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How to Help Kids Make Friends With Dogs

Man's best friend isn't always a perfect match with kids.

A kid with a fear of dogs is fated to have strange and strained interactions with unknown canines. Why? Dogs aren’t super bright, but they are remarkably adept at reading emotions. And, when dogs meet young people that fear dogs, the result can be particularly bad. Dogs understand that the small human is agitated and react accordingly by also becoming agitated.  The very thing that makes dogs fantastic, empathetic companions creates a negative feedback loop for kids afraid of local Golden Retrievers. The only way out of that vicious cycle is intervention.

“Dogs can definitely tell when you’re afraid. Kids sometimes have a hard time,” says PJ Ward, dog trainer at Through the Leash Dog Behavior & Training in Cleveland. “Especially with an unknown dog, parents should keep the tension as low as possible.”

Ward says there are four key steps that parents can take to prepare kids to interact with dogs and facilitate canine meetings. He says it’s important that parents understand that they need to be active mediators rather than assuming that kids and dogs will just work it out. Historically speaking, kids and dogs don’t have a great track record of working stuff out on their own.

Encourage Confidence Around Dogs

A dog takes its cues from the human. Children who are confident around dogs will have an easier time. Some of that comes with time, some by parents illustrating to their children the right swagger to have.

“We have the dogs in a down position or a sit stay when they meet children,” he says. “It’s really about having control of the situation.”

If the dog is actively engaged when it meets a child, they’re more likely to have a calm meeting.

Create the Right Situation

As children first get introduced with dogs, you want to have control over the situation as much as possible, Ward says. Know the dogs you introduce them to first. Talk to the owner. Make sure the dog is not prone to nipping or getting over excited.

You want those first experiences to be calm, cool and loving. But if a child already has had a negative experience, easing them back into it with a calm dog is a good way to go.

Find the Right Dog

While some breeds are naturally more calm and gentle with children, it’s important to look at dogs as individuals.

“I would recommend finding a dog whose temperament is not as hyper, with a little more mellow temperament,” Ward says. “It’s not really all about the breed. It’s the dog’s temperament and disposition.”

Get Both Kids and Dogs Involved in Training

Training is for the dogs and for the humans. Ward says having a professional around to assess the situation can help both the dog and the child.

“The more control you have with the situation, the better,” he says. “Training can be a help because it helps their confidence with the dog and the dog’s confidence with the child.”

This is especially true if the parent hasn’t had a lot of experience training dogs. Subtle clues read can help avoid a potentially damaging situation.

The Most Kid-Friendly Dogs

Selecting a dog solely on breed is a bad idea, but some breeds are naturally better with kids, Ward says. Here are a few popular pooches that are good candidates to meet if kids are a concern.

  • Beagle
  • French Bulldog
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Pug
  • Golden Retriever
  • Collie