Most kids love dogs, and why not? They are cute, cuddly, and very easily attract their attention.
This also means that if a child sees a strange dog being walked in public, they will almost always ask to pet it. Typically the situation goes a little something like this:
The child approaches the strange dog, uses their manners to ask if they can pet it while their parent looks on- proud that they remembered to ask and then say “please”. In most cases the owner of the dog says “yes”putting their dog to the ultimate test to sit perfectly like a statue on leash and endure this little stranger getting into their personal space.
While situations like this seem innocent, it is not worth the risk to allow your child to pet a strange dog. Doing so puts them in danger of a face bite, which happens much more often than you might think. Here are the top four reasons why your child should never pet a stranger dog on leash:
- Not all dogs are comfortable with this. A nip is not always meant to be a sign of aggression, but rather a warning that they want their space back. Unfortunately, knowing this does not make your child less scared or hurt. Dogs do not like to be hugged, or to feel trapped on a leash as a strange human approaches them (let alone a child at their eye level). Your dog is not a petting zoo, and children themselves can sometimes exhibit erratic behavior due to excitement which makes the situation even more stressful to the dog. This stress and anxiety can lead to the dog “correcting” the child because they could not escape the situation.
- To put it simply, you don’t know what you don’t know. The dog in question could have recently been adopted (meaning the owner might not have had the dog around children before). A common denominator in dog bites of children is the claim from the owner that they’ve “had the dog for a few weeks, and it’s never shown aggression!” Unfortunately, that simply isn’t long enough to really be familiar with your dog’s behaviors. Even if the owner has had the dog for years, it could also be tired, stressed, over stimulated: you simply don’t know. Dogs that tolerated things as a puppy or young dog, do not always maintain the same levels of tolerance as an adult or senior dog.
- In many situations, neither you nor the dog owner have the education to recognize the warning signs and behaviors. Unless you have had extensive dog training of your own, it can be difficult to recognize when the dog is enjoying the attention from the child or simply tolerating it. Even if you can recognize the difference, a dog’s attitude can change so quickly that you may not be able to react in time.
- Owners often think that allowing their dog to mingle with children is good for the dog’s socialization. This thought can often cause them to allow the dog to be pet, without fully considering the consequences. However, I am here to reassure you that it is NOT good for their socialization. If anything, allowing strangers into your dog’s space shows the dog that you are no longer advocating to them.
- As a parent, I do want to add a caveat. I am extremely skeptical of dog owners who visit children’s play areas with their animal. It makes me worry that the owners intention could be to attract the children to test the dog. Also, even when they assure parents that their dog loves the attention, and has never bitten or growled at a child, it makes me wonder why they are deliberately continuing to put their dog in a scenario that could set them up to fail. Are they testing the dog’s socialization on your child? Evaluating how a new dog reacts to children? Just food for thought!
Overall, when it comes to the safety of your child, it simply isn’t worth taking the 30 second risk of allowing them to pet a strange dog.
And on the other end of the leash, Owners, it is not worth the 30 second risk and potentially setting your dog up for failure.
Instead, parents, work on teaching your child about the individual dog and purpose of their breed as a way of both distracting and educating them. Additionally, you may want to focus on your own reaction. When our children see us getting overly excited about a new animal, it makes sense that they will begin to mimic this reaction.
And Dog Owners, It’s OK to politely tell the child that you are impressed with their good manners in asking but your pup just isn’t up for a petting today.