The safeguarding of children and dogs has become a personal topic for me since I became a mother. It is a topic I also think all families with a dog should take to heart as well. It’s all too easy to dismiss the tolerant dog that chooses not to react, or the little dog that just seems too cute. A dog’s breed is not taken into account and some dogs are now branded as ‘nanny dogs’ when their history dates back to bull baiting and attacking humans.
My own dog, Bertie, a terrier, had to be temporarily rehomed to another family member as he predated on my newborn son. I hated it, but it was not safe for my son and not fair on my dog, who was doing what his instincts told him and was very stressed out. Bertie is now back home with us as William is older and no longer resembles a tasty bald rabbit.
I’ve drafted my go to safeguarding tips to protect children and give adults the tools they need to ensure no one is injured or worse.
Never leave children unsupervised with dogs. Even if you trust them. I cannot stress this one enough. It only takes a moment, even if you walk to another room, for a dog to react. This also includes you not paying attention while in the same room.
For parents who have their children visiting homes with strange dogs on their own, teach them to leave the home if there is an unsupervised dog loose. It isn’t always easy to keep track of where your child is going, or if there is a new dog in the house they are visiting.
If you have a dog that you are unsure of their temperament, or has little experience around children, settle them away from where the children are. Pop them in their crate or in a bedroom so they are not stressed or able to access the children.
Manage your children! It is important to teach children to respect dogs and leave them alone when they don’t engage. If a dog is sleeping, eating, playing or even just relaxing on it’s own - children should not approach them, but call them over so the dog has a choice if they want to engage with the child or not.
As an adult it is still your responsibility to read the dog and safeguard your children. Take the lead and actively stop them if they forget and try to pet a sleeping dog. Be aware and if you can’t be aware then separate the dog and the children, ideally with two barriers, akin to an airlock system.
Understand canine body language. A wagging tail isn’t always a friendly gesture, a conflicted dog may want a pet but then turn on the person stroking them. There are lots of great free resources around to help teach you what to look for.
Teach it to your children! Give these ‘dog detective’ skills to your children to help them learn to understand that the dog on its back with a tucked in tail isn’t asking for a pat. These skills will safeguard your child for the rest of their life.
Never trust someone else’s interpretation of their dog’s temperament. You don’t know if they have read their dog right, are outright lying, or just don’t care. Always ascertain for yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for the dog to be put away if you are not comfortable.
Be aware, if you are out and about in a place where there are known to be lots of dogs being walked. Don’t let a toddler wander off far and then get pissed when some dogs playing and minding their own business accidently knock them over.
If a dog makes a B’line for you and your child, call the owner to recall their dog, get in front of your child, if small enough, pick them up and hold them on the side away from the approaching dog. Angle your body to the side so you have a smaller surface area and can brace yourself from being pushed over. Don’t be afraid to use your legs to keep the dog away from you.
Teach children to ‘be a tree!’ if a strange dog approaches or they are scared. Children are often a target for a dog who is attracted to their movements and noise. If a child learns to be still, keep their arms crossed and call for help, instead of running away and screaming, dogs will often leave them alone and not escalate the encounter.
Accidents and injuries between dogs and children can be preventable. Respect the dog, take responsibility to protect your child and others and get professional help if you need it.