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The Dangers of Assuming that Your Dog is Safe with Children

July 1, 2015

As a Salt Lake City dog trainer, I have heard many people say the following: “My dog is great with children and would never bite a child.”  First of all you can never say that an animal will never bite.  Any dog will bite if provoked.  Yep any dog.  So what exactly can trigger a bite in the most friendliest of dogs?  How can we become aware of situations so we aren’t the person says: “I have no idea why my dog bit my child!  I didn’t see it coming.  There were no signs. It happened and was unprovoked.”  Most dogs show multiple warning signs before biting.  It is time to be an educated dog owner and learn those signs.

From Living with Kids and Dogs …Without Loosing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar, CPDT “Every year, nearly 2.8 million children are bitten by a dog. Boys are bitten nearly twice as often as girls, children between 5 and 9 old are the most at risk.  Most of these bites come from a dog that belongs to the family or a friend.” Here is a great resource from Best Friends Animal Society on dog bite statistics.

Below are some situations that can cause your dog to bite your child or another child.  Keep in mind this also applies to your friends’ dogs.

1.) Touching by a child can trigger many dogs.  Of course many dogs are great with just soft petting, however, be aware that if your dog is not use to your child then regular petting can also trigger your dog.  Hugging, hair pulling, rough patting, etc can definitely trigger many dogs.  There is rarely a dog that loves any of the these rough methods of touching.  Sure your dog may tolerate it.  However, if your dog doesn’t enjoy it, you are increasing the chance that you dog may bite one day.  He may have not bitten in the past and then one day after months of tolerating this brutal handling, your dog, decides he is done with taking it, so he bites.  Yep it happens and it isn’t as rare as you might think.

Teach your child to interact your dog in healthy ways.  Such as petting softly and not allowing your child to hug your dog.

2.) A child that doesn’t give a dog space while he is eating can also create a potential hazard for a bite.  This could be something as simple as having your child walk by your dog’s food bowl while he is eating or just petting your dog while he is eating.

Your dog needs space when he is eating from his food bowl or when he is eating crumbs / treats off of the floor.

3.) Of course not honoring your dog’s personal space can be a huge trigger.  This space could be something as simple as your dog laying on his bed.  It could also be a more complex situation.  You are holding your child in your arms.  Your dog comes up to you and is your child is excited to see your dog.  You set your child down immediately in front of your dogs face.  Of course your dog is not going to be happy with something falling from the sky and landing directly in front of his eyes.  A great personal example is entering the house with my daughter.  Seiki comes running to the door and when I walk into the door with my daughter Seiki has his face right there in front of us.  Iris walks directly into Seiki.  I see the danger in the situation and am now teaching Iris to wait at the door while Seiki is given a command to go to his bed which is far away from the door.  Then I tell Iris to give Seiki his space while he is on his bed.

4.) Throwing objects and waving hands in your dog face can create your dog to be uncomfortable as well.  I think this one is a bit more obvious.  However, keep in mind with toddlers these behaviors happen quickly.   You can use baby gates, crates, closed doors, etc to keep your dog separated from your child when he is in hyper mode.  Also remember to constantly redirect and teach your child to be more conscious with his toys and hands around your dog.

5.) Trigger stacking is one that will catch most dog owners off guard.  This means that multiple stressful stimuli happen all at once or consecutively.  Your dog’s stress level builds quickly and then reacts.  Let me give you a example.  Your dog is eating out of his food bowl.  Your dog is actually very friendly while he is eating.  However, this day your daughter is excited about a toy that is accidentally left by your dog’s food bowl.  The floor is also wet from your dog drinking water.  Your daughter knows to give your dog while he is eating and forgets in this moment because she is excited about her toy.  Trigger #1: Your daughter begins screaming in excitement about her toy.  Trigger #2: She is still screaming and walks toward the eating dog. Trigger #3: She slips on the spilled water on the floor and the sudden fall creates even more stress on the dog. Trigger #4: Your child lands on your dog’s food while he eating during the fall.  Trigger #5: The fall is hard and your daughter cries. Now that we have 5 different stressful stimuli happening at once your poor child gets a bite to her face!  Please be aware of trigger stacking.

The more responsive your dog is to obedience commands, the more easily it will be to prevent a bite when your dog becomes triggered by your child.  Here are some great commands to train: Go to your place, leave it and come.

Learning to read your dog’s behavior is paramount and takes effort.  Begin learning now.  Here is a list of links to read to learn more about dog behavior: Reading Dog Behavior Post 1, Reading Dog Behavior Post 2, Reading Dog Behavior Post 3, and Reading Dog Behavior Post 4

Click on safety and your dog to find more tips.

If you need support in keeping your child and your dog comfortable, begin dog training. Salt Lake City has many positive reinforcement dog trainers that you can hire.

Your Turn

What have you learned to increase your child’s safety around dogs?

Johanna Teresi, Professional Trainer and Owner of Four Legged Scholars LLC Dog Training, Salt Lake City

Blog Archives

Britnie Sorensen
Britnie Sorensen
18:11 06 Apr 24
This is our second round of training with Johanna! Our Bullmastiff Abbi is different from our previous dogs, and we knew Johanna would be able to help us. We reached out and were in excellent hands! Johanna was able to redirect our training efforts, majority of sessions were held virtually and supported with videos of us training Abbi. We will keep using Johanna no matter where life takes us. Her love and compassion for our puppy, and us, come through in every interaction. We are in a much better place and understanding of Abbi after working with Johanna!
Roberta Bonnell
Roberta Bonnell
01:37 24 Mar 24
My Australian Shepard had moderate separation anxiety and Johanna was able to help me get him to a point where I can see him being able to be home alone before the end of the year! Very grateful for all of her training expertise.
Karen Mara
Karen Mara
21:19 21 Jan 24
I recently met with Johanna for help with my rambunctious teenager, Roger. We worked on coming when called, leash walking, and staying calm around other dogs when on leash. After two sessions, Roger made huge improvements, and he continues to improve as we practice on our own. Johanna really understands dogs and is very good at communicating with people. She knows how to make dog training fun. I've worked with other trainers, and Johanna is by far the best.
Wendy Nighswonger
Wendy Nighswonger
18:47 08 Jul 23
I have known Johanna for 13 years. She has helped me with several dogs, but she recently helped me train my new black lab puppy, Raven. I have moved to another state so all of my training with Raven was done online via Zoom. I believe that the one-on-one training I received through Zoom was more personalized and thorough, especially with the way Johanna placed every ounce of training and recommendation on a board through an app that I can refer back when I need. Johanna is very intuitive and knew when stress was on overload for me, therefore tailoring my training for that day around making Raven feel good while simultaneously taking my stress load down. Johanna has years of experience and while her knowledge is a gold mine, it is her gentle patience and love for her clients that make this training so perfect. I would hire her again and again. She is a true canine whisperer. Thank you Four Legged Scholars and thank you Johanna!Wendy N. ~ Oregon
Christina Richards
Christina Richards
18:13 10 Feb 23
Johanna at Four Legged Scholars is great. She tailored my program to fit my needs and was easy to work with. My puppy responded very well to what she taught us together over Zoom. She's patient and understanding. We're still utilizing the things we learned and he's a well-behaved puppy. Thank you!
Karyl Bennion
Karyl Bennion
19:49 05 Feb 23
I adopted Frida as a companion that I could travel, walk and hike with. She loves to hike and walk but pulled on the leash and jumped at distractions. I learned how to be calm and talk in a non threatening way to her. She responds to this much better than yelling at her. The click and treat method that I learned works so well in getting her attention as well as the "target" training. Frida has improved greatly with these methods. I will continue the knowledge I have learned with her. I did the live on-line training and it was very successful. I am so happy we signed up.
Rachel Giddings
Rachel Giddings
02:57 12 Dec 22
My dog was abused in his previous home and has always been afraid of strangers. I wanted to train him and help him to be more confident, but I didn't know how to do that if he was afraid of his trainer.Doing online training with Joanna was perfect for both of us! Joanna helped me learn how to read my dog and understand his triggers. We then worked together on BAT training, which taught him self-soothing behaviors and showed him how to confidently and safely handle difficult situations. I never thought I would have fun doing homework with my dog, but he and I benefited from it tremendously. Working with Joanna via Zoom was perfect for my dog and me.
Shawn McMillen
Shawn McMillen
02:09 24 Oct 22
My 2 year old doodle was struggling with people walking by the house, barking incessantly, tugging on walks, improving recall when off leash and , for me, how to be a better more engaging human for my buddy. The personalized, online sessions exceeded all my expectations. The review of video homework sessions was awesome. We saw improvement in each of the priority areas and I developed real, tangible, lasting skills/tools to be a better pet person. Thanks Johanna!
Courtney Daniels
Courtney Daniels
19:59 12 Sep 22
12 years ago I got a puppy and quickly realized I was in over my head. I wanted to have a good, well trained dog, but I was overwhelmed by methods and my puppies behavior.I joined the four legged scholars puppy training with my little 4 month old puppy Bowie, and saw immediate understanding with the clicker work. It gave us this incredibly ability to communicate and she excelled.We went on to take several courses that established general obedience, helped me turn a STRONG leash puller into a loose leash master (I took that course twice because it was a huge issue for us and I NEEDED help and reassurance from Johanna that I could do it) as well as skill class, that helped solidify a beautiful relationship between us. Learning clicker shaping allowed me to confidently teach complex and unique commands on my own as well, like waving hello and closing kitchen cabinets.My Bowie has climbed to the top of mountains for me staying right by my side never pulling on her leash. I've targeted her off trails to protect her from startling a mama moose and her baby. She's loved on my kids without jumping on them and knocking them over. She's allowed the neighbor girl who has always had a fear of dogs to walk her without pulling at whatever pace she was comfortable with. She shows off with all her fun little tricks Johanna gave me the tools to train my dog into an amazing companion.I feel so lucky to have found your training program and to have the relationship I do with my Bowie girl. These courses have a profound and lasting impact on the lives of families and their pups, thank you for that gift.
Megan Pond-Maxwell
Megan Pond-Maxwell
16:02 18 May 22
I am so grateful to have found Johanna. She was with us every step of the way as we tackled separation anxiety training and reactivity training with Daisy, my Mini Australian Shepherd. As a first time dog owner, I felt at a loss about how to manage my very vocal, scared, stressed, yet loveable dog. She had all of the typical puppy behavior, such as jumping, nipping/biting, leash pulling, as well as barking. On top of that, she was also not able to be alone without feeling terrified, as well as vocally and behaviorally reactive to other dogs, adults, and kids. I felt completely overwhelmed and Johanna created programs that felt manageable and doable. Each training session, I felt understood and empowered working with Johanna. Over the course of our programs, I felt that we accomplished the steps of the training process, strengthened the dog-human relationship, and increased my own awareness of my dog's emotional cues so that I could better work with her. My dog can now be on her own feeling relaxed and playful, her problematic puppy behaviors have significantly improved, she can walk on her leash loosely, listen to commands, and she can better tolerate other adults, dogs, and children as compared to where we first started. Our online experience was very positive. I look forward to continually implementing the tools and skills we have learned along the way to move forward in a positive direction that strengthens our human-animal bond and reduces distressing behaviors and emotional stress and overwhelm. Thank you Four Legged Scholars! I highly, highly recommend working with Johanna.
Emily Harward
Emily Harward
03:36 24 Apr 22
Our rescue dog is sweet and playful with us, but her behavior around other dogs and people could be unpredictable. She would act aggressively around adults (lunging and barking), and would sometimes be aggressive toward other dogs. We chose to do online training with Johanna. I was skeptical that online training would work, but it ended up being very effective. Johanna taught me the skills I needed to train my dog, and provided resources that I could use throughout the week as I worked on the assigned tasks. I was also able to send her videos of me working with my dog, so she could provide feedback and help me improve. Johanna personalized the program and made changes as needed to ensure that I could meet my goals. Since working with Four Legged Scholars, neighbors have commented on how much better behaved my dog is, and I don't have to worry about her lunging and barking at people or other dogs when we are out for a walk anymore. We still have a lot of work to do with our dog, and I feel like doing the personalized online sessions with Johanna has given me the knowledge, and resources to continue training my dog.
Angel Lanoy
Angel Lanoy
15:22 16 Jun 21
We have a large family, including three big dogs. So when our biggest dog Obi, the Rottweiler, started showing aggression we panicked. The vet suggested we put him down after an experience in the office. He then said we could also try training and gave us Johanna's business card. Just a phone call with her made us feel like there was hope. We signed up to do the online sessions with FourLeggedScholars. The process from the first contact to the last was well oiled and very helpful. Obi gets to stay with our family now and we feel like meting with her has given us the guidance and knowledge we need to keep our family, friends and him safe. I was a tad worried about doing the training online, but it really worked out great and we were able to fit such a big task into our busy schedules. I feel like she set us up for success from the very beginning. Thank you.
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  1. kathiegregory

    Hi Johanna,
    This is a very important subject, so many people simply cannot imagine a situation where their dog might bite. The points you make are easily understandable for the owner to look at how they live with their dog and assess where they need to make changes to keep everyone safe.
    Really nice to have the links to understanding behaviour too. Take care kathie

    • fourleggedscholars

      Thanks Kathie!!! I am hoping many dog owners read this post and take it seriously. Knowing this stuff is so crucial to our children’s safety..huh? Thanks so much for visiting again! It is always great to read your comments! Namaste! Johanna

  2. Patricia

    Great blog! Love the tips! Having 2 kids and a dog, the information is perfect for us!

    • fourleggedscholars

      Hi Patricia! How old are you children? What did you find most beneficial from all of the information that you read? To safety and fun with your dog and your children! Namaste! Johanna

  3. Anjara

    great post, I love the topic of boundaries when we have dogs and kids. Most people worry about the dog hurting or scaring the kid, but What about the dog?. My dogs are very different around children, One of them loves playing with kids but the older one never really liked having kids around. She is very good with them, but she always has a hard time around kids.
    Very important lesson 🙂 thank you! <3

    • fourleggedscholars

      Anjara, I am glad you are acknowledging the differences between your two dogs! So very important! Thank you for honoring their dogs and listening to their communication with you!! Much love to you! Namaste! Johanna