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How to teach young children to play soft and respect the family dog

chinese shar pei with two little girls on couch

If you're like me, you happen to be a dog lover and someone who was blessed (or is cursed a better word?) with a miniature human, otherwise known as your child. Let's talk about how you can teach your child to play nice with your family's dog and to treat the dog with respect.

Small Children, 0-3 Years of Age

The smallest mini-humans are usually the worst in order to get them to not yank the dog's tail. While it may seem funny to the child, it could seriously hurt your dog and cause your dog to snap or bite at your child or someone else's child. Children this age generally don't understand that they can hurt the dog (and the dog can hurt them). Not only that, but children this age tend to be more vocal in what they want — screaming, rather than talking quietly. At this age, children are little more than scream boxes who think that screaming at the top of their lungs is a great way to get their humans to perform actions for them.

Sensitive hearing

Unfortunately, dogs have incredibly sensitive hearing so what is annoying for us is possibly painful for them. Many dogs will learn to associate smaller children with this habit and will attempt to avoid them. You should never attempt to force a dog to interact with a child they have associated with being a loud screamer as the dog could become frightened and hostile.

Being gentle with the dog

Small children have a bad habit of trying to grab a hold of things as their fine motor skills increase, and are learning to control their fingers and hands. And, what looks like it would provide the perfect thing to grab a hold of? That's right, your dog's tail and ears. It's easy to see where this temptation could come into play, especially if the dog's tail is just swishing back and forth right in front of your child.

Introducing a young child to the dog

So, what should you do? Well for starters, you should let the dog come to the child in their own time. Young children often want to run at dogs and chase them. This should be strictly prohibited as it could cause the dog to become frightened. A frightened dog is a potentially dangerous dog. If you can, when first introducing the child to the dog, hold the child in your arms if it is your dog and allow your dog to come up to you and sniff the child you're holding. Your dog will begin to associate that while this thing is loud and obnoxious, and that they too are yours and are a part of your pack.

Older Children, 4-7+ Years of Age

By the time children have reached what is generally considered to be school age — or the age where they are attending school on a regular basis, the roots of respect have already begun to take hold. They are usually attending classes and are socializing with other students as well as teachers, parents, and other staff members. You should in general be teaching your child about respecting others and playing nice with others. Thankfully, this goes hand in hand with teaching your children to respect your dog. They should have a pretty solid understanding of why we respect each other, and should have a pretty solid grasp of what could happen if we do not.

Learning to respect others

So, right along with this, you should explain to your child about respecting your dog and the dangers of failing to do so. For instance, if they do not and insist upon being in a dog's face, they might get bitten because the dog feels threatened and unsafe. My parents used to tell me "Well I guess you'll learn your lesson if you get bit, won't you?" And, while this might make some modern parenting magazines huff and blow out their cheeks — I won't take the time to explore both sides of that particular argument — it is effective.

When my son was first introduced to one of our dogs, he insisted upon attempting to stick his finger into her butt area. This naturally received a "what do you think you're doing" reaction from the dog. While he didn't get bit this time — he came pretty close — it scared him enough that he never tried that again. In this case, I had warned him repeatedly he needed to leave the dog alone and let her sleep which he ignored. (Hey, what can I say, some kids are hard headed and need a first hand lesson.)

Waiting for things to calm down

After checking to make sure that both my son and the dog were okay, and calming both down, I took the time to explain to my mini-human about why what had happened happened. In this case, he was annoying the dog and doing something that he shouldn't have been doing. He had been warned multiple times, which he actively chose to ignore believing that he wouldn't get bitten. My son was five at the time, but he quickly learned and figured out that this sort of behavior shouldn't continue.

For All Children — Things You Should Be Aware Of

Would you like it if someone tried to stick their fingers into your mouth without permission? Or, into your more delicate areas? No? Then, you shouldn't think that your dog would like it either. The truth is, dogs have emotions just like we do. They experience fear and anxiety, and having random things stuck into their mouth or their tail pulled can activate their defensive attitude.

Not only can your child hurt the dog — for instance, pulling their tail can dislocate it — but your dog can seriously hurt your child, too. Dogs have defensive capabilities such as biting or scratching and if they are afraid or overwhelmed, they may not hesitate to use them.

Respect is key

Teach your children respect for others and for animals — this will go a long way and take them far in life. Not respecting a dog can result in a bite or scratch that requires medical attention for your child; nobody likes a trip to the ER. Teach your children not to approach dogs they are not familiar with and have not been properly introduced to. Some strays may seem cute, but they could also be carrying a host of diseases.

Lastly, closely monitor children around your dogs to ensure that everyone is playing nice with one another, especially if you are unsure of the dog's history.