girl hugging her dog
The summer’s ending, the kids are back in school — and poor Max the dog has been pining away all day, waiting for his little human buddies to come back home to play. You could load him in the car and take him with you to school pickup, and prepare to watch their sweet reunion. But is that a good idea? 

When it comes to kids and dogs, safety comes first, of course. You’ll need to keep him on a leash when you’re on foot and be sure you’re following school rules about where your dog is allowed on school property. To find out what else is important to keep in mind, Vetstreet checks in with Dr. Wailani Sung, a veterinary animal behaviorist.

What to Consider

Student pickup procedures vary from school to school. You might wait in a crowded area for your child to come out to greet you, or you might drive through a car line where a school staff member opens and closes the car door for your child to get in while groups of kids scurry by on their way home.

However it works at your child’s school, Dr. Sung says there are few questions you should ask yourself before inviting Max along for pickup, including:

  • Does he enjoy car rides?
  • Does he tend to bark at people when they’re walking by the car?
  • Does he seem anxious in the car when people walk by or when he sees large groups of children who are loud or running around?
  • When he’s not in the car, does he become excitable when people or other dogs walk up to him or past him? What about when he sees kids yelling and running?
If your dog doesn’t love car rides or tends to get anxious or excitable around new people or dogs — whether they’re in the car or not — then it’s best to leave your pup at home, Dr. Sung says. You should also be confident that he’s not a dog who gets upset if other children or adults get into the car while he’s inside.

Is This a Good Way to Socialize Your Dog?

Taking your dog to school may seem like it could provide an easy opportunity to socialize him. We ask Dr. Sung if that is true. 

“Yes and no, depending upon the dog,” she says. “If the owner works hard at limiting socializing to brief and positive interactions, then, yes, it can be great. What we cannot predict or prevent is children running around screaming and yelling and potentially swarming around the dog.” 

Your child won’t be the only one who’s happy to see your dog, and a crowd of kids can quickly form around him.  

How should you handle interactions between your dog and the kids? If the dog is happy and relaxed, and an approaching child wants to pet him, then you can walk the child through an introduction to the dog. The child should place their hands at their side, then ask the dog to “touch,” and then pet him under the chin and chest. (It’s ideal to teach your dog the “touch” cue first.) The child should not lean over or hug the dog or place their face right in front of the dog’s face. It’s best if the whole interaction is limited to just a brief moment. 

In addition to the “touch” command, Dr. Sung says it is helpful for the dog to know the commands sit, down, stay, come, leave it and watch me/look before attending school pickup.

Practice for the Car Line

In car lines, parents stay in the car while picking their children up from school. It seems easy enough to take your pooch since he’ll be staying in the car with you, but we ask Dr. Sung about how an owner can be sure the dog won’t be territorial if someone walks up to the car, and won’t attempt to lunge or jump out when the door is opened. She recommends practicing first. 

“Most people who drive around with their dogs can get a good idea of how their dogs behave when they stop at a light and people are walking past the car,” she says. “If they live in more suburban areas, they can always park the car at the mall or area with high foot traffic and monitor their dogs’ behavior as people walk past the car.” 

She says you can also practice at home in the driveway and see what the dog does when you open the car door. You can teach him to stay as the door is being opened.   

Remember dogs traveling in vehicles should always be tethered with a seat belt or harness, or ride inside their carrier or kennel for safety.

“If the dog cannot stay in the car at home in the garage, out on the driveway or at a local quiet parking lot, then they are not going to be successful at a busy location with people and children walking or running around,” Dr. Sung says.

Signs the Dog Is Uncomfortable

There are some red flags you should watch for in your dog that would show he’s growing uncomfortable with the situation. These include:

  • Anxious body language
  • Panting
  • Lip licking
  • Ears pulled to the side or back
  • Tail down or between the legs
  • Darting eyes
  • Lowered head
  • Any vocalizations, crouching, cowering or tense facial expressions
“If the dog is barking and lunging, then definitely it should not be in that situation,” Dr. Sung says.

What About the Bus Stop?

If you’re not going to the school to pick up or drop off your children but are instead going to the bus stop, can you take your dog along? 

Dr. Sung says to again consider whether he is anxious or reactive toward people, children or buses. 

“If the dog is great around people and children but fearful of loud noises and buses, then that would not be the ideal situation to bring that dog there until they have worked on addressing the dog’s fears,” she says. 

So if you feel sure that Max is OK with the car or bus, the crowds and the kids, he’ll be happy to go along with you and get to see your student. And he’s sure to be a welcome sight for your student, too!

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