Recently I had the pleasure of talking to the kids at one of my local primary schools about dogs.  We all had a great time and the children were fantastic.  It may have helped that I had vet nurse Elicia and her adorable dog Cinda with me.  In fact, Cinda really stole the show.  By the end of our visit even the kids who were initially really nervous came up and gave her a gentle pat.

dog bite prevention school visit

We discussed:

  • How to approach a dog safely
  • What to do if you are approached by a dog you don’t know
  • Doggie-friendly forms of affection
  • When not to disturb a dog

These four simple things are just so important in dog bite prevention.  I would encourage every single parent to teach their children how to interact safely with dogs.  It’s really important to be able to read canine body language and facial expressions, and Boogie the Boston (below) shows us some common ones.  Have a look, you might be surprised!

boogie the boston dog body language

I wrote this article to assist parents, educators and other vet professionals who want to talk to children about appropriate and safe behaviour around dogs.  You are welcome to use any of the images, but please don’t remove watermarks.

Why Teach Kids how to Behave Around Dogs?

Because kids get bitten by dogs.

Often young kids, and often by dogs they know.

Children tend to hug and kiss dogs because that’s how we show affection to those we love.  Unfortunately dogs find this intrusive to say the least, and often a little scary.  Little faces get too close, invading personal space, while little hands poke at noses and eyes, and pull whiskers and tails.  Many children also climb all over dogs, (sometimes with adults watching on and laughing!) which is DANGEROUS.

Children often get bitten on the face, which can have devastating consequences.  Dog bites can cause significant injury or even death, and most are preventable.

Making dog bite prevention even more difficult are the many “cute” photos and videos out there of kids doing the wrong thing with dogs.  If you know what you’re looking for, it’s all too clear from these poor animals’ body language and facial expressions that they are not comfortable.   They are practically screaming “I don’t like this!” but it falls on deaf ears.  Because the kids don’t know how to read them and most of the time the adults don’t either.  The vast majority of dogs are incredibly tolerant for a long time, but eventually the only way out they have left is aggression.  This is heartbreaking for everyone involved, including the dog.

girl kissing dog

Why are you doing this to me!!!

How to Safely Greet a Dog

1. Ask the owner for permission

Running up to someone’s dog is not okay.  Before greeting any dog the first thing to do is ask permission from the owner. If the owner isn’t around, do not touch that dog.

2. Approach the dog in a non-threatening way

If the owner says it’s okay to greet their dog, the next step is to make sure it’s okay with the dog. Approach them on an angle rather than straight on, and don’t stare them in the eye. Directly facing a dog with your body and staring are both confrontational signs in the doggie world and are likely to make many dogs nervous. If the dog backs away from you, becomes tense, avoids eye contact, shows his teeth or growls, they are not comfortable with the situation and it’s important to respect this and move away.

3. Ask the dog for permission

If the dog is happy to see you with a relaxed body and face, maybe with a wagging tail, put your hand out in a fist and give the dog the option to have a sniff or a lick. Don’t shove your hand in their face - you are just giving them the choice to move towards you with interest or to move away.  You are basically saying hello before reaching out and touching them.  I mean, imagine if a stranger came up to you on the street and gave you a big hug without even saying hello! Even if you are a super friendly person, it would make you uncomfortable, right?

4. Use doggie-friendly affection

The best way to pat a dog when first greeting them is gently from the shoulder towards the tail, in the direction the hair grows. Patting on the top of the head is too intimidating for some dogs. Never be rough, and don’t shriek or yell.  If the dog moves away we need to respect that they have had enough.

What to do if an Unfamiliar Dog Approaches You

Be a Post!

Stand very still with your hands in fists held down low against your body. Don’t stare at the dog or shout at the dog - just stand still.  They might want to give your hands a smell which is why it’s best to keep them low, avoiding the need for the dog to jump up on you. If you stay very still the dog will probably find you uninteresting and move on.

dog bite prevention be a post

I should have apologised in advance for my drawings! Yep, they’re pretty bad! If you’re not too offended by the fact that they appear to have been drawn by a toddler, you are very welcome to download this printable pdf for children to use as a colouring page if you wish.

If you are on the ground - be a rock!

Kids might be playing down at ground level, or may even be knocked over by an over-excited dog.  In these situations, the safest option is to curl up in a ball with arms protecting your head and stay still and quiet.

dog bite prevention be a rock

Excuse the small and adventurous tortoise.  I knew I shouldn’t but then I did anyway.  Hey, here’s the Printable pdf

Times That Dogs Should Not be Disturbed

There are some times that a dog should be left in peace.

Never disturb a sleeping dog.  

They may be cranky or just disoriented if woken suddenly, and can lash out before they realise what’s going on or who is disturbing them.  Also, never disturb me when I am sleeping; crankiness, confusion, and lashing out are also possible, probable, absolutely guaranteed.

Sleeping dog coloring page

Click here for a handy printable pdf.

Never disturb a dog while they are eating.  

Many people say you should teach dogs to be accepting of having their food taken off them, but this isn’t always possible or advisable.  For safety, children must respect a dog’s space while they are eating, whether it be their meal, a bone, or any treat.

Dog eating dinner coloring page

And a pdf if you would like to print this.

Other really important times not to disturb dogs include:

  • When they are playing with one of their toys
  • When they are on the other side of a fence
  • When they are tethered
  • When they are on their bed

Some other great resources

You can find more information to help kids have safe and enjoyable interactions with dogs below.

How do kids interact with your dogs?  If you have children, have you taught them safe behaviour around dogs?  Will you be doing anything different now?


Joanna Paul
Dr. Joanna Paul BVSc (hons) BSc Jo is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in Melbourne, Australia. Working in partnership with loving pet owners to ensure their fur-kids remain happy, healthy family members life-long is what brings her joy. Well, that and taking naps. Jo strongly believes that helping to maintain the wonderful bond between a pet and their human is reason enough for a happy dance.
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Showing 4 comments
  • Emma

    I don’t know who created the graphics for this article, but this person is very talented!

  • Prince James

    Generally, dogs are the best friend of kids, but they do bite if they feel threatened. With these tips it gives the really good insight about the dog behavior and help us to prevent kids from dog bite incidents.


    Jo - this an awesome article! It’s so important to teach kids how to behave around dogs (and cats) so that they learn to treat them with respect from an early age. PS. Love your drawings too!

    • Joanna Paul

      Thanks so much Pawesome Cats!
      Lol at the drawings, you’re just being nice!!
      Absolutely we need to teach kids to respect our feline friends too. A story for another day 🙂

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