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Teaching Kids About Approaching Strange Dogs

What do you say when a kid asks, Can I pet your dog?

I love when kids ask if they can pet my dog Ace, because he’s great with them and he seems to enjoy the attention.

He also doesn’t jump on them. He sits and knows to be careful and gentle.  (He does try to lick their faces, however!)

On the other hand, when I’m walking a dog that is NOT good with kids, and children ask “Can we pet your dog?” I say “NO” in a firm voice and keep moving.

This has left some kids standing there shocked as though they’re about to cry, which is kind of hilarious.

But, I don’t want them to get bitten (obviously), and I can’t always stand around explaining why.

I’ve even been in startling situations where I’m walking dogs that will bite and the kids are actually running after us!

A nightmare, right?

How to teach children about approaching dogs safely

Teaching kids about approaching strange dogs

Since my dog is good with kids, I try to use this as a teaching opportunity.

When children ask if they can pet my dog, I’ll say things like:

“Thank you for asking first because not all dogs are friendly.”

But maybe I should really say “Thank you for asking first because some dogs will bite.”

I don’t remember anyone telling me that as a kid.

I also say, “Don’t put your face up to his face because that might scare him.” (It won’t scare my dog, he loves it! But it could scare other dogs.)

But again, I think I should be more clear: “Don’t put your face up to his face because he might bite.”

I also say:

“Pet his back.”

And also:

“It’s a good idea to ask your mom or dad first before petting a dog. Then ask the dog’s owner.”

Because, I don’t know about you, but do you really trust most dog owners in general to make the right choices?

What else is good to teach children about strange dogs?

I think it’s good to teach them:

  • Not to stare at a dog.
  • Not to run or squeal near dogs.
  • Not to charge up to a dog head on but to approach from the side and show them “like this.”
  • Not to pet a dog right away but to let him sniff you first (I remember my dad teaching me this).

When a child just won’t leave your dog alone

Have any of you been in situations where kids just would not leave your dog alone?

This has happened to me twice. Once with a group of 7-year-old boys or so. They were very brave in their little group and did not get the hint that my foster dog would bite.

I had to raise my voice: “Do NOT pet this dog. He bites!”

And even then, I had to physically reach out and block a boy’s hand, and he goes, “the dog tried to bite me!”

Oh, really? What a surprise!

Saying a dog bites does become an invitation to some kids (and adults), like it’s some sort of challenge.

Because of this, I’m always ready to physically each out and block people’s hands when I’m walking certain dogs. And obviously I keep moving away calmly.

How about the rest of you?

Am I missing anything?

Do you have kids? What do you tell them about approaching dogs?

Related posts:

Ever wish people would give your reactive dog space?

Should children be allowed in dog parks?

How to prevent a stressed dog from biting


Sunday 17th of September 2017

A bit of an "opposite" story, a few years ago I was taking my mums Springer Spaniel PUPPY (must have been about 4 months old) out for a walk and saw a couple and their young child a few houses up the road doing some gardening. Thinking the young boy might like to pat the puppy and taking advantage of exposing the pup to some socialisation I walked over to them. The poor boy was so scared, turns out he'd been bitten by dog and had a well developed fear of all dogs. So it pays to be mindful that even if your dog is friendly you don't know how a child will react.

Now, as an owner of a dog reactive Amstaff I wouldn't dream of approaching anyone in the steet with her and am so grateful for your tips on if people/children approach us in public!

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 19th of September 2017

Great example, thank you!


Thursday 7th of September 2017

How bout those people who are not kids and make obvious movement to avoid your dog. Like almost falling of the sidewalk over an embankment. And giving you the first looks. I have a very large lab/Newf cross just looks like a giant yellow lab 115lbs, he's nine and so docile, he might lick you to death. It never fails to amaze me how people act so defensive and offended that he wanted to say hello or sniff a cartoon character he would be Eeyore of winnie the poo...but they act as if he's going to eat them. Total drama. Sigh.


Thursday 7th of September 2017

I have two dogs. One is super friendly with kids. Very calm, very sweet. She doesn't even care if they pull on her fur or fall on her. She's just a really NICE dog and so I'm always happy to let kids come meet her. But ONLY if they ask. We were once on a 5k walk for a charity and heading toward the end. It was pretty crowded and twice my dog suddenly rushed forward, which was odd for her. I turned around as she started to the third time and saw a young girl just releasing her tail. Her mother was at her side laughing. All I could think was WHO DOES THAT? Who just lets their child grab a random dog's tail? Luckily Dahlia was sweet and just wanted to get away from the pulling, but another dog might have turned and bitten her.

My other dog, Ben, is terrified of children. We've had a few rush us and want to pet him and all he wants to do is run. He's hiding behind me and they're still insistent (no idea WHY they're more insistent on Ben more than Dahlia except that he's more showy...white speckled paws and always with a big goofy grin on his face while Dahlia is all black and very mellow). Most of the time I keep a very wide berth away from kids and shout at them if they start to approach. I figure I might as well head it off at the path and I just tell them he's scared of people he doesn't know and keep moving. Fast.

Bruce Bolduc

Thursday 30th of March 2017

I would also add do not hug the dog and do not pat the dog on their head.


Thursday 30th of March 2017

If I told someone, anyone, not to pet my dog because they might bite, and they reached out and I had to stop them, I would probably ask them if they were stupid. I literally just told you no,do you not understand English? Ugh people sometimes. .

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 30th of March 2017

This happened multiple times with my foster dog! Ugh!