We all know the perfect scenario for a meeting between dog and child: The child would come up to you and your well-behaved dog, ask if he may pet your dog, and then, after you say yes, the child pets your dog in a totally appropriate way. My neighbor’s children actually behave this way. They not only act like this with strange dogs but also with our dogs, which they have known their whole lives. Easy, right? But dogs have bad days and don’t always want to be petted and kids are, well, kids.
Of course, you’ll find that many children don’t approach dogs in the right way so it is up to dog owners to educate children about the best way to greet a dog. I live across the street from a park and a grade school, so I get a lot of practice with this.
When a child or children approach they are often excited and run up to the dog. You will need to tell them that if they want to pet your dog, they will have to do it one at a time and wait until you say it is okay. It’s also a good time to caution them that they should not run up to strange dogs. Ask your dog to sit (for larger dogs the down position is better) and have your dog sniff the childs’s fist. It’s helpful to explain that dogs don’t generally like being patted on the top of the head so ask the child to pet your dog on his back, or his side (or on his tummy if he rolls over).
Hopefully, the parents are around and watching and approving of the dog interaction. If the parent doesn’t want the child around the dog you should respect that. If the parent is encouraging the child to do something not in the best interest of your dog, you will also need to be firm about protecting your pet. While the vast majority of parents have reasonable caution about their child’s interaction with a strange dog , every once in awhile you will meet someone who doesn’t seem to use good judgment. I’ve seen parents who don’t seem to be alarmed when their child pulls a dog’s tail. I’ve also had parents try to use my dog as some kind of therapy session – their child is afraid of dogs but they encourage this child to go approach my dog – seemingly in the hope that they’ll get over a fear of dogs. I’m not a therapist but I am sure it doesn’t work like that.
If you’re dog is anxious or just not appropriate with children, it’s best that you don’t let the children get too close. That interaction is not going to help his anxiety. In these cases, it’s best just to say “Turnip isn’t feeling well today” and go on your way.