What Are Safe Behaviors Between Children and Dogs?

In our membership site, www.BehaviorEducationNetwork.com, (BEN) we’ve recently posted a few videos of interactions between dogs and kids and between dogs, given our analysis of them, and asked for member comments. 

These videos have generated a bit of discussion, plus submission of other videos members want our comments on.  In addition, we recently conducted a 90 minute webinar “Developing Safe Relationships Between Children and Dogs” for our members and the attendees at our recent workshop in Canada for PABA.  (the recordings of these lectures will soon be posted in BEN). 

It’s common knowledge that children are the most frequent victims of dog bites.  Based on recent research part of the reason for this may be the lack of knowledge about dog behavior and what constitutes safe interactions between children and dogs.  This is also born out by what we see on You Tube. 

Before showing several troublesome videos, consider the research – most people (53%) agree that dogs should tolerate petting by unfamiliar children and that if an unfamiliar child tried to pet their dog and the dog moved away 45% of people would hold their dog still so the child could pet it.  Even scarier is that 82% of people felt it was safe for children to hug and kiss their dogs.  This research was conducted by Dr. Ilana Reisner, a veterinary behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania.  You can read the abstract here.

Dogs most often have trouble with children because they are afraid or anxious about their behaviors.  While we stress the importance of constant, parental supervision of ALL interactions between children and dogs, after perusing You Tube, we’re beginning to wonder how much supervision matters if it allows – or even facilitates – unsafe interactions between children and dogs. 

The videos definitely have a “cute” factor. Both the dogs and the children seem to be playing, yet it’s important to look closer.  It’s clear in 2 of the videos that the dog is uncomfortable and uncertain part of the time.  Can you tell when and in which video?  In all the videos there are numerous times when the dog and the child are in face-to-face contact with each other.  Is it any wonder why most bites to young children are in the face? 

The comments on You Tube about the videos are all of the “ooh and ahh, isn’t this heart warming” variety.  And we know from experience that adding a comment that says otherwise will bring instant angry retorts.  However, if any of these dogs bites the children – guess who will be blamed, will likely lose their home, be labeled as “dominant” and may even lose their life? 

From the videos all the dogs appear to be friendly, nice dogs.  But every one of them – not to mention the children – are being put in risky situations that could take a dramatic turn for the worst in the blink of an eye.   The Sheltie’s “kiss” can easily turn into a nip, the shepherd mix that is already uncomfortable (oops gave that one away) could take exception to the child being near what is now “his” possession, and the black dog looks as if she’s getting tired of competing with the child for the laser light (which on its own is another problem for another article). 

The key is education.  Research also shows that when children are educated about dog behavior, they make better choices when interacting with dogs (British Medical Journal 2000; 320:1512-1513).  It’s time for similar education and research to be conducted with parents.  We’ve taught “Preparing Your Dog for your Baby” classes at local hospitals for the last 7 years and have produced a DVD for expectant parents based on that class, as well as a teaching package for professionals who’d like to start similar classes.  They are available on website – HERE – AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com

Now – watch the videos, and see what YOU think!


 Is a laser light really an appropriate toy for either a child or a dog?  Consider why the dog leaves the room for a bit.  Do we really want to encourage a child and a dog to compete for a "toy"?



The dog yawns, moves away from the child, and grabs the plastic bag. Are any of these behaviors of concern?



The Sheltie is clearly playing, but how easily he could knock the child over, miscalculate the intensity of his "kiss" resulting in a "nip" to the face.


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