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The goal of this question is to determine if the dog has issues like guarding or being touched. Dogs that have anxiety around spaces, toys or food are not good candidates to play with children. Also consider the breed of dog. If you are visiting a herding breed, it will innately want to chase and herd children.
When discussing what the dog likes and doesn’t like, consider these red flags that the dog you’re visiting might not be comfortable with children:
Supervision should be from a team approach, with both the pet owner and the child’s parents on the team. Parents are responsible for the child’s behavior, while the pet owner is responsible for monitoring the stress level in their pet.
Both proactive and active supervision are key to preventing issues from occurring. Proactive supervision means to prepare the environment to prevent issues, predict what situations should be avoided and have a plan in place for those situations (i.e, the dog goes to his “safe place” when the child has a snack). Active supervision means keeping both eyes on the child and dog at all times. You can’t prevent or intervene in a potentially frightening experience if you aren’t there to see it. Avoidpassive supervision, when you’re watching but also might be distracted.
While supervising your child at all times, also be aware of what the dog is saying. This article gives a list of signs that could mean the dog is experiencing stress and anxiety. The article also offers tips on how to modify the environment to reduce stress, which often means either removing the child or allowing the dog to leave the situation.
You can also be proactive by teaching your child basic “dog language.” The board game Doggone Crazy is a fun and educational way of teaching your child when a dog should and should not be approached. Another excellent resource is the video “Dogs Like Kids They Can Feel Safe With.” It shows how to teach a dog and child to greet each other appropriately using clicker training and TAGteaching.
Having positive interactions with animals is a wonderful way to teach children empathy and compassion. By being proactive and discussing rules ahead of time with your child and the pet owner, you can avoid miscommunication and ensure interactions go smoothly for your child and the pet.
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