Starting Off Right
Following are some guidelines to help you start off on the right foot. Remember, small children
should never be left alone with a dog or puppy without adult supervision.
• It's safest for both your child and puppy if your child is sitting down whenever he wants to
hold the puppy. Puppies are squirmy and wiggly and may easily fall out of a young
child's arms and be injured. If held insecurely, a puppy may become frightened and
snap or scratch in response. After your child is sitting, you can place the puppy in his
• Have your child offer the puppy a chew toy while he pets the puppy. When puppies are
teething, they tend to chew on everything, including hands and arms, so having a chew
toy handy will divert the puppy’s teeth away from your child. An added benefit is that
the puppy will come to associate pleasant consequences (getting a treat) with being
held by your child.
• For larger dogs, have your child sit in your lap and let the dog approach both of you. This
way you can control your child and not allow him to get "carried away" with pats that
are too rough. You are also there to teach your new dog to treat your child gently.*
Petting and giving affection: Children often want to hug dogs around the neck. Your dog may
view this as a threatening gesture, rather than an affectionate one, and may react with a growl,
snap or bite. You should teach your child to pet your dog from underneath the dog’s chin,
rather than hugging him or reaching over his head. You should also teach your child to avoid
staring at, or looking directly into, your dog’s eyes.
Giving Treats: Children tend to become somewhat fearful and anxious when a dog tries to take
a treat from their hand. This causes them to jerk their hand away at the last second. The dog
may then jump up or lunge to get the treat which may result in the child being knocked down.
Have your child place the treat in an open palm, rather than holding it in his fingers. You may
want to place a hand underneath your child's hand to help guide him.
Supervising Play: Children move with quick, jerky movements, have high-pitched voices and
often run, rather than walk. All of these behaviors somewhat resemble the behavior of prey
animals. Almost all of a dog’s play behaviors are based on predatory behavior. Consequently,
your dog may respond to your child’s behavior by chasing him, nipping at his heels, jumping up
at him or even trying to knock him down.At first, your child may need to play quietly around your
new dog until he becomes more comfortable and calm and your child has gained more control
over the dog. Your dog must also learn that certain behaviors on his part are unacceptable, but
he must also be taught what behaviors are the right ones. Our handout: "Dealing with Normal
Puppy Behavior: Nipping and Rough Play" outlines procedures for discouraging rough play and
encouraging appropriate play. However, most children under the age of ten are not capable of
carrying out these procedures, so it’s helpful to teach your dog a "leave it" command that you
can use when play gets too rough. Taking an obedience class together is a good way to teach
your dog to respond to commands.An approach that is not helpful is to punish your dog for his
behavior. If he learns that being around children always results in "bad things" happening to him,
he may become defensive in their presence.
Possessions: Your dog won’t know the difference between his toys and your child’s toys until you
• Your child must take responsibility for keeping his playthings out of your dog’s reach.
• If, and only if, you catch your dog chewing on something he shouldn't, interrupt the
behavior with a loud noise, then give him an acceptable chew toy and praise him
lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.
• Don't give your dog objects to play with such as old socks, old shoes or old children's toys
that closely resemble items that are off-limits. They can't tell the difference!
• Dogs can be possessive about their food, toys and space. Although it’s normal for a dog
to growl or snap to protect these items, it’s not acceptable. At the same time, children
need to learn to respect their dog as a living creature who is not to be teased or
purposefully hurt and who needs time to himself .
If your dog is growling or snapping at your child for any reason, the situation needs IMMEDIATE
attention. Punishing your dog is likely to make matters worse. You may call our Dog
Behavior Helpline at (303) 696-4941, Ext. 346 for more information.