The sayings are endless: “Dog is man’s best friend,” etc. Every kid has clamored for a puppy at some point in time—and some clamor for them constantly. There are many reasons it is good for kids to have dogs…but there are also many reasons why it is not a good idea. Sure, your kids can learn a lot about life and caring for others by caring for a dog or other pet, but it is also important to consider that children learn how to behave safely and properly around dogs, which can, unfortunately, be dangerous. Statistics show that around 27% of dog bites in children are actually attacks by the family dog, which means that learning about dogs and how to care for them properly is paramount.

Know the Nature of the Beast

Before letting a dog enter your kids’ lives, you have to discuss the fact that dogs, although they have been domesticated, are animals—specifically, predators. No matter how tame and sweet-tempered it may seem, a dog still retains reflexes and instincts that serve to protect itself when it perceives a threat. Even though your child may mean nothing by tugging on a tail or grabbing at it, these actions can cause the dog to bark, snap, bite, or otherwise fight…which can turn ugly. Poking, pulling on tails or fur or ears, and other invasions of personal space should be verboten.

Tips for Healthy Relationships Between Dogs and Kids

  • A session with a dog trainer or volunteering at the local shelter or a vet’s office can prove very helpful. They can help point out what can be potentially dangerous cues and canine body language.
  • When adopting a shelter dog, make sure it has been evaluated properly by an animal behaviorist, vet,or qualified trainer, and that your family’s composition and lifestyle is compatible with the dog.
  •  When buying a specific breed, make sure you have matched it with your family. For example, if you have an apartment and are not home a lot, don’t buy a large, active dog breed like a Dalmatian or Labrador Retriever. If you choose a very sociable breed type, make sure to buy a companion of some type, or at least enough toys and diversions to keep them from destroying your home.
  •  Set up a schedule or list of duties for your kids to follow in regards to caring for their pet. This can include walking, bathing, clipping toenails, feeding, and cleaning up after it. By taking care of an animal, children learn empathy, responsibility, and respect.

While these potentially harmful scenarios may be few and far between, even the friendliest of dogs can have a bad day. By being prepared, you can keep your children safe while ensuring that your pet remains a member of your family for years to come.