up to be the dog owners of the future?
First of all, split dog encounters into three categories:
- strange dogs you meet while out and about
- resident dog/s
- dogs of friends and family
These need to be looked at totally differently when it comes to interactions and staying safe.
Children should be taught to treat strange dogs exactly the same way they would a strange person. Totally ignore them. No matter how cute, how appealing, or how friendly they look – and even if the owner says it is OK for you and your child to talk to them. Neither you, your child – or very probably the dog’s owner – will know for sure that their dog is happy around unknown children or is happy in that moment. ‘Stranger danger’ is about all strangers – no matter what the species!
If an off-lead dog comes up to you while you are out with your child, again… totally ignore it. In most cases, if you aren’t interesting, the dog will wander off and find something more fun to do. If the dog seems over-excited, bouncy or you have any concerns about their behaviour, don’t panic and tell your child to ‘be a statue’! In other words, stand perfectly still, cross their arms across their chest and stay quiet. Children running or shouting, or waving their arms about, will make the situation worse and it can make a friendly, playful dog overexcited, or it can scare a dog who is unused to children. If they (or you) are knocked over by the dog, they should ‘be a stone’. Curl up with arms and legs tucked in underneath them and their head down.
There are plenty of dogs you and your children can interact and have fun with – your own or known dogs belonging to friends or family – but avoid strangers!
The Family Dog
While it might be a fear of many parents, the majority of injuries to children from dogs don’t come from unknown dogs that you might meet when you are out and about. They come from the family’s own dog. There are lots of reasons for this – but the main one is simply that this is the dog that a child will spend the most time with – and it is the one that parents are often the least vigilant around.