Dogs and children

This is a picture of children with a dog

Big pet lovers

Australians sure love their pets!  Current statistics show that 40.2% of Aussie households have a dog and 26.3% have a cat. This makes it important to understand the dynamics of pet parenthood and care, especially when the household contains children.

Our pets fulfill a number of roles including beloved companions, farm helpers and assistance providers. Further research suggests that there are many positives in having a pet in the home. Helping to care for animals is a great way of teaching children responsibility, as well as empathy.

Before acquiring a pet

It’s essential that prior to taking on any pet, a family considers all the reasons for introducing a pet into the household and researches the most appropriate type to meet their needs.  Unfortunately impulse buying can lead to unnecessary problems and a pet should be considered a companion for life.

The choice of pet needs to take into account the environmental and family lifestyle situation, financial considerations and time constraints.  For example, thought needs to be put into the training, grooming and exercise requirements of the various dog breeds, and the family’s ability to meet them.

Best friends

Dogs and children form a very special bond.  A family dog is often a key part of a child's formative years and tends to become their best friend, particularly for the single child.  Children provide dogs with affection as well as opportunities for activity and interaction, and dogs provide children with companionship and loyal friendship.  By living with a dog, children also learn about responsibility and develop nurturing and caring skills. Children with pets generally have higher self-esteem and better social skills.

Supervision & education is essential

While pet companionship provides benefits for the child, parents and caregivers should educate both themselves and their children to offset any risks.  Due to a dog’s territorial nature it's unfortunate that young children can be bitten by a dog that they know.  For this reason, children should always be supervised when around dogs.  

When introducing children to dogs it’s imperative that children understand how to approach dogs, so that they are equipped to better handle themselves and minimise any risk:

  •          Never run towards a dog.
  •          Avoid patting dogs you don't know.
  •          Always get permission to pat a dog from the owner.
  •          Approach a dog at an angle, not from the front or rear.
  •          Slowly extend the back of your hand for the dog to sniff.
  •          Stroke the dog gently on the side of the chest or under the chin (not the top of the head or shoulders).
  •          Don't continue patting the dog if it backs away or doesn't sniff the hand.

Canine body language

It’s equally important for children to be able to read dog behaviour, as dogs can bite when frightened or provoked.  Teach children to leave a dog alone and not run away or kick, squeal or jump if the following behaviours are exhibited.

A frightened dog:

  •          Has its ears back.
  •          Has its tail curled under its legs.
  •          Tries to minimise its size by hunching or lying down

An aggressive dog:

  •          Shows its teeth and/or snarls.
  •          Has its ears laid back but not totally lowered.
  •          Has its tail raised.
  •          Tries to make itself bigger by raising its hackles and standing on the tips of its paws.

By providing children with the necessary education, we can help ensure they have a rewarding relationship and a loyal companion for life.  This will also provide dogs with a comfortable environment in which they will aim to please all family members including any children.