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Dogs - teaching your child to be safe

Your child is more likely to come into contact with dogs than with any other animal. Dogs are also more likely than any other pet to approach your child. Your child's safety and health is a priority.

To keep your child safe:

  • always supervise them around dogs
  • never leave your baby or child alone with a dog

Dogs - risks to your child's health

Help your child learn about dogs

Your child learns from you. They will copy how you interact with dogs. You will need to teach your child that dogs are not toys. Teaching your child about dogs and their behaviour can reduce the risk of a dog biting or attacking.

When your child is able to understand, teach them how to:

  • behave around dogs
  • interact with dogs
  • recognise a dog's behaviour
  • play with dogs
  • approach unknown dogs

But do not expect your child to take on board your safety advice. Children do not understand danger. That is why close adult supervision is so important.

Interacting with dogs

You or your child should never:

  • hug and kiss dogs - face-to-face contact is a common cause of bites
  • disturb a sleeping dog – they may get a fright and bite
  • sneak up on a dog
  • corner a dog
  • tease or annoy dogs - any dog can bite if they are scared, confused or in pain
  • run and shout around dogs
  • approach a dog that is protecting something – their puppies, territory or toys
  • go near a dog when they're eating - they may bite while trying to protect their food
  • put your face near a dog's mouth and nose
  • wander around the home with food, feed a dog from the table, or allow a dog to beg at mealtimes

Playing with dogs

Do not teach dogs to play rough. Games like tug of war and chasing encourage your dog to use their strength.

Instead play games of skill, like fetch where a treat is exchanged for the 'fetched' item when the dog drops it on the ground.

Feeding dogs

Keep away from a dog that’s eating. They may bite while trying to protect their food.

Feed the dog on the ground and in their own space. A dog may accidentally bite while trying to take food from your hand. Dogs are protective of food, so always feed them away from where children play.

Recognising a dog's behaviour

Children can sometimes get confused about a dog’s body language. They may misread a dog's behaviour.

Your child might mistake a dog wagging their tail for a friendly dog, even when they are growling.

Teach children ‘dog language’. Make sure your child recognises when to leave a dog alone.

Approaching unknown dogs

Teach children to only approach a dog when their owner is there. Always ask for permission from the owner.

Teach your child to:

  • walk slowly towards the dog and their owner
  • ask the owner for permission to pet the dog
  • let the dog sniff your safely outstretched hand, keeping your fingers curled in
  • touch the dog gently

Stand still like a statue if a dog approaches you. Running may provoke the dog to chase and attack. If you need to move, back away slowly.

Training your dog

Make sure your dog is well trained and socialised. Teach them basic commands like, 'sit', 'stay' and 'heel'.

Do not let young children discipline a dog. Teach them to call an adult when your dog needs to be disciplined.

Teaching resources

Help your child learn to be safe around dogs -

Page last reviewed: 22 October 2022
Next review due: 22 October 2025