Dog Training Denver, Conifer to Fairplay, Colorado

Affection & Praise Family Dog Training, Inc.

    Established 1996                       (303) 910-3931

                   “Building Lasting Relationships through Training and Understanding”


Children and Dogs

Dogs and children can be best friends, but unfortunately that doesn’t happen automatically.  Of the 4.7 million dog bites in the US each year, 70% of bites are on children, half of which are bites to the face. 

The Most Common Problems between Children and Dogs

  1. 1.Dog wasn’t socialized to children and is fearful/aggressive.

Just like us, dogs learn by association.  Dogs learn that something or someone predicts whether something good or something bad is going to happen and this affects their behavior.

An easy way to look at this is to picture two glasses, a positive and a negative one.  Every time something happens that your dog likes, the positive glass fills up and every time something happens that he doesn’t like, the negative glass fills up.  In the end if the positive glass is way fuller than the negative one, you will see happy, friendly, trusting and approaching behavior.  However, if the negative glass is fuller or the glasses are empty as in lack of socialization, you will see anxiety, aggression and avoidance.

Socialization is the process of filling up as many positive glasses as we can and keeping the negative glasses as empty as possible, so that if something happens that your dog doesn’t like, it doesn’t immediately lead to aggression. 

To dogs that weren’t socialized to children, children are scary freaky funny smelling weird loud little gremlins that move around way too fast and do weird things to them.  Toddlers in particular fill such dogs with dread. 

When dogs are scared or uncomfortable, they only have a choice of 3 behaviors: fight, flight or freeze.  Initially most of them will choose flight.  But if they are cornered, leashed or they don’t want to walk away from a tasty morsel of food on the floor, they are more likely to choose fight and that can mean a bite to the closest body part. 

Since dogs have the mental capacity of 3 year old children, we can’t hold them responsible for their behavior.  It is our job to keep our children and dogs safe, even from each other.  Because there can be so many possible misunderstandings between dogs and children NEVER leave your children unsupervised with your dog!  With a little effort, we can teach children and dogs to get along famously. 

Needless to say, the better trained your dog is, the less problems you can expect.  Please be sure to only use positive training techniques as negative techniques can cause aggression and that’s the last thing we want around children.  Also, the more your dog sees you as a benevolent protective pack leader, the less problems you will have.

77% of all bites are done by the family dog, a friend’s dog or a relative’s dog.  A large percentage of bites is due to resource guarding.  Boys between the ages of 5 and 9 are at the highest risk (for obvious reasons).  Most if not all of those bites could have been prevented with a little knowledge about our canine friends.

Also if they are sleeping and are woken up suddenly or if they are startled, they can bite.  They will only choose freeze if they feel completely overpowered and that’s not likely to be the case when dealing with a small child.


Make sure your dog can always get away when he feels scared or uncomfortable.  Provide him with a safe spot that is 100% off limits to your children, like a dog bed or a crate.  Use gates (or exercise pens if your house has an open floor plan) to separate them, so that you can relax without having to watch them like a hawk 24/7.  Teach your children not to approach your dog, especially if your dog has moved to get away from them.  Then teach your dog that children predict good things.  Give your dog a lot of attention and treats whenever he is around your children.  If you see you dog tense up, talk to him in a happy relaxed tone, so that you show him that everything is great (don’t comfort him though, because that achieves the opposite).  It’s important to realize that this is a very gradual process.  Most bites happen because we let our guard down too soon.

Just because your dog doesn’t show total fear around your children, that doesn’t mean that he can’t get freaked out by certain things your child does.  Pay particular attention to any stiffness and staring from your dog.  A dog who gets still, stiff and stares is an upset dog. The only way you can gain absolute certainty as to what your dog can and can’t deal with is to have your dog wear a basked muzzle for a while.  The most comfortable muzzle is a vinyl coated wire basket muzzle (see muzzles on the dog training links page).  Your dog can wear this all the time (except feeding time) because he can drink with it on and it doesn’t interfere with his panting.  The muzzle keeps your children totally safe while you can observe what your dog reacts to, so that you can work on those things.

For instance, if your dog reacts to your children running around, you can teach your dog to like that by giving him treats while your children are running around.  You start out gradually by treating your dog, have your children run two steps and then treating your dog again, until you see your dog completely relax in that circumstance.  Then you treat your dog while your children are running three steps, then four steps, etc.  After a couple of sessions like that, your dog is learning that running children predict good stuff.  This is learning by’re not aiming to reward your dog for one behavior or another, just to teach your dog that running children predict good things.  For safety’s sake, it’s best to at first work on this with a barrier in between your kids and your dog, such as a gate or x-pen.

On the same token, you want to be sure not to yell at your dog or correct your dog harshly around your children.  Often a dog gets in trouble with us more when children are around than when children are not around.  This teaches your dog that children predict trouble and that makes deposits in the negative glass, which in turn causes aggression.

  1. raises child like a puppy - miscommunication.

In your dog’s world, dog parents have every right to correct their pups by growling or biting.  Children under the age of 8 are seen by dogs as puppies and dogs will attempt to raise them properly, just like they would do with puppies.  This causes two problems:

Problem 2a: dogs will correct children for doing things dogs don’t like or that are against proper doggie etiquette.  They will do this by biting the muzzle, which translates to a bite to the face. 

Part of this problem is that the way we as humans show affection by hugging, petting and kissing, sticking our face into a dog’s face, is often perceived as a threat or challenge by dogs.

Dog language has two sets of signals.  One set indicates threatening or challenging behavior, such as approaching in a straight line and touching from above, restraining and staring.  The other set indicates non-threatening or appeasing behavior, such as averting the eyes, making oneself appear smaller, turning side, etc.  See the article on dog language.

Here is a short list of things dogs normally don’t like that specifically relates to children:

  1. -Being lifted off the ground

  2. -Being petted on top of the head and back

  3. -Being poked

  4. -Having their feet touched

  5. -Being hugged or restrained

  6. -Having someone put his face right in front of their face

  7. -Being stared at

  8. -Having someone come near their bone, toys or food

  9. -Having someone try to take away their bone, toys or food

  10. -Having someone come near their sleeping space or wake them up


Teach your dog to like everything on the above list in addition to anything your child might dish out (playing dress up?).  Dogs really have to be taught to be masochists to live with children, especially small children.  This is how you can teach your dog to like these things:  you can hug him and treat him, poke your dog everywhere while treating him, pick him up and treat him, etc.  Take his food away, give him a special treat and give his bowl right back, so that he learns that people near his food predicts extra yummies and it isn’t anything to get upset over.  You want to repeat these procedures multiple times until you can see that your dog totally relaxes.  Please realize that your dog hopefully sees you as the pack leader, so he won’t react to you the same way he would to a toddler.  Just like with our discussion of the first problem, if you are not sure how your dog will react, have a muzzle on him for a while so you can know for sure how he will react before you put anyone in danger.  Again, pay attention to any stiffness and staring.  The dog in the picture at the beginning of this section isn’t too thrilled about the toddler approaching.

Problem 2b: your dog will protect your children against their friends.  Dogs don’t understand that children enjoy wrestling and will try to stop anyone from “hurting” their puppy aka child.


Children should be able to be children and run, play and wrestle with their friends.  During such times, just keep you dog away from them by way of gates, pens or crates, or as long as you are there supervising, your dog should be next to you in a down-stay.

  1. 3.puppy sees children as playmates and is too mouthy, so children get scared.

Obviously they can bite much harder on each other than on us because we don’t have fur.  It is therefore our responsibility to teach them about our sensitive fragile human skin.  Imagine human babies being born with permanent knives attached to their hands.  The first thing we would teach them is how not to hurt anyone with those knives.

There are two ways to teach bite inhibition.  First, you can wrestle with your pup a lot and every time your pup bites too hard, you say “OUCH” and turn away and stop the game for about 5 seconds, then resume the wrestling.  This is exactly how puppies teach each other.  Second, you can hold a treat between your index finger and thumb.  Let you puppy take it and it he bites too hard, say “OUCH” and withhold the treat.  Only give him the treat if he takes it nicely.

  1. 4.Very rare: dog preys on infant

In some cases a dog doesn’t recognize a newborn infant as a little human and will see the infant as prey.  This is more likely for dogs with a high prey drive such a northern breeds and terriers.

Solution: To be sure, never leave your infant unsupervised with your dog and don’t give your dog access to your infant when you are sleeping.  Dogs like this will be likely to stare intently at your infant every time she is around.  Teach your dog the “leave it” command and over time your dog will see your infant as part of the family.


With proper training, dogs and children can become best of friends.  Naturally a part of this is to teach your children to be respectful and gentle towards your dog(s) and visa versa.  If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  We will be happy to provide you with all the help you need to keep your children and dog(s) safe.

This article is a summary only of a treatment protocol for child proofing your dog.

For more information please call Affection & Praise Family Dog Training at (303) 910-3931.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information herein is provided as a free service.  It does not create any form of legal or professional relationship and Affection & Praise Family Dog Training, Inc. does not accept any liability or responsibility for any action taken or avoided on the basis of information provided.  It is dangerous to rely on generalized information or guidance.  You should always seek independent professional advice in order that it can be tailored to your own individual circumstances.

Dogs always do what works for them.  They have a keen eye on which behaviors work to get what they want and which behaviors don’t.  Of the things that they want, food, attention and play are on the top of their list.  Puppies love to play, chase and wrestle and when you watch a group of puppies, that’s about all they do.  Since they don’t have opposable thumbs, they mostly wrestle with their mouths.

When puppies play with children, unfortunately they don’t say to themselves “whoa, wait a minute, this is a human child....I had better not use my mouth when I play with her.”  Also, when puppies bite on children, they tend to get a big reaction: screaming, pushing, running away....which is really exciting for a puppy “now we’re really wrestling, yahoo!”


First we need to teach the puppy that when he uses his mouth to invite humans to play with him, he will get the opposite of what he wants: the humans go away and won’t play with him.  Every time the puppy puts his mouth on you, shout “OUCH!!!” and immediately turn away or even leave the room in a huff.  With small children, be sure to say “OUCH” for them and pick them up away from the puppy.  With older children, you can teach them that as soon as the puppy puts his mouth on them, they turn into a “Tree,” standing straight up, arms folded and looking at the ceiling.  Definitely don’t give the puppy any attention for biting and do not push him away....that would give the puppy exactly the attention and wrestling he wanted.  When you are busy and can’t supervise your puppy, confine him behind a gate, in an exercise pen or crate with a yummy bone so he won’t get rewarded for bad behavior when you cannot give him immediate feed back.

Puppies also need to learn Bite Inhibition.  Dogs have formidable weapons in their mouths that are designed to kill and eat prey.  They have to learn how not to cause injury on each other with these weapons.  They can only learn that by getting lots of feedback.  That is why puppies bite on each other and us soooo much....they are looking for feedback.