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Learning About Dog Body Language in Kindergarten Class

 In this picture the dog is chewing on a bone. Is this dog safe to pet?  You’d be surprised at how many kindergartners said “Yes!”.

I offer free dog body language presentations to lower elementary school classrooms in my town of Petaluma. Here I’m having fun with kindergartners at McNear School.  I am showing them images of dogs and asking them to “vote” whether or not they think the dog in the picture is safe to pet or not safe to pet.  Then we sort the pictures on a marker board into these two categories.  To vote, the kids hold up either a green square of construction paper to indicate the the dog is safe to pet or they use their red square to indicate that the dog is not safe to pet. 

 An important part of this activity, is that I ask them to share “why” they chose a certain answer.  If you’re interested in having me visit your child’s classroom, or you’re a teacher and would like this presentation for your students, please contact me by email or phone!  I’d love to visit! A bonus is that after each visit, I will donate one of my Stop, Look & Paws learning activities to the classroom!

If you want to ready more about dog body language read this post. Body Language that shows a dog is happy! 

Having fun learning about dog body language!

Below is a short video clip from McNear School.

Reading to the Dog

reading to the family dog

For a quiet activity for kids to do with the dog – try reading!

There are many beneficial reasons why dog therapy groups have been created for children to read to dogs.  These organizations, like Paws for Reading and Paws for Healing, go into schools, libraries and hospitals just to provide a dog so a child can sit quietly and read a book. Children are usually less shy to read to a dog because they realize that dogs don’t mind if they misread a word.  Although therapy dogs are chosen for a calm temperament and go through training to be prepared for visits, your dog can do this at home with your child and it will benefit both.

It is easy to get a dog excited and wound up, but it is more important to teach a dog how to stay calm. This is because most incidences of bites or scratches happen when dogs are in an excited state. Because they are pack animals dogs like to be with us no matter what activity we are doing.

Try this activity of having your child read to the family dog. This is something that is not only good for your child, but the dog will benefit from the close proximity and the calm state of mind from the child. You may have to start with the dog on a leash and sitting quietly next to your child as he/she reads a book. It is good to have times that the child and dog are close together but the direct focus is not on the dog. Soon they will both understand what is to be done during this activity and no leash will be needed.

If you are reading the book and your child is looking at pictures and listening to the story this is just as good. This is also a good time to teach your child how to calmly pet the dog as they both relax and listen to the story. Many people including adults pet a dog with fast hand movements. This will again, get at dog more excited. Try having your child slowly count as they pet the dog’s entire back. It might be fun to make a game out of counting slowly. Try this: “one good dog, two good dogs, three good dogs…” and so on. I bet they can get to “five good dogs”! See my next blog for more active games for children to play with dogs.

  Great activity for a child to do with their dog.

Body Language that says, “Things Are Going Well!”

How do you know when a dog may be telling you with it’s body language that things are going well and they are enjoying themselves and interaction from the children? 

It may not always be intuitive to all people so take some time to learn about dog body language. Take a moment to identify how the dog is feeling by looking at the entire dog’s body as well as their expression. Once you can identify specific characteristics, you can share this with your child.

My previous blog reviewed signs of a dog that is uncomfortable, or not happy.  This blog will review body language that indicates a dog is comfortable and happy.

This is an example of a relaxed happy dog.

Here are some of the things you want to look for to indicate that things are going well:

1. Relaxed, loose body language – Overall the dog seems to be enjoying interacting with children and looks relaxed and happy.   If lying down, he may have his head over his paw or have his paws crossed.  The whole body may be wiggling with the tail.  He may also be sitting in a relaxed manner with a happy expression on his face.  Don’t confuse an excited dog with a happy dog.  An overly-excited dog may jump up, or grab the child with their mouth in an attempt to play as they would with another dog.

2. Mouth may be open and you can see their tongue and it can look like they are smiling –  Not a tightly closed mouth, snarling or growling.  Also the tongue should not be hanging out, extended, as though they are hot, tired or stressed.

3. Eyes look soft, happy, relaxed, and peaceful or even can be squinted.

4. Ears are relaxed – Not tightly pinned down or very erect and rigid. They may be turned to the side, lowered, but relaxed.

5. Tail may be wagging softly, but also  look at the base of the tail – It most likely will be level with the back or hanging in a relaxed way,  If it is wagging, it will be wagging loosely and in a relaxed manner.  The tail should not be erect from the base up over the body, or tucked between the back legs.  As I’ve mentioned in my “Stop, Look and Paws” child/dog safety learning activity, a wagging tail itself is not always a sign that a dog is happy. It can mean they are excited and want to interact, but the interaction may not always be positive.  You need to look at the whole body for overall body language.

Finally, remember not to focus only on the breed of the dog.  All breeds are capable of being safe or not safe to pet.  Also, don’t just look at the face or tail of dog.  Help the children in your life to observe the entire body language of a dog to help them determine if it may be safe or not safe to pet!

Happy Mastiff Breed

Dog Bite Warning Signs

Often a dog bite seems to occur very quickly and without warning. In reality it is  usually because no one actually noticed and acted on the early warning signs given by the dog. My clients usually say, “He didn’t give us any warning…he just bit.”

What is more likely is that the signals that the dog was giving were not recognized. To help with this, I’ve put a list of body language cues and behavior to be aware of that can indicate the dog may be preparing to bite.

I’ll also make suggestions to help you and your puppy get off to a good start.

First, let’s talk about the signals from your puppy that he is showing signs of stress.

1. Observe the dogs face for “early” signs of stress and stop child/dog interactions if you see them.

  • yawning -when they are not tired
  • flicking tongue – when they haven’t eaten
  • darting eyes – as though looking for an exit
  • panting – when it’s not hot

2. If a dog actively moves away from the child or situation, do not let the child pursue the puppy. It’s likely the dog is making a choice to feel safer or more comfortable. If the child continues to pursue him, the dog could feel forced to take the next step and say, “Leave me alone!” with a bite.  Practice having your child sit on the floor and allow the puppy to go to the child versus the child always going to the puppy. This may be hard to do as we all know how excited kids can be if this is a new dog or puppy.

3. Listen for growling. It may be soft, with no teeth showing, but it should be interpreted as the dog communicating that he wants the attention from the child to stop.  If the puppy gets in the habit of growling to communicate that he wants a behavior to stop, he may learn that growling works and may use it more frequently in the future.  Let’s try not to put him in the position to feel that he has to use this as a defensive tactic.

4. Look for “later” signs of stress, which often occur just prior to a bite:

  • an impression that the dog does not seem to be enjoying the attention
  • stiff body – with a frozen stance or hunched back
  • hard staring eyes, or half moon eyes – whites of the eyes are showing
  • tightly closed mouth

Sometimes it’s the child’s behavior that needs to be addressed. Just because a dog seems to tolerate a child laying on it, hugging it, pulling ears, legs, or tail, doesn’t mean the dog should tolerate this behavior.  It can be as simple as the child frequently picking up and holding the puppy that becomes a negative thing for the puppy.  As I mentioned earlier, allow the puppy the chance to approach the child for affection.  

If the dog turns to leave or hides under an object, like a table, don’t allow the child to grab for them or reach under the object for the dog. Look at the dog for signals, and if they are not enjoying the attention, redirect the child. In my Stop, Look and Paws sticker, seen here in this link, https://youtu.be/9XKc60NHNys, I address these issues in a way that engages children to make safer choices before a real life scenario occurs.

Keep in mind that so much is new to the puppy.  Give him time to acclimate to all of the new sights and sounds of your home.  Encourage your children to have gentle hands.  Slow relaxed petting can allow the puppy a chance to get used to hands reaching out to touch and that petting is something positive.   Keep interactions fun between your child and your puppy and this will encourage bonding between the two!

Keep interactions positive.

Now that you have read this blog, look at the photo of the girl hugging the dog at the top of this post. Do you see any signals the dog is giving that concern you? … The answer should be, yes! The dog is exhibiting a tightly closed mouth, half moon eyes, and an overall impression of not really enjoying the hug.

If you feel you are in need of personal help, feel free to call me or email me for a consultation.

Lesley@kids-n-k9s.com or 707-338-1332 



Do Dogs Perceive Children Differently Than Adults?

Do dogs perceive children differently than adults

Yes! Although there are exceptions to every rule, in general they do view children differently than adults, and here are 3 things that are typical of children that shows the lack of leadership in the eyes of the dog…

Number 1. Dogs like predictability and reliable actions and behaviors.  It makes them feel safe and secure in their world.  Children, however, are generally more unpredictable and often do not think before they act, responding as they feel in the moment.

Number 2. Children can also be more energetic and exhibit fast and frequent movements of their bodies and hands.  In a dogs’ world, lead dogs (and adults) are more relaxed and move in a more controlled manner.  The high energy of a child may be fun for a dog to respond to by jumping, chasing or even grabbing with their mouth, but it’s not the behavior of a lead human or lead dog.

Number 3.  The third reason dogs can look at children differently, is that children show emotion more readily.  They can go from sheer delight and giggles, to fits of crying in the blink of an eye.

So, why does this matter?  Because many dogs will ignore children and their requests. Dogs follow leaders, and for a dog, leaders are not unpredictable, or highly energetic and emotional.

That means it is usually difficult for a child to be in charge of caring for and training the family dog.  So mom and dad will likely be the ultimate caretakers.  At a minimum, when dogs and children are interacting adults may have to act as a “referee” between children and dogs playing.  Two common scenarios you would want to intervene as an adult are when a dog and child are becoming overly excited, or when a dog is trying to avoid a child’s attention.

In the case of both child and dog becoming overly excited, the dog may nip at or jump on the child.  If you see this, you’ll want to step in to deescalate the excitement.  Sometimes children need an adult to demonstrate appropriate play with the dog so that the interaction stays positive and focused.  I have often used a ball or toy to teach children how to toss the toy for the dog to fetch.  This comes in handy when you find a child who wants to engage with a dog, but doesn’t know how.

If a dog is trying to avoid a child’s attention, you’ll also want to intervene and defuse a potentially bad situation.  Many times a dog will do things like backing away from a situation, or going into another room to avoid a child who is fixed on petting, hugging or otherwise providing unwanted attention.  If unchecked, a dog may ultimately growl at or bite the child to try to escape.  In this case you should step in as an advocate for both the child and the dog.

So, yes, dogs do view children differently than adults, and that means you need to keep an eye on their interactions. Interestingly, if you as an adult, are also demonstrating unpredictable over energetic and overly emotional  behavior, you too can also find that your dog does not “listen” very well to you! Fortunately for you, it is easier to change! 

Dogs and children are wonderful together, and we as adults can help keep their interactions safe and fun!