Ask the Expert: How do I keep my children safe around a dog they don't know?

A Blue Cross animal behaviourist explains the best ways to ensure children remain safe around a childminder's pet

Even the friendliest dogs can get overwhelmed, just like us, so it's good to be cautious around them, especially where children are concerned

Q: "MY MUM'S got a new dog and she'll be looking after our two young children at the end of the summer holidays. What's the best way to make sure the kids are safe in the house with the dog?"

A: Claire Stallard, an animal behaviourist at the Blue Cross pet charity, says: "It's great your children will soon have a dog in their lives, but before they meet, it is a good time to make sure your mum sets down some ground rules to keep them safe and her dog happy.

"You're right to be cautious – even the friendliest dogs can get overwhelmed, just like us. It's a good idea to keep the children away from the dog when he's eating, sleeping or if he takes himself off to rest alone.

"Likewise, the dog shouldn't be around the children when they're eating, running around or playing enthusiastically.

"Baby gates or crates can be used for separating the dog when need be, especially when your mum won't be able to actively supervise them all at the same time.

"Make sure your mum gives your dog a nice chew or stuffed Kong when behind the baby gate. This way he'll be kept busy.

"You'll both need to show your children how you expect them to behave around dogs. Teach them how to be gentle and calm. Dogs don't tend to enjoy being hugged or squeezed and this can be hard for children to understand at first.

"It's a good idea for your mum to learn the subtle behaviours her dog may show if he's feeling a bit stressed or unhappy. This way she'll know when he needs some time alone.

"With some rules in place, the children will really benefit and enjoy their new relationship with your mum's dog, who'll teach them all about compassion and responsible pet ownership. Best of all, no doubt they'll become the best of pals and enjoy growing up together."

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