A dog can help your child develop a sense of responsibility, encourage exercise and provide him or her with endless affection. But when kids and dogs meet, there’s also the potential for danger. And the decision to bring one into your family’s home shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Consider these eye-opening facts from the American Humane Association.

  • Half of all dog attacks involve children less than 12 years old.
  • Over 80 percent of dog bites that result in emergency room treatment involve children less than 15 years of age.
  • Of all dog-bite fatalities, 70 percent happen to kids younger than 10.
  • When compared to adults, unsupervised babies are 370 times more likely to be killed by a dog.

If you’ve decided that Fido will be a positive addition to your family unit but you’ve got safety on your mind, read over our six tips and share them with your family members.

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1. Establish what’s acceptable.

If your children aren’t accustomed to being around a dog, don’t expect that they know how to behave appropriately. Children must be taught what’s acceptable, and understand the importance of changing their behavior based on the dog they are interacting with.

Some dogs won’t mind their tail pulled, while others won’t think twice about biting your playful toddler for doing so. Sometimes it’s challenging to teach younger children how to act around dogs. If you need help, consider using the American Humane Association’s KIDS (Kids Interacting with Dogs Safely) program. Ideal for kids, ages 4 to 7, KIDS is a dog-bite prevention program that’s fun, educational and engaging.

2. Keep an especially close eye on toddlers.

According to the National Canine Research Foundation, 88 percent of 2-year-olds that died as a result of a dog attack were unsupervised when the attack occurred. As your new pet and your kids become acquainted with one another, keep an especially watchful eye on babies and toddlers.

3. Establish rules and respect.

Before your four legged friend joins your home, sit down with your family and brainstorm rules. For buy-in purposes, ask an older child to take charge of writing up your list of dos and don’ts, and be sure to get input from young children. Even preschoolers know it’s wrong to hit, kick or be cruel to a dog in other ways. Remind children that it’s never a good idea to bother a dog while he or she is eating, guarding a toy or sleeping. And while you’re having a family chat, it’s a great time to hash-out who will be responsible for feeding, walking and otherwise caring for your dog’s needs.

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4. Spay/neuter your dog.

Spay or neutering your pet not only prevents unwanted pregnancy, it almost always calms a dog and reduces aggression- especially in male dogs. If you’re getting a dog that isn’t spayed or neutered, contact a vet or your local humane organization to ask about reduced cost spay or neuter programs.

5. Set expectations for your pet.

Just like the rest of your family, your pet should know his boundaries, what’s expected of him, and what will happen when he behaves in an unacceptable manner. Researching your dog’s breed to get a feel for traits commonly associated with it will help you understand his needs. For example, some dogs are natural people pleasers and others need much more firm discipline to behave as expected.
Whatever your discipline strategy is, establishing rules from the very first day is essential to keeping your kids safe and nurturing a dog that’s pleasurable to be with. Be consistent with expectations and discipline, and teach your children to help Fido obey the rules too.

6. Exercise!

Exercising your dog regularly will help him get out excited energy that often results in hyperactivity. And a hyper dog can be a dangerous one, especially for small children who can be knocked down.

Older children can be taught how to walk your dog, and younger ones can toss a ball. Start your dog’s exercise program slowly, be sure to include a warm up and cool down period. If you live in a warm climate, be sure he has access to a bowl of water throughout the play period. Your vet can recommend exercises that are appropriate for his breed, age and weight and if you’re curious how much exercise your canine gets throughout the day, consider using a snazzy dog fitness tracker like Whistle.

A dog can bring immeasurable pleasure to your family when you talk to your children about what to expect from your new pet, how to behave around him or her, and make rules that your entire family can abide by. If you have a baby in the house, consider downloading a free copy of the American Humane Association’s guide, “Pet Meets Baby” for more important safety tips.
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Written by Alexia Chianis

Wanderlust junky and mom of two, Alexia is a former police officer and U.S. Army Captain who draws on her experiences to write about a myriad of safety topics. Learn more

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