Pets are family

13th Jun, 2017

Written by Claire Atkinson M.A. – Canine Behaviourist

Dogs became domesticated thousands of years ago, creating a mutually beneficial relationship, but we need to remember that they are a different species, have different needs, ‘speak’ a different language, and behave in a different way to us. We need to respect that in order to keep our families – and our pets – safe.

Every day there are innumerable pictures of kids and their dogs on social media. How cute is that? For me, they’re scary, because in most of them the dog is showing clear warning signals that they are about to react adversely. It is estimated that about 75% of dog-related accidents occur between family pets or those of friends. So let’s talk about safety.

Let’s ‘talk dog’

Dogs speak to us with body language, which may escalate to a growl or a bark – and finally bite if ignored. Turning away, showing white of eyes (‘whale eye’), lip licking and yawning are just some of the signs of unease. For parents and kids, get to know these signs, and defuse the situation before it escalates.

Let’s talk education

Teach children about dogs. Teach them how to behave around animals as you teach them how to behave around people. Teach them about dogs’ needs and allow older children (11+) to take some responsibility for care – such as water, ‘poo patrol’, etc.

Let’s talk training

All dogs benefit from, and usually enjoy, training. Basic cues (commands) help dogs understand the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour. Boundaries help them understand the when and where. Learn about positive reinforcement; there’s no need for punishment, ever.

Let’s talk play

Dogs love to play. But when it becomes too much, they seek out a safe place away from it all. Somewhere to chill. They demonstrate this need through avoidance behaviour – turning away, walking away, growling. Failure to respond may result in some form of aggression. Create a safe space for your dog that’s out of bounds for kids.

Let’s talk behaviour  

Like people, some dogs have behavioural problems. Should you and your family feel uncomfortable, seek professional help from a qualified behaviourist.


The family dog: Stop the 77. Good introduction.

Doggie Drawings: Lili Pin. Infographic ‘Doggie Language’.

Doggone Safe – website.

Family Paws – website.

Your Dog’s Friend – children and dogs.

Eileen and Dogs – Before you share that ‘cute’ dog and baby.

Robin Bennett – Key to supervising dogs and kids.