07 Nov Help Kids Understand Dog Communication
Help Kids Understand Dog Communication
Teaching kids how to communicate with pets is VITAL for living peacefully together. Understanding animal-talk requires teaching. Dogs make all sorts of different sounds in different situations: growls, barks, whimpers, whines, howls, yelps and more. And their body language says a lot, too. It’s difficult for young kids to understand exactly what their pet is “telling” them.
Young kids often want to show affection for their pets in the same way they do to other people. They love giving hugs and kisses to their dog but this often scares the pup or makes him feel trapped. These innocent jesters often result in growls, snaps or even bites from the pup. I bet you’ve seen something similar.
Most of the time when I’m called in to help with issues between kids and dogs it’s because of miscommunications between the two. Whether you’re teaching your own kids, or others who interact with your pet often, here are some of the things to cover when teaching children about pet communication.
Dogs talk differently than humans
It can be frustrating for a little one to understand what a dog is telling them! Not all animals give the same signals. Reviewing common behaviors will help your kids be better prepared around them.
Go through this list with your child, or with others you teach or interact with. You can even point these behaviors out as you see them happening with your pet.
- Tail wagging – If a dog has a relaxed body and is swinging their tail loosely, they can be sharing that they’re happy. However, a stiff wag and a rigid body can signal frustration, overstimulation, fear or anxiety.
- Barking – Dogs bark differently for different reasons. Learning how your dog barks in various situations is important.
- Panting – Unless a dog is hot this often signals some type of stress. Often fear or concern but can also mean overly excited.
- Showing teeth – This can also mean different things depending on what teeth the dog is showing but most of the time this is designed to get someone or something to move away.
- Hiding or cowering – It’s surprising how often this is ignored by people if the dog is small. These behaviors are clearly indicating fear and the need to be left alone.
- Ears flat back – This indicates great concern on the part of the dog. It can be present both when a dog is trying to hide as well as just before they strike out and bite.
Teach your kids the unique signs their own pet uses
Not every dog communicates their needs in the same manner. The quicker you learn what to look for the quicker you will be able to decipher your dog’s behaviors and then teach your children.
Kids need to understand the unique or specific gestures their own pet uses, what they mean and what the child should do (or not) if they see it.
Explain the rules for pet play
Kids can get confused about pet body language, given their own limited experience with animals. Let them know that a dog wagging its tail doesn’t want that tail grabbed and wagging tails don’t always mean happy dogs. Pets don’t like being hugged even though kids are taught this is a gesture of care with other people. Dogs simply aren’t designed to show affection in that way but there are LOTS of other ways we can show them we love them.
Make sure your child knows how to play appropriately. Running, screaming, jumping, scaring and shouting are examples of no-nos. You want kids to be calm, using inside voices, and approaching slowly. You may even need to outright ban some things such as laying on the dog, pulling on body parts like tails, screaming and running with the dog, teasing the dog, etc.
Learn how to play appropriately.
Every animal is different. My youngest dog loves to play tug or have me chase him after he grabs a toy. Not all dogs enjoy this. My older dog has very little interest in the chase game and only tugs sometimes, when he’s really excited!
Kids will learn how to play with pets by watching you play with them, and by the ways you guide their actions when they play with pets themselves. Make sure kids are closely monitored around animals, especially if they are toddlers, if they have a hard time being calm themselves, if the dog they are playing with is very large or also has trouble staying calm.
Start slow and supervise.
SAFETY is the true priority—both your pet’s and the child’s. Kids have to learn how to properly engage with dogs. How to pet them, not to take toys from them, how to respect their bodies and more.
You know your own pet well. How well they handle rambunctious kids running around, how easy it is to calm them down or distract them, what kinds of games they do and don’t like and more. Respect these things about your dog especially when kids are around.
If you’re introducing a new pet to a home with children, be even more attentive!
Pets are great for children because they help kids learn so many things about themselves as well as about animals. They can be comforting in difficult times and a playmate when no one else is around.
With a little caring guidance, your pet will learn to trust, respect and love your child.
Do you have kids in the home? Drop me a line and let me know how you taught them about pet communication! If you don’t even know where to start, I’d be honored to help with this incredibly important lesson. Teaching kids about dogs and empowering them to communicate well and bond with the family pup is a passion of mine.
Jennifer began to learn more about dog behavior and training in 2009, by reading all the latest science-based research she could find and by enrolling in a dog training course through Raising Canine, owned and operated by Susan Smith, CDBC, CPDT-KA. Jennifer earned her national certification in professional dog training through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) in 2013. She feels strongly that: “The attitude that’s brought to the training session by both myself and the dog’s guardian is critical to its success.” “I strive to fully understand the goals as well as the challenges of each client and work hard to develop a plan that works for everyone, including the dog.”