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The family dog and your kids. How to keep them happy and safe

Please do not assume the breed of dog guarantees a certain set of behaviors in these situations. Dogs of all breeds have a limit and it just isn’t fair to expect them to ignore the boundaries that they are trying to set for little ones in our homes.

dogs kids not to do

Videos of kids jumping on dogs or putting their hands in the dog bowl are just bites waiting to happen.

A wagging tail is not always a sign for happiness, and while there is no doubt that both of these dogs are remarkably patient with the children in the videos, there is also no doubt that this same scenario is played out in the majority of more than 2 million cases of children being bitten by dogs in the U.S. every year. After a dog seriously bites a child, it is often either euthanized, or brought to a shelter where it will be labeled “aggressive with children,” even if the dog was begging, and pleading for your intervention before the bite occurred. Regardless of breed, a dog with a bite history can be a tremendous challenge to place in a home, and is often still put down.

Understanding What the Actions that Might Cause the Family Dog to Bite are Common Sense

In fact, understanding what can drive a dog to bite the family kids is pretty simple. They are the same things that drive humans to need a break from their kids.

Reason 1: For instance, most people dislike it when others stick their grimy hands in their meal. Similarly, dogs want to eat in peace.

Reason 2: We teach children that it’s clearly wrong to steal toys from each other. It’s also rude to steal toys from the dog. Kids should be taught to leave Fido’s toys alone. To build in a tolerance in case the child makes a mistake when your attention has lapsed, dogs should be trained to give up their toy for a reward or even a sequence of rewards. That way, they will willingly give the child the toy instead of feeling possessive. (See Perfect Pup in 7 Days, chapters 1 and 6 .)

Reason 3: Kids frequently can’t help but get in your face. They often have to be trained to maintain the appropriate social distance. Similarly, putting your face into a dog’s face, even if it’s all in the family, can be irritating to the dog, especially when the dog has no control over the child’s behavior.

Reason 4: Most people dislike being disturbed when they are resting or sleeping. But fortunately for us humans, we can often close or lock our bedroom door. Similarly, dogs need a safe location where they can be away from kids and excitement. Kids should avoid bugging them in their “private” location or any time they are sleeping or resting. If they call the dog from far away and the dog chooses to get up and come over to the child, this type of interaction is okay. But if the dog chooses to be left alone, he should be.

Reason 5: Kids dislike being handled roughly, and so do dogs. Dogs can be trained to tolerate or sometimes even enjoy this handling, so that they are not reactive when an accident occurs (See Perfect Puppy in 7 Days, chapters 1 and 6), but in general children should be taught to be polite.

Reason 6: It’s rude to climb on, step on, or otherwise invade someone’s personal space. It’s also rude to do the same things with dogs.

Reason 7: Loud screaming can frazzle humans, imagine its effect on the more sound-sensitive dog!

Reason 8: We often forget that even some friendly gestures, such as pinching a child’s cheeks, may be irritating. In general, dogs dislike being hugged, even by family members. You can tell by the expression on their face. (See the Body Language of Fear and Anxiety in Dogs poster and chapter 7 in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days.) You can train dogs, especially as puppies, to enjoy cuddling and hugging (See Perfect Puppy In 7 Days chapters 1 and 6) and other close handling. But even so, it’s important for children to know the types of interactions their pet likes and also to realize that other dogs may not have the same tolerance as their dog does

Some signs your dog might do that could end in a bite.

Physical Retreat

As a survival instinct, a dog does not want to exert extra energy. A dog would rather retreat than fight. Children are often guilty of chasing a retreating dog and this can be dangerous. If a dog moves away, respect this and let him have his space.

Head Turn

It is a subtle cue, but a head turn is a signal that a dog is uncomfortable and does not want an altercation. You may see a dog turn his head if you stand directly over him, try to pet the top of his head, or give him a hug. Not every head turn will result in a bite of course, but it is part of dog language, and should be considered along with his overall body language.


A yawning dog is not necessarily a tired or bored dog. Sometimes, he is communicating to another dog or human that he is nervous. Dogs will yawn to calm and relax themselves. Other dogs, with proper social skills, will correctly interpret this as a request to back off and give space. A yawn with a head turn is a definite sign of being uneasy.


Licking is often misinterpreted as a sign of affection, but it can be a sign of stress. A dog that is licking his lips, nose, or paws may be communicating that he is uneasy with a situation. Incessant licking of a person, especially on the hands and arms during stress can be a sign to back off and give space.

Whites of the Eyes

It is easy to recognize a happy dog. His eyes are soft and his gaze is not fixed. An uneasy dog might divert eye contact at first but will fixate before he bites. The pupils will enlarge and you might see the white portion around it. Seeing the whites of a dog's eyes, also known as "whale eyes", is a serious warning sign, especially when accompanied with a head turn.

Body Language

Typically, a calm dog has a relaxed stance. He may be sitting or lying down. His ears and eyes are soft, his mouth may be open, and his head is level. An aggressive or threatened dog will have a hard stare, ears will be back, and his head might be lowered. His fur will be rigid and standing on end, especially along the back of his neck and at the base of his tail. He will be standing and might be putting most of his body weight on his front legs.

Tail Position

The tail position can give you a lot of information about a dog's emotions. A tucked tail indicates fear. A wagging tail indicates adrenaline and excitement, which is not always a sign of a friendly dog. A defensive or aggressive dog will need to make his body appear as big as possible, and the tail can help him do that with large, upright, and fast wags. His tail might also be upright and rigid, like the rest of his body.

Growling & Snapping

Growling and snapping are serious signs that the situation has reached a critical point. The dog is still hoping that the threat will retreat but he is getting prepared to defend himself. He will put on his most serious and threating face yet. You might hear heavy breathing and see a wrinkled nose and forehead. His mouth will be closed, but his lips will be pulled up and back, exposing his teeth. At this point, growling and snapping have replaced barking.

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