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Safe play: your dog and visiting children

Over 70 per cent of dog owners will be minding young relatives or the children of friends more than usual over the summer school holidays, most of whom are under 10 years old, and Blue Cross is issuing advice to keep dogs happy and children safe.

Younger children are nearly twice as likely to need hospital treatment for a dog strike or bite than those aged over 10*.

Claire Stallard, Blue Cross Animal Behaviourist said: “Visiting relatives and friends who have a dog can be great fun for kids and they often form strong bonds, becoming the best of pals. However it is vital that there are actions in place to make sure play stays safe. Dogs need to have space to themselves, especially during mealtimes, when they are resting or when children are running around together having fun.

"Dogs are as individual as the children in the family and can get over-excited and have good and bad days too, that is why we want to share how to look after pets and children safely this summer.”

Not all owners can spot the subtle behaviours dogs show them that show that their pet might be stressed or uncomfortable in certain situation. Dogs can sometimes feel trapped and many do not enjoy being hugged, especially by strangers. Some dogs may also be confused by young children who can be awkward on their feet, fall on them and make erratic movements. This can be even more confusing to dogs who only interact with children when they visit to be looked after by a relative or family friend.

Over half the dog owners questioned said they did not know where to get help if they had concerns about the dog around children, so we have published special online advice for childminders, including signs to look out for that a dog is feeling stressed and when owners need to let the dog have their own space.

*Hospital Episode Statistics (HES), Health and Social Care Information Centre. 2015/16 figures show 648 10 to 19-year-olds needed hospital treatment for a dog bite or strike compared to 1,134 children aged 0 to nine years old were admitted to hospital.

Happy families: Jack and the Foley family

Theresa and Jim Foley, their grandson Archie, and dog Jack

When Theresa and Jim Foley rehomed Jack from Blue Cross, they were looking forward to introducing him to their grandchildren - Molly, six, Archie four and Isabella 18 months. Unfortunately, the meetings did not go well.

Theresa explains: “As soon as he saw the children Jack wanted to jump up at them baring his teeth. We thought perhaps it would just be that once but he did it every time they met. We were so worried he would harm them we made the heartbreaking decision to give him back to Blue Cross. We were devastated.”

The couple had already bonded with Jack and were so upset they asked Blue Cross is there was anything that could be done to keep them together and the children safe. Blue Cross behaviourists stepped in to help.

Ryan Neile, Blue Cross Senior Animal Behaviourist said: “Theresa and Jim were desperate to keep Jack in their lives and we wanted to do all we could to make that happen. I watched Jack’s reaction when he saw the children and happily I could see that he was not being aggressive – he was just very excited to see them and his grimace was actually a grin. With some simple tips to make sure Jack was calm when he said hello to the children they were able to happily play together.”

Theresa continued: “We are so happy we were able to keep Jack after all. He has now been with us for seven years and he means the world to us. We are so glad we sought help instead of letting him go. I can’t imagine life without him.”

Expert advice for dog owners looking after children this summer

If you’re looking after a child or children in your home this summer, make sure you put steps in place to keep them and your dog safe around each other. Dogs often see children as unpredictable, particularly if they don’t know them well. With a few simple doggy rules you can make sure everyone has a safe and fun summer holiday.

Follow our expert behaviour advice to keep dogs and children safe.

Spot the signs your dog is stressed

Before a dog bites they will typically show a range of behaviours to tell you that they’re unhappy. If you don’t know what to look for, these signs are easy to miss and so it’s often said dogs just ‘snap’ or a bite ‘came out of nowhere’. 

Learn how to spot these signs and prevent a bite. 

How to greet a dog safely

Etiquette for saying hello to a dog you don't know.

Learn how to approach a dog safely for the first time.

Book an education talk

Blue Cross runs free educational talks for schools, clubs and youth groups. Topics include staying safe around dogs, animal welfare, and responsible dog ownership.

Book a free talk today.

— Page last updated 13/02/2019