From lazy lapdogs to active breeds who love to play, canines remain one of the most popular pets in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 38% of American households have at least one dog, and many treat their pets like one of the family. 

Unfortunately, even an otherwise well-behaved dog may bite—particularly if it feels threatened or startled. Because of their small size and often erratic behavior, children are especially at risk, and more than 50% of dog bite victims are children. That makes it important to teach kids how to behave safely around pets in and outside of the home from an early age. 

Treat dogs gently 

Very young children still have a lot to learn about personal boundaries. Make sure to be consistent about teaching kids that it is never okay to pull a dog’s hair, ears or tail, and reinforce gentle touching. You should also discourage children from behaviors that could irritate or frighten a pet, such as chasing or yelling. 

Let pets have their space 

Dogs are naturally territorial, and there are many situations where they may react aggressively. Teach children to give pets their space while they are eating, caring for their puppies or enclosed in a carrier, where they may feel trapped and fearful. You should also let kids know that they should not wake a pet if it is sleeping, because it may instinctively lash out if suddenly startled. Finally, make sure children learn to leave a pet alone if it does not want to play or leaves the room. 

Ask permission before approaching an unfamiliar dog 

Many children have a natural fascination with dogs, and even if they do not have a family pet at home, they may not think twice about approaching and petting a stranger’s dog. Teach children to stay away from unfamiliar dogs entirely unless an adult owner is present. If the dog’s owner is there, let kids know they should ask permission before touching it.