Throughout 2015, we will regularly release blog and media items that relate to educating readers, but more particularly children, in how to live in harmony with dogs that enter their lives. This article is aimed at providing parents, carers and teachers with the information required to teach children how to approach a dog.
Why teach a child how to approach a dog?
Children have no natural fear of animals, only learnt ones; they do however possess a natural curiosity about animals. Most children have positive encounters with dogs; these positive encounters create associations and learned behaviours.
Here’s a fictional example.
Little Mary’s gran has a dog called Fido who is balanced and socialised. All of their time together is controlled and managed, as a result they have a great relationship based on mutual trust and friendship. Mary can hug Fido, feed him treats and play with his doggy toys. All of little Mary‘s experiences of dogs have been with Fido; they have all been positive and as a result she is very enthusiastic about petting dogs.
Based on the above, can little Mary be expected to approach and interact with other dogs in the same way she does with Fido?
The answer is unequivocally NO.
Little Mary has created an association between dogs and good experiences. She has also learned that dogs can have their space invaded and that she can give and/or withdraw their food and possessions. She will continue to approach and interact with all dogs in the way she does with Fido. In most cases this will be fine, but in some she may be at serious risk of being bitten by an unsocialised, nervous or possessive dog. All children must be taught how to approach, read and pet dogs safely.
A step-by-step guide to approaching dogs
The first thing to teach a child is that all dogs are different; some dogs are confident, happy and well socialised, whilst others can be scared, nervous and unpredictable. Some are happy and confident in some situations, yet scared and nervous in others. Therefore, each dog’s response to being approached will be different. Below you’ll find a step-by-step guide to teaching children how to approach a dog. These each step relate to the poster that is attached below. This poster can be downloaded and printed to display in a child’s bedroom, a school classroom or printed as a handout. Please use the poster and the lesson text together as a complete teaching aid. You should teach your child to follow each of these steps every time they approach a dog:
- Never approach a dog that is not under it’s owners control – This includes dogs that are off lead in the park, dogs that are tied up outside shops or schools or even your neighbours dog in the front garden.
- Always ask the owners permission before approaching a dog – Be calm and polite when asking permission. Do not excite the dog. A dog’s owner will know how their dog reacts to being approached. If the owner says “No” you should thank the owner and walk away calmly.
- Let the dog come to you – If the owner agrees to being approached, gently offer a hand in the direction of the dog. If the dog wants to meet you it will come and sniff your hand. If the dog doesn’t come to you it probably doesn’t want to be petted, you should thank the owner and walk away calmly.
- Read the dog’s signals – A dog cannot talk, but it can give very clear signals to tell you if it is comfortable with your approach. Before you start to pet the dog you should look for the following signals:
Positive (Good) Signals: Wagging tail, open mouthed, tongue out, rubbing against you, sitting or lying beside you, climbing up your leg.
Negative (Bad) Signals: Moving away from you, cowering or retracting from you, barking, showing their teeth, tail tucked between back legs, tail up and curved over like a scorpion’s tail, fur along the ridge of back standing up.
If you are receiving only positive signals you can move on to petting the dog. You should continue to monitor these signals throughout your interaction with the dog. If at any point you see any of the negative signals you should slowly step back from the dog, thank the owner and walk calmly away.
- Petting the dog – Dogs should be approached for stroking from the side. Gently stroke the fur on their back in a head to tail direction or in the area of the dog’s chest between it’s collar and front legs.
Never lean over the top of a dog. Never stroke the top of a dog’s head. Never pull on or play with a dog’s tail or ears. Never grab or hug a dog
You should continue to read the dog’s signals throughout your interaction. If at any point you see any of the negative signals you should slowly step back from the dog, thank the owner and walk calmly away.
- Say “thank you” – After petting the dog slowly step back from the dog, thank the owner and the dog and walk away calmly.
Download this text as a pdf to print and use when teaching your child How to Approach Dogs – Lesson Text
Download this poster as a pdf to print and use whilst teaching your child or to display in your home How to approach a dog – Poster
Practice and reinforce
By following the above steps to introducing a child to a dog, you are creating a new learnt behaviour. You should teach your child to follow these steps each and every time they approach a dog, even if it is your own dog in your own house for 2 reasons:
- Repetition reinforces the new behaviour to a point where it becomes natural. Your child subconsciously become a good reader of a dog’s signals and be able to assess the risks in approaching it.
- A dog’s reaction to being approached will change depending on many factors. A dog you approached and stroked on your way into the park may have had a fight with another dog and become scared and nervous whilst you had a picnic. A dog you see and stroke every day may be feeling unwell and not want to be stroked. As a result, you should always restart the steps if you wished to re-approach a dog.
We hope this guide provides you with the tools required to teach your child how to approach a dog.
We are keen to hear your views and comments on the above article, please feel free to add them below.
Contribution by Matthew at Heppiness
You will hear the word ‘socialisation’ often spoken by dog owners, enthusiasts, and professionals alike, but what does it really mean?
When raising a puppy you might hear the word repeated often without any true appreciation or understanding of its significance. For a long time now we have been told that we must socialise our puppies at the earliest opportunity and introduce them to all other dogs so that they might become tolerant of all dogs. This in part is true, but this approach does not explain socialisation in its truest sense or properly suggest how such socialisation should take place.
Mismanaged interactions may have negative consequences and lead to the development of behavioural problems later in life, whilst a lack of early socialisation can equally bring about similar complex problems.
How we define dog socialisation at TWOTD?
The Way of the Dog holds the view that socialisation is the purposeful act of familiarising puppies and dogs to the environment in which they live, occupy, or visit so that the animal acts in a way that is considered acceptable.
It is important that dogs become familiar with sensations, actions, objects, and living things within a variety of different environments or circumstances. Failure to introduce the dog to such things may lead to the dog demonstrating a reluctance to approach or accept unfamiliar situations and develop ways to avoid or escape them; this might include strategies that involve aggression.
The primary socialisation period for a young dog is considered to be from 3 – 12 weeks old, and is the most important period of social development. This is why it is absolutely essential to choose very carefully where you obtain your puppy. A reputable and ethical breeder will likely commence socialisation as soon as the 3 week point is reached.
Puppy socialisation by TWOTD
If a puppy is not correctly socialised during the early sensitive periods there is a possibility that a dog will never adjust to or accept novel events later in life. It is therefore essential that time and effort is taken to appropriately socialise a puppy to as many events as possible. The Way of the Dog takes this role very seriously and delivers bespoke puppy development courses that focus on properly managed socialisation whilst developing confidence and shaping character.
- Socialisation should always be carefully managed and not delivered randomly or without any consideration to how a particular dog may react.
- Dogs can be bold or cautious, weak or strong; they may dive in to a situation without hesitation or demonstrate much reluctance, they are all very different even at such an early stage.
- Puppies should always be carefully introduced to other puppies and caution should always be exercised when introducing them to adult dogs.
- Enrolling a puppy in a group puppy class is not always the best approach to socialisation as a mismanaged class can be responsible for the development of fearful or aggressive temperaments if the puppy is subjected to negative experiences.
Commit to thorough socialisation of your dog
Social maturity and development continues through to the 18 – 24 month point depending upon the individual dog. It is possible that a dog can become unusually sensitive to any event or circumstance during this period. Puppies considered to be socialised during their early months may suddenly develop what seem like irrational fears towards events that at one time caused them no concern. Therefore, socialisation should always be carefully managed and maintained during the first year of a dog’s life and owners should consider sustaining such approaches beyond until a dog is considered to be a well-adjusted adult.
If you’d like to enrol your new dog on one of our bespoke Puppy Development Courses, please Contact Shaun today.
Do people really understand what their dogs are communicating? Or is it that our human rationale takes over and we seek to excuse our dog’s poor communication and unruly behaviour with something we consider acceptable instead of the truth?
Here comes that dog again….
Regularly I encounter others out walking their dogs and more often than not their dogs are off the lead and enjoying being a dog. In some cases this poses no issue as the dog is extremely well behaved responding to their owner’s words and demonstrating balanced behaviour. These dogs are happy to engage in play and soak up the benefits that such mental stimulation will bring.
However, there are also numerous occasions where I encounter dogs that are not under control presenting as anti-social yet their owners justify their dog’s behaviour by those mortal words, “My dog just wants to play.”
My interpretation is often somewhat different, I see a dog that lacks discipline failing to respond to the owner’s words, and is seeking to threaten or intimidate by rushing or forcing itself upon the passing dog. The truth is that some dogs just don’t know how to play or communicate; they may be overly exuberant or unnecessarily forceful. They lack appropriate communication skills and do not take heed of subtle cues from the dog wanting to be left alone. They seek to forcefully inspect or interact with the dog with no interjection, supervision or leadership from their owner. This often leads to scuffles and over reactions.
Read the situation
Of course it is true that many dogs are happy to play and socialise, however there are rules to be considered:
- Are the owners happy for their dogs to interact?
- More importantly, do the dogs actually want to interact?
Dog owners should consider whether the oncoming dog is a potential play mate before allowing their own dog to rush ahead. If the oncoming dog is on the lead I would suggest that it is safe to say that there is a perfectly legitimate reason for this and perhaps the owner doesn’t want a dog to dog interaction. There is no requirement for all dogs to meet and greet when being exercised.
Not every dog wants to play with another dog, not every dog is comfortable with other dogs. There are many dogs that are poorly bred, lack appropriate socialisation training from birth, or simply lack the confidence and courage to be around other dogs due to a host of different reasons. Some dogs are not seeking to play, quite the opposite, they are seeking to create space and distance by rushing at the other dog because they are potentially fearful and lack certain confidence.
All people are different and I firmly believe that all dogs are different, we should consider this when we are out exercising our dogs and respect the space of fellow dog owners.
Have you ever considered that my dog doesn’t want to play?