- Supervise. Dogs shouldn’t be left alone with small children. A common mistake is to take for granted that an easy-going dog will stay that way when a child is doing things that may provoke it, like climbing on the dog’s back, grabbing at the dog’s face, ears, or eyes, or pulling on a tail.
- Control the environment. A high-energy environment, with loud noises and lots of people running around, can overstimulate a dog and lead to accidents. Bear in mind that dogs can get physical when they play: they will run around, jump, use their front paws to push and grab, and so on. A small child can be injured by playful behavior just as much as aggressive behavior.
- Teach. Even children who haven’t learned how to speak can learn how to interact with dogs. Teaching children to pet dogs with open handed, gentle movements can help them develop a better relationship with the dog, while also reducing the chances that they’ll do something to startle the dog.
- Intervene. Watch closely for signs that the dog is distressed. Wide eyes, lowered ears, and of course growling are all signs that the dog needs to be separated from the child. The best course is usually to simply pick up the child.
Small children love playing with dogs. But not every dog has the temperament to tolerate rough play from a child, and sometimes a child can trigger defensive instincts even in a mild-mannered animal. Parents and caregivers who plan to have a dog around small children should take care to follow a few simple rules: