Please Teach Your Kids How to Greet a Strange Dog!


Gigi looks friendly and adorable, but she hates kids.

Although kids and canines can get along just fine, allowing your child to run up to a strange dog and try to pet him is incredibly risky behavior. Without knowing the dog or its temperament, you could setting up your kid for a serious injury.

Here’s a familiar scene: You’re at the park with your pup, and a young child wanders over, her parents nowhere in sight. As she runs gleefully toward your dog, her hands stretched out in front of her, you wonder for a moment what will happen. You know your dog won’t hurt her, but you don’t know what this kid is going to do.

Just as she’s getting ready to lunge at your pup, the little girl’s mother walks over, laughing. “Sorry about that,” she says. “She gets so excited when she meets dogs.” To her kid, she says, “Go pet the doggie, sweetheart.”

How many things are wrong with this scenario? I count five: What’s a toddler doing in the dog park? Why isn’t her mother plastered to her side? What would have happened if the dog she was running at didn’t like kids? Why did her mother tell her to pet the dog without first asking your permission? Why had her mother told her to pet a strange animal at all?

People, teach your children proper dog etiquette! If your child spooks a strange dog, not only could your kid get hurt, but the pet would be blamed and probably suffer greatly as a result. Avoid a slew of problems and take a few minutes to teach your children how to properly greet a new dog, and then model the behavior to reinforce the lesson.

Teach Your Kids How to Greet a Strange Dog

  1. Ask the pet owner if you can meet the animal. If the owner says no, don’t press the issue. Some dogs become aggressive with strangers and children.
  2. If the owner says it’s okay, greet the dog with your arm out in front of you and your hand in a fist, which will save your fingers if the dog decides to bite you.
  3. Hold your fist low so the dog can smell it. If he turns away, leave it be. He’s not interested. If he leans in or licks your hand, you’ve been given the green light.
  4. Pet the dog gently, paying attention to his response. If he seems eager for more, give him a good back scratch. Keep your child away from the dog’s face, just in case.
  5. Teach your kid to say “thank you” to the doggie when she’s done petting him — pets appreciate politeness, too!

I’ve found that most children like this formal exchange and take their duties very seriously. I can still remember the little girl I met outside of Trader Joe’s one time when my sheagle, Roxie, was with me.

Her mother close behind her, the girl approached us very slowly, and then asked in a very solemn voice if she could meet my dog. After I said yes, she made her hand into a fist and let Roxie sniff it. When Roxie licked her hand, the little girl burst into delighted laughter. I showed her how Roxie liked her back scratched, and the little girl worked industriously at the task.

I thanked her mother for taking the time to teach her daughter how to approach a strange dog. Her mom smiled and explained that a volunteer from the SPCA had done a presentation at her daughter’s school, and all the children had learned how to interact with dogs safely and correctly.

I am delighted that children are learning these lessons. Parents, it’s time for you to learn, too!

Do you have children? Do you teach your kids how to greet a strange dog? Let’s talk about it below.

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  • Matt Covey

    It’s sad how little people teach their children about dogs. As much as we love dogs, they are animals and should be evaluated carefully before being allowed around children.