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Dogs and aggression towards children


Dog dressed up by childrenMany dog owners become worried when they have a baby coming along that they won’t be able to have both the dog and the child, as they are worried about the safety of the child. This is not surprising. Children can be unpredictable in their behaviour, and so can our dogs. Put the two together and you have a potentially explosive situation.

Most dogs like children, and under parental supervision they make great mischief together. However, when a dog is not used to children, they can find them quite scary. Children move quickly, can be very loud, and have a tendency to stare at dogs at their own level, looking directly into the dog’s eyes. Very young children can grab at a dog’s tail, pull their ears, or stick fingers in nose holes. Most dogs will not put up with this for long. If they can get away, they do. If they are cornered or have nowhere to escape the errant child, they might growl or snap.

This does not mean that we cannot have both a dog and a child. What it does mean is that we need to monitor our dogs when they’re with young children, however much we trust them to be good. It only takes one second for a dog to bite a child, but the run-up to it is often obvious and avoidable. You can bond a child with an animal by teaching the child to throw a toy for it, or give it a treat. It’s also important to tell a child off for being unpleasant to a dog, as you would if the child was about to put its fingers in an electrical socket. You shouldn’t push your pet’s tolerances to the limit where children are concerned, and you certainly don’t want to wait until the dog decides to tell the child off itself!

Some dogs simply cannot cope with children. If a dog hasn’t been taught how to behave around kids, and has no experience of them, then we are expecting a lot for it to be happy and relaxed with children running around it. This is an area where sometimes our expectations of dogs are unrealistic. If a dog is aggressive to children, then it should be kept away from them, muzzled, and put on a lead in areas where children might be. Even if the dog is not aggressive to children, parents should make use of baby gates, so that if they leave a child in a room, they can take the dog with them and shut the baby gate to keep the dog and child apart.

When a dog is aggressive to other dogs, a good method to use at dog behaviour therapy classes is to use calm and confident ‘stooge’ dogs to show the aggressive dog that not all other dogs are scary and some want to be friends. It is unethical to use children in the same context. A child that has been bitten by a dog can be put off them for life.

For more information about dog aggression and other issues relating to dog behaviour, please read our online guide, An Introduction to Dog Behaviour Therapy. For more information about out dog behaviour classes, please visit

Dr Shahad Mohammed
Veterinary Physiotherapist
National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists
Dr Shahad Mohammed