Dog is man’s best friend, so the saying goes. But a child can also develop a close bond with a dog.

Maybe you’re thinking of getting a dog for your family. Or maybe your child spends time at other homes that have dogs. Either way, it’s important to teach your child the right—and wrong—ways to interact with a dog.

Dogs behave differently than humans. This may seem obvious—but it isn’t necessarily obvious to a small child. Your child may be accustomed to being loud or playing roughly. This type of behavior can make a dog scared or defensive—either of which can result in a dog bite.

To keep your child safe around dogs, teach them the following rules:

  • Never approach a dog. Children often have the urge to run up to a cute dog and hug them. Being approached quickly and being touched in this way is likely to make a dog uncomfortable. If they are eating or tending to their puppies, they are especially likely to lash out if approached. Instead, teach your child to kneel and extend a hand to the dog—inviting the dog to approach them.
  • Pet carefully. Once the dog is near your child, teach your child to pet with caution. Always use slow, gentle strokes. Only pet a dog on its back, unless you know it likes being petted elsewhere. Many dogs become protective if you touch their head, belly or tail.
  • Be quiet. Teach your child to speak in soft, soothing tones around a dog. Many children have loud outbursts when they get excited, but this can scare a dog.

A dog bite can be traumatic—especially for a child. Preparing your child to interact appropriately with dogs greatly reduces the risk of a nasty accident.