How Can I Control OTHER Children Around My Dog?

I am a mother of one 6 month old boy.  I am working to keep his interest in the dog suppressed.  Our dog is a 3 year old, rescued Lhasa Apso.   He tends to be a little on the crabby side and really only likes adult interaction.  I feel that I can control the interactions between my son and my dog but how do I control the children of friends, family and the neighbor kid?  He recently nipped the head of the toddler next door when he stuck it in his face.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!



Hello Molly!  I’m sorry I’m so far behind in answering your question.  I have a pile of Q&A’s to go through! Your situation, though, is very common — and frustrating when you are trying to do the right thing with your dog and baby!

“Other People’s Children” will be a constant issue throughout your life as a parent – and not just in dog matters.  The more experience you gain as a parent, the easier it will be to boss around other people’s kids!  That’s because you’ll cease being surprised at what kids think are good ideas and proactively manage your situations from the get go to prevent problems.


How will you protect YOUR dog from a two-year-old with his own ideas?


 What Generally Does NOT Work


Any direction that includes the words “buddy” and/or “okay?”

For example, “Let’s leave the dog alone for a little while, okay, Buddy?”   Toddlers fool us because they are sometimes so agreeable that we can seemingly get away with these vague, “I hope you go along with me…” directions but really we can’t for very long.


Trying to explain to a toddler why you do or don’t want them to do something and hoping they will see the logic and be reasonable about it.

Does the definition of toddler include the word “reasonable?”  I do think kids should be told the rationale behind instructions but it takes time and development to acquire a different internal motivation and have true empathy for another creature.  Don’t rely on a two-year-old to now behave in a logical manner just because you explained, “The doggie doesn’t like you to sit on him.  Would you like it if someone sat on YOU?”  (I’m writing this from the experience of raising a boy who would eagerly volunteer for pretty much any, “Would you like it if…” questions!)


Expecting your own children to be models of good judgment.

Once kids are with a friend or two, it seems their collective good judgment takes a dive.  Sometimes, there’s an element of showing off or going for the laughs that will prompt your usually considerate child to mess with the dog or go along with what a friend thinks is a good idea.


Assuming that nice, reasonable parents = children with appropriate behavior towards animals.

“But the parents seem so nice…” is something I hear a lot when other parents are discussing the misbehavior of someone else’s kid.  (LOL, I wonder if people are saying that about me when I’m not there!)

Being from a “good family” is no guarantee that young children will have only good ideas.  Sometimes the kids have a nice motivation but the way they express it is dangerous and/or distressing to the dog (e.g., hugging and kissing).

Parents often say, “Oh, he’s fine with dogs – we have a dog at home.”  This does not mean the child will behave appropriately with your dog!  He or she may come from a family afflicted with The Curse of a Good Dog


Relying on shame to change behavior for the better.

I see this more from parents embarrassed about their own child’s behavior, rather than as a way to change someone else’s child’s behavior, but it’s pervasive.  “Why would you do something like that?  What’s wrong with you?  You are being very mean!”  Sure, we can THINK this in our heads but saying it out loud does nothing to build a friendly connection with the animal or teach what to do instead.  In fact, I think it’s more likely the child will lash out a bit at the animal when the adults aren’t looking.


What DOES Work

It’s important to clearly identify to yourself when you might be relying on “hope” as a method of managing situations with dogs and young children. Mixing dogs and toddlers to do as they please comes down to merely hoping for the best. Can anyone really say, “I had no idea he would do THAT!” when referring to toddlers?  Parents learn this by experience but do we all really need to learn this lesson individually?  Can’t we just stipulate that toddlers = high probability of a crazy idea and guide the situation accordingly?

Visiting children should not have the opportunity to get themselves bitten.  Saying, “I told her to leave the dog alone…,” is a poor excuse for not taking charge of the safety and well-being of those in your care — both kids and dogs. Dog bites to children are almost entirely preventable.


Make the dog unavailable for visiting children’s exploration.

Just like some people put away the breakables when the tiny relatives come to visit or put a gate on stairs or around a fireplace, there is an element of preventing access that is reasonable with an animal, especially an animal that does not relish contact with small children.  (See post “Why Your 4 Year Old Can’t Visit My Sick Dog.”) Not letting a very young child GET to your dog is very different than trying to get the child to stop doing something your dog doesn’t like!

What form this takes will vary with different families and different situations.  Some ideas:

  • Dog relaxing on a leash with parent’s guidance and protection
  • Dog or children behind a gate (if parents can prevent visiting children from shaking the gate or staring through it)
  • Dog in another room, with child-proof latching or an extra baby gate on door
  • Dog outside, if kids are inside and they are unable to agitate each other through a glass door
  • An adult protecting the dog’s space and redirecting young children before they get too close

You’ll have to judge for yourself what is appropriate for your family based on the activities going on.  For example, when the kids are doing a “strapped in” activity – like in a highchair or playpen or swing – the dog might enjoy some freer movement (assuming the dog is not pestering the kids!).

Many dogs have just not practiced being relaxed with separation, making these suggestions seem impractical at first glance.  Maybe you can’t do this right away, but with even just two weeks of  practice, your dog can learn to enjoy his Safety Zone.  See Barbara Shumannfang’s excellent book, Happy Kids, Happy Dogs.  Similarly, dogs can quickly learn the basics of Relax on a Mat from Nan Arthur’s Chill Out Fido book, making your dogs easy to have by your side as you entertain the kids.


Give proactive, clear instructions right from the start.

This is true even with older kids.  Be clear about what they may or may not do in proximity to your dog.  It’s okay to have rules!

“Our dog is old and has trouble walking.  You may not run near her.  When you see the dog, walk slowly.”  I like that phrasing from Becky Bailey’s book, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline:  “You may not…”  It helps you get in the habit of very clear, adult-like instruction.

Resist the reasonable impulse to wait for the other parents to direct their children.  Everyone will appreciate clear direction.

Always keep in mind, too — if a child is too young to hold a conversation with you or understand your directions, he or she is too young to be trusted to interact appropriately with your dog.  See this post on “Love vs. ‘Luv’” so you know what you are fostering.


Ascribe a positive motivation to the child’s behavior.

This is another recommendation I liked from Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline!  Read the book to get the full flavor, but it’s about heading off a misbehavior and setting the child on a better path.  If, for example, the child tries to return to the dog after you said not to, you can get the child on your “team,” so to speak, by guessing at a nice intention the child is likely to take credit for.

“You really like dogs and you’d like to be close to her so you can be friends. <Child agrees.> Our dog is resting behind the gate.  When she is resting, you may be a friend by sitting over here and singing a quiet song. <Child complies.>  You are a good friend to our dog!  When she needed to rest, you helped her with your quiet song.  I’m glad you can visit us and help our dog feel safe.”

The idea is to foster a willingness to cooperate – right then and next time, too.


 GUIDE interactions between dog and child.

“Supervising” is not enough.  The adult’s job is to ensure a safe, successful encounter by guiding the interaction.  Position yourself so you are in contact with your dog’s head.  Direct the child where and how he or she may touch the dog (if at all); reinforce your dog with treats for accepting contact.  Or, in the case of an overly exuberant dog, be ready to guide and reinforce four paws on the floor or calmer behavior around the children.  End the encounter after just a few moments:  “OK.  That’s enough.  It’s time to go play at the table.”

Remember, too, that it’s perfectly okay not to encourage visiting children to touch your dog.  Guiding can include stepping between a child and your dog and redirecting the child.  Remain prepared, however, to guide incidental encounters.

Under no circumstances should visiting children be able to physically access your dog out of your sight.


Teach your dog coping skills.

This is probably a whole chapter in itself for my dogs and babies book so I will never finish this post if I try to address it here!  The point is included here to get you thinking about ways to improve your dog’s tolerance and comfort level for mistakes.  It can’t be left as, “No one touch the dog or else he’s going to bite.”  You’ve got to get the dog to take at least one giant step away from contributing to an incident.  Maybe this entails teaching a fast response to your call to come to you.  Maybe you can work more on comfort with handling.  Maybe it’s resource guarding that needs work?

While it’s true that most normal dogs are at least a little uneasy with visiting toddlers and preschoolers, it’s also true that most dogs are not going to bite in response to an isolated, minor incursion.  If that’s the case with a particular dog, look to ways to help your dog cope better.


Final Points

  • Remember that babies, toddlers, preschoolers and “kids” are different animals!  Often, we put too many expectations on toddlers and preschoolers well before they are developmentally able to be successful.  Toddlerhood is transitory.  I’m sure glad I am not being held responsible for what I thought were good ideas back then!
  • If you don’t protect your dog, what is the alternative?

Do the recommendations seem too hard or overly strict?  Consider the distress involved in trying to unravel even a minor dog bite to someone else’s child.  Wouldn’t you give anything to erase that moment?  Well, here’s your chance to not let hit happen in the first place.

What do you think?  What has worked well or not so well for your family?  I’m sure this “off the top of my head” post doesn’t cover everything.  It can be a touchy situation trying to discipline someone else’s kids!


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  1. As always this is just chock full of concrete, practical advice that manages to take everyone’s perspective into account. I have put the Becky Bailey book on my reading list for the new year.

    You know, the way you describe what to say and do with the children does not seem bossy at all (which I fear coming across as), but rather as kind, clear and looking out for everyone involved. Reading your post made me imagine role plays in class.

    I find this is trickiest when the parent is an experienced dog person or professional. I have found their dog expertise does not always mean they’ll know how to “direct the play” with dog-kid interactions. So I may need to chant your words to myself: “Resist the reasonable impulse to wait for the other parents to direct their children. Everyone will appreciate clear direction.”

  2. Excellent article…..it’s very interesting too because as an animal,behaviour consult I am always suggesting to people “instead of waiting to see if something is going to happen, assume it will and take steps to avoid it in the first place so all interactions are positive and praise to the hilt when everything goes well……instead of punishing when it goes wrong.

    We forget to praise children, adults and animals when things are going well, especially when a behaviour is unsolicited, it’s just taken for granted

    This article applies so well to both raising animals and children – super article

  3. While this is good advice for when kids of any age come to your home, I think its very important for parents of children of all ages to teach kids how to respect & approach an unknown dog. I taught my seven year old foster child always ask the owner if its OK to touch the dog and then showed her how to let the dog sniff her hand & when to pet the dog. My dog thinks kids under 6 are a terrorist threat. He’s a 15 pound Pomeranian-so cute, fluffy, and a child magnet. When we walk in the park on a leash and undersupervised, unleashed kids run screaming towards him, he resembles Cujo. Even though I am shouting LEAVE IT and quickly walking away from the scenario, even though I am yelling at a parent HEY GET YOUR KID, even though I have had to physically pick up my dog to get him away from an aggressive child, some clearly brain damaged parents have ask CAN MY CHILD PET YOUR DOG? Seriously? While its certainly my duty to control my dog, PARENTS HAVE AN EQUAL DUTY TO CONTROL, WATCH, AND SUPERVISE their children and I would just like to put that out there.

    1. My goodness, Molly, what awful experiences for you and your dog. In my class we talk about how the cute little fluffy dogs are rarely taken seriously but we have a responsibility to respect and protect them. Unleashed kids, LOL! It’s true, though, isn’t it? Remember, almost by definition, parents of very young children are usually new at it and overestimate their child’s common sense and responsiveness. Saying, “No, no, honey, don’t do that,” is not the same as controlling the child’s access to things they are not to interact with. I think seven is probably an appropriate age for children to interact respectfully with a dog. I have two past posts titled “Ask the Dog” (Part 1 and Part 2) that have some ideas for how kids should ask. The missing piece is that usually no one is asking the dog.

    2. We have a similar problem with our dog. We adopted a big border collie mix. She’s sweet as can be but terribly fearful of other dogs and strangers. I had no idea how DUMB parents can be until we got her. They let their little ones run right up to her and she hides behind our legs—and they just don’t get the hint. We’ve tried explaining that she’s shy, scared, but they just don’t seem to understand what we’re trying not to say because it sounds awful: if you let your munchkin chase our dog, there’s a good chance the dog will bite your child. It’s as if they think their little angel will be the one to turn our dog around or something.

      We had one older child continue to follow our dog around and around us as we told him repeatedly to leave her alone. He kept saying “but I’m good with dogs.” Our dog finally barked at him—I can count the number of times she’s barked at anything on one hand. And my (least) favorite comes from my sister’s kids, little toddlers who chased her behind the dining room table despite our pleas with my sister to make them stop. “Oh, but they just want to love the dog. They love dogs so much! They won’t hurt her.” Finally my husband stood up and yelled at the kids. In fact, every time they visit he has to tell them to leave the dog alone. And my sister thinks he’s the one with the problem. 🙁

      1. When I come across children who are “magnetized” to my dog, I too find that it is usually useless to tell them what not to do. One of the very brilliant parts of this article is the paragraph where the author describes how to ascribe a positive motivation to these dog-loving kids and to give them something positive that they can do.

        I have one dog who is afraid to be touched by young children. Telling children that he is shy never works! They continue to approach as he winds the leash around my legs trying to escape their sticky fingers. Short of yelling, “You’re gonna get bitten!” which would probably get me and my dog thrown out of the park, what is the best strategy?

        I ask the children if they will help me. I tell them they may not pet him but he likes to have a treat dropped on the grass in front f him. Can they do that? Yes! He likes to fetch a ball. Who wants to toss the ball for him? I do, I do! He likes to find lost sneakers. Who wants to hide a sneaker? Me, me! By this time my dog is ready to sniff fingers. Who would like to hold their hand out nice and gently and let Rover sniff them? Oooh, me first!

        Then I thank the kids for helping me train my dog and for being so gentle and kind. Thus I train the children and the dog at the same time. I do think that parents should supervise their children and not let them run up to a strange dog, but at the same time I also think that walking a beautiful fluffy dog in a park where children are playing is kind of inflammatory, if ya know what I mean. I only actually do that when I WANT to attract the attention of children for training purposes. That said, of course everyone has the right to walk in the public park!

        1. Wow, that’s a great plan, Joanna! I love your specific examples and description of how true it is that most kids are happy to help with good direction like that.

  4. Thanks for a great article! I also thought the suggested interactions with kids were well done. And they did not come across as bossy at all. But honestly, I don’t have any issue with parents thinking I am being bossy or overprotective. As far as I am concerned, managing the interaction is not disciplining or parenting the child, but protecting my dogs. The consequences for even a nip can be devastating for a dog. I have a American Staffordshire terrier mix that is a registered therapy dog and is fantastic with children. But if anything ever happened and a child was injured, her breed may mean that no one cares why it happened and she may never get a second chance. So, all interactions are managed, whether we’re working at the library or at home with friends. Plus teaching the correct way to meet and interact with my dog may mean that a child will remember it later when interacting with other dogs and it will help them when they meet a dog who is not as tolerant as mine.

    What worries me is how little adults (often those with kids) listen to me when I try to manage interactions. The “Oh, all dogs like me!” or “I’m a dog person” or some similar line when people want to meet our young dog with anxiety is so frustrating. He’s a beautiful dog and people want him to like them so they try to pursue him around, as if petting him will erase his fear. So if the parents will not listen to the owners, it’s obvious how difficult it will be to get their children on board.

    1. Good for you, Becca! You are right that sometimes people place too much concern on what other people might think vs. taking responsibility. Your observation about adults is right on, too. Some people just don’t listen/care and you have to clearly say, “No, you may not…” I love your part about “as if petting him will erase his fear.” If only that were true! Thanks for your comment.

  5. Whilst I think this is a great article, it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure that YOUR dog does not bite someone elses children, if you do not trust your dog you lock it away while you have visitors. And if you can’t trust your dog with your child, you need to sort it out. Growl and smack your dog if it growls at any children. You are the “head dog”, they are pack animals and they have to know they are less important than anything else in the house.

    1. Cess, I agree that it is always the pet owner’s responsibility to ensure safety and you are right that sometimes this means you have to take a clear-eyed view of how your dog is likely to respond to a given situation (not how you would LIKE the dog to respond or how you might HOPE the dog would respond). Separating the dog is always an okay option in the moment – if, as you say, the dog is secured and also that you’ve prepped the dog to be comfortable with separation (i.e., Safety Zone training, nice exercise beforehand, something good to chew, etc.). Longer term, a dog and everyone else would be better served with some work on coping skills and training skills.

      Really, though, nothing much is to be gained by waiting for your dog to growl at children and responding with more of the same directed at your dog, especially with children watching. Yes, you have to sort out what’s going on, but it’s good to always keep in mind that a growl is a bite that wasn’t. My focus is on helping dogs live peacefully in human families, not on getting people to copy what someone thinks a wolf might do.

    2. Cess, I am a certified dog trainer. I can assure you, growling & smacking your dog will teach your dog NOT TO LIKE CHILDREN. NEVER punish a dog for growling!!! It is our warning signal. A dog will certainly learn to suppress a growl, but it DOES NOT change how the dog FEELS about the situation. Unfortunately, the next warning we get, is the bite!

      Pack theory is outdated in the dog training world and even the man who first coined the phrase now denounces it as being flawed. Please do some research on the matter.

      Doggone Safe is a great website for understanding dogs, their behaviour, their body language and how to keep children & dogs safe and happy.

      1. Not a troll actually. I have a well trained large dog, that has never bitten and is nearly at the end of his life, I have had a child bitten by a small untrained dog and seen the consequences of not teaching a dog where it’s place in life. What an interesting thought because I have a different point of view to an article that you have put up for consumption I am a troll. I have removed my request to be notified of further updates…

        1. Dear Cess, I believe that you have a well trained dog who has never hurt a child, and that your methods worked for THAT dog. I just want to toss in my experience.

          I have a young male dog who is very confident. On occasion he has growled and lunged at my more timid dog, when I am giving Mr. Timid a turn in sccent work. Mr. Bold thinks all turns should be HIS. It works very well to give Mr. Bold a stern shake of the scruff, along with a growly reprimand and a command to stay.

          On the other hand, Mr. TImid was having a problem with children. He likes to lie near the kitchen table where he inevitably gets bumped by an errant foot. He was becoming nervous and growly. I tried to make the kids be more careful to no avail. I tried sternly saying NO and taking him by the collar and putting him outside when he growled. He became more nervous and reactive and even nipped (lightly, no mark) my son.

          At that point I switched direction and created a safe space for Mr. Timid in the kitchen, always redirecting him there, under a desk where I used to keep a chair. Within a day he became more relaxed and tolerant.

          When a dog is truly nervous and feeling threatened, you can’t always JUST address the behavior. You have to address the emotion. You need the dog to feel relaxed, not just follow a command to behave. He could behave for a while and then reach his limit and snap. That’s why I think, (respectfully) it could be dangerous to harshly reprimand a dog for reacting in a nervous defensive manner.

        2. Smacking a dog for growling may eventually teach a dog not to growl, but now your dog may bite without growling first because you’ve ” turned off the alarm”. Now the dog is less safe. This is sort of like disabling the alarm on a machine.

        3. I don’t think you’re a troll at all. I always enjoy dog training discussions. I do want to say that research strongly suggests that hitting a dog is associated with the dog becoming fearful and aggressive. Animal behavior is very much a science, and good research is valuable.

  6. And that is the problem isn’t it because dogs are not by nature peaceful, so they need to be told in their language that they are the bottom of the pack. You cannot reason with a dog, they are like a wolf a pack animal so should be spoken to in their own language…a growl or a nip.

    1. For better or worse, everyone gets to choose what they believe. I can say, “That’s not true!” about what you believe about dogs and wolves and you can say, “Yes, it is!” A thought process I found very helpful is in Byron Katie’s book Loving What Is (and her website http://www.thework.com). Some (lots?) of her stuff is a bit too new age guruy for me but the following clear logic appealed to me for examining any thought or belief — because, remember, you don’t have to believe stuff just because other people say you have to:

      Is it true?
      Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
      Since pretty much no beliefs are absolute certainties, you’re left with the key question:

      “How do you behave when you believe that thought?” and “Who would you be/what would you be able to do without that thought?”

      I believe that dogs enjoy peaceful, friendly companionship with their people and that their behavior choices and habits are immensely influenceable (is that even a word?) through positive reinforcement and smart use of the environment. When I believe those thoughts, I look for a dog’s current point of success and progressively reinforce steps in the right (desired) direction. I’m confident that I can make things better and I objectively assess the dog’s skills in terms of visible behavior choices. It’s very empowering and it’s “baby safe” – which is very important to my clientele.

      Maybe I’ll flesh this out one day in a Baby Safe Training Methods post and open it up to discussion. For now, everyone can examine their own beliefs. You don’t have to like mine and I don’t have to like yours and we can just move on. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

    1. It’s fine, Gillian, but thank you. For some reason, this post has gotten about 1,000 hits in the last few days – mostly from something going on on Facebook. I gave up Facebook for Lent so I don’t know what the referring discussion is about or where it’s coming from. People can like what I write or not and I hope it all helps people think about why they believe what they believe.

  7. Hi! I know where you are coming from! Ive always rescued dogs of all breeds and have had many diff temperments. My dogs where always family members even before I had kids and dealt with this problem. With kids, one of my rescued dogs is “crabby” too, he was beat so bad that he has a limp still and is very nervous around kids he doesnt know. We put a baby gate up to our bedroom where his bed is, and when people come over he asks to go in there. Also speaking up is important. Your dogs only verbal way of communicating is growling/nipping/barking…Play on the safe side, would you rather speak up or have your dog nip the kid? I hate when people let their kids treat dogs like rag dolls, and I never let it happen in our house. Give your dog a safe place he can go so he doesnt feel trapped, and if the parents dont like it, explain the situation and that its in protection of their child as well as respect for your dog

  8. I run into problems in public places like the beach, I allow my pup off leash and he is very well mannered. He likes to greet people politely by walking up and sitting at their feet..most children in this area are very well behaved around him, but my problem seems to lie with people of Asian nationalities…their kids chase my puppy and scream at him…he runs scared up the beach and sits until I’m far enough away from the satan spawns that he can come to my side without being harassed further…I end up screeching at the parents to control their brats and screeching at the brats to not chase my dog..if you take your kids out in public ( whether places where dogs go or not) make you children behave!

    1. That is a frustrating situation. You want to have a pleasant outing with your dog and it turns into a stressful, upsetting encounter, where you have to worry about your dog’s emotional well being, and possibly even his safety, if he gets progressively more frightened of children, which can end badly.

      Now that you got to vent about it, you have to decide how to go forward. Do you want to keep the fire raging – you continue to be infuriated by horrible children and their incompetent parents , they continue to be baffled by the crazy dog lady who “screeches” at them – or do you want to try to change the dynamic?

      I love the advice in this article, and the fact that the author has an amazing attitude of compassion and understanding for ALL parties – dogs, kids and parents. In your case, on the beach, I think you have some kids who are very excited and attracted to dogs, and some parents who don’t know anything about dogs, and so aren’t teaching their children proper behavior.

      Would you be interested in being the person who introduces these kids to the wonderful world of dogs? You’d have to first leash your dog so that he is by your side when kids approach so that you can control the situation. Main rule is to give them things TO do, instead of NOT to do. So, if they want to be near your dog, they can line up and take turns throwing a stick or ball for him. Or stand still and hold out a treat for him. The kids will give you undying devotion for this chance to interact with your dog.

      If you want to go your own way and not deal with kids, I hope you can find a place far down the beach where little ones are unlikely to roam. For some kids, being near a dog is like having a big bowl of candy right in front of them that they are not allowed to touch. That can be torture for parents!

      Final note – I have seen parents of all races handle their children gracefully and not so gracefully around my dogs. I question whether mentioning race adds anything to your comment. I can tell you for sure there are plenty of Caucasion parents who have no idea how to control their kids around dogs! (“Hug the nice lady’s doggie, sweetheart.”)

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