Kids and Dogs: A Parent’s Guide to Canine Body Language & Safety

young girl with large dogOne of our readers wrote in to share this thoughts after reading the post “Understanding Your Dog’s Body Language” from our archives. In that post, I discussed some of the warning signs that your dog is distressed and how to deal with displacement behaviors.

Richard Cross is the editor at The Dog Clinic, and I am pleased to share his thoughts…

“This is a really important topic for anyone who spends time with dogs – but it’s vital for parents. I’ve recently witnessed some close calls between dogs and children at my local park – and I believe this is because parents don’t know basic dog body language. Many also don’t teach their children how to politely greet or play with dogs.

For this reason, a few weeks ago I set out to create a complete “Parent’s Guide” to canine body language. It contains an overview of why dogs bite, how to recognize the warning signs (which are nearly always there), and how to teach children to politely greet a dog.

Dogs that bite children nearly always give multiple warning signs, but they are usually missed. The result is that the dog gets the blame for the bite and the child is injured – yet neither are really at fault. Even knowing the basics of body language could prevent many injuries.”

He believes that the vast majority of dog bites on children are avoidable, so if the guide prevents even one bite, he would consider it a great success.

Kids and Dogs: A Parent’s Guide to Canine Body Language & Safety
I took a look at his guide and it is a wonderful resource for understanding the ways to teach children how to interact safely and positively with their canine buddies. According to the Center for Disease Control, and referenced in many sources, there are 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States every year. And of those, approximately 900,000 bites become infected.

Beware the mighty Chihuahua! As a reference, the dogs that bite the most are:

  • Chihuahua
  • Bulldog
  • Pit Bull
  • German Shepherd
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Bull Terrier
  • Pekingese
  • Papillion


So just because a dog is small in physical stature, that does not mean you or your human family should take them for granted. I should know since my household has always been a haven for those lovable “big” dogs who wear little doggie bodies.

baby with dogRichard’s guide is broken down into the following topic areas:

  • Section 1: Why Dogs Bite Children – And Why They Usually Don’t
  • Section 2: A Parent’s Guide to Dog Body Language
  • Section 3: How to Supervise Safe Play Between Children and Dogs
  • Section 4: Teaching a Child to Safely Interact With Dogs (Without Causing Fear)

He explains that the most common reasons for bites include:

  • Being startled or surprised
  • Protecting property, food or other object
  • Feeling trapped
  • Getting over-excited
  • Being in pain

Under body language and communication, he covers how dogs rely on their various body parts to signal how they feel.  And sometimes these can be very subtle and difficult to notice.

He points out that while it may be difficult to understand every signal, it is more important to focus in their five basic emotional state –  neutral, fearful, worried/anxious, playful and aggression.

young boy cuddling dogAccording to the guide, here are three key body language mistakes to avoid:

Mistake #1 – A Wagging Tail Doesn’t Always Mean a Happy Dog
Mistake #2 – Punishing a Dog for Growling
Mistake #3 – Assuming Rolling Over is a Sign of Submission


Under his safety section, he outlines these essential teaching points for your children:

– When It’s Acceptable to Interact a Dog
– How to Politely Greet a Friendly Dog
– How to Recognize When a Dog Has “Had Enough”


Of course, these are just some highlights of the guide. For more detailed instructions and insights, I urge you to read it in further detail for yourself. Go to You can also reach Richard Cross directly at


If you have any insights to add, send me your thoughts and I may include your comments in a future post. And if you are an author or editor and have some great information to share with our readers, please let me know so I can review your blog or journal. Email me at connie [at] Thank you!


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