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Readers reply: how can you prevent dogs jumping at children? How should I respond when it happens? | Dogs


Whenever we go walking in the countryside with our three-year-old, dogs approach him and frighten him. He has never come to harm, but there is always a concern. It happens within seconds. Typically, the owners either airily tell us their dog is harmless, or they more aggressively say: “What are you afraid of?” Does anyone else have this problem? How can you prevent dogs jumping at children? How should I respond when it happens? Tracey Lewis, Diss, Suffolk

Send new questions to nq@theguardian.com.

Readers reply

Teach him to stand still, turn his back and fold his arms whenever a dog approaches him. This communicates dominance and a lack of interest, and dogs will quickly leave him alone. Julia Foren

It’s worth trying to understand what the dog is trying to do. It wants to put its front paws on the person – either as play or to dominate. One tip for your child is to stand still but then, as the dog jumps, to either step backwards or lift your knee which removes the ability of the dog to rest its paws. I’ve found doing that a few times along with a firm “no” and the dog stops. Jon Hegerty

I think it is awful the way some dog owners behave. I’ve seen dogs running about, knocking children over and when challenged the dog owners just calls you “a miserable cow”. Their dog has made a small child cry, yet some how you’re the one in the wrong. Ellen House

It is not just children that need protecting from dogs. I myself do not like dogs and yet every day I have encounter or avoid other people’s dogs. I would like to see areas that are designated dog-free so that those of us that don’t like them can walk in peace. Edward Williams, Poole

Answer focusing on things you can control.

  1. Calmly put out your flat hand and firmly but gently say “down”. Calmly say “good dog” in a quiet but happy voice when the dog obeys.

  2. Pick up your child to keep him safe/reduce fear but also model that dogs aren’t scary by speaking positively about the dog.

  3. Pay attention to where you are going for walks. In my local area there is one beach/nature walk which is completely dog free as it is a nature reserve.

  4. Teach your child about dogs in a controlled environment by having him spend time with a friend’s dog.

  5. Calmly say to the dog owner that your child is still learning about dogs and is scared. This would hopefully get them on side. Idunnhav

If a fully grown horse came running over to an adult, most would be pretty intimidated. That’s what it’s like for a small child when a big dog races up to them. I’m always telling my kids that they shouldn’t be scared of dogs, just careful. And never try running because the dog will think you’re playing. Just stand still. But it takes some guts for a child to stand still when a big dog bounces up to them. Dog owners need to exhibit a bit more empathy for the situation. ExtraConnect

I guess the people taking this lightly are all the owners of badly behaved dogs! I have seen dogs knock children and adults down, with claw marks that drew blood, and memorably bite with the owner saying: “It’s just how he expresses affection.” My approach: you see the dog coming, calmly call to the owner: “Control your dog” while stepping in between your child and the dog. Don’t yell or wave your arms; badly behaved dogs are just going to get worse if you hype them up. A stern “no” if they seem about to jump can be followed by raising your knee, get the dog right in the chest and it’s on its back. Then expect the owner to have a hissy whiny tantrum like a six-year-old because they are a lazy dog owner. Thomas1178

I’m a professional canine behaviourist. Dogs that jump up at or invade the space of strange people and animals are a complete pain. They haven’t been taught to look before they leap, or to respect personal space and usually do it to their family, too. The owner should know their dog will do this to strangers and have it back on the lead in good time to pass you, allowing you and your boy to feel protected. Unfortunately, you can’t do a great deal that doesn’t invoke a defensive response from protective owners who know and trust their own dog. It’s unreasonable for them to assume you can trust their dog, but still, it’s how the world goes. What you absolutely can do is defend your child and teach him not to run away if they approach.

Running, panicky, squeaky behaviours can elicit a chase response in most hunting species, so avoid doing any of those things. Most tame dogs can be moved away or slowed down with a strong enough approach. What you would need to be careful of is that they don’t then circle behind you to sniff your boy, so keep him close and stay between your boy and the dog.

You can take a tin with dried beans in it to shake at them, or a stick with a rustly carrier bag on the end to shake at them and draw out your space. You may not need to be over the top with anything – they may be surprised enough by a slow, determined approach, ensuring you’re giving off a keep the hell away from us vibe. Expect a response from their owner, but get good at defusing this by making sure everyone is safe and then explaining why you did what you did and allowing everyone to take a breath.

You should never need to touch the approaching dog – if you find you have, you’ve missed your chance to communicate – begin your explanation of Stay AWAY (shaking the tin, looking scary and moving towards) in good enough time that the dog can see you, read you, respect your communication and alter course. The closer or faster he is, the bigger and louder you’ll need to be, but if he’s fully in your space and has ignored your communication and is all over you, be still and quiet and between him and your boy, but feel free to be irate at the owner.

You can also spend time learning to read dogs that may be threatening or dangerous, which includes those that bowl into people and knock them over. They will usually be running goofily at full tilt, mouth agape, or carrying a stick. It’s super annoying and I’m so sorry it’s happening to you and your little boy.

As an aside, the only way authorities can easily, proactively respond to this kind of thing is ensuring dogs are kept on the lead at all times, which unfortunately worsens all behaviours and teaches neither owner nor dog anything. Sigh. Hannah Parrett, Devon

Owners should train their dogs not to jump up from an early age. New owners in this pandemic often aren’t doing the training with dogs, that is needed for safety and consideration. Recall (come back from that kid/dog/road) is a must, but again, new owners are slacking on this. It’s a lifesaver, and no dog should be loose, without recall to a reward. A whistle is the easiest way, with reward, no matter how long the dog takes, and no shouting or abuse of scatty pups. They’ll just avoid coming back at all, if you lose your temper. If you don’t neuter your dog, recall is going to be near-impossible for years, so neutering is essential, unless you’re keeping a dog to breed.

In the long run though, a kid has to learn to manage their response to loose dogs, which should be: ignore it completely, no crying, no screaming, no running, no trying to pet the dog either. Act like the dog is not there. Fussing and crying can turn a kid into a prey item, to be investigated.

Rows between owners and parents are increasing, as many new owners have not taught their dog the required “dog manners”. Along with the cuteness, comes work (like having kids). Sit, recall, stay/wait and lead walking, should be taught from eight weeks onwards, a bit every day, with rewards, patience and praise. Teach dogs basic manners, and we’ll all get on a lot better. Chloe Fox, Devon

As for interacting with the owner – I find that “less is more”. A pleasant “good morning” is sufficient and move on. It’s not your dog and you don’t need to have a conversation about their dog – unless you want to. Rob Deri

It should be seen as an assault. If there were clear legal sanctions available to victims and their families then dog owners would take more care. Rennie Dickins

I wanted to highlight that opening up questions on dog behaviour problems to lay-people may be a dog welfare issue. If the advice is out of date or based on methods research has found to negatively affect an individual’s welfare (such as punishment-based methods) then this could worsen the problem. This could (and sadly does) result in dog bites which may lead to relinquishment to rescue or euthanasia. Roz Pooley

It’s not only children. Dogs seem to sense that I am scared of them and they often jump up at me. I’m scared of them because I am allergic to them. The owners invariably – absolutely invariably – say “S/he won’t hurt you”. I now always reply :“How do you know? How do you know how bad my asthma attack is going to be?” On balance, I’ve gained by being assertive rather than cowering, which I used to do. I now have fewer days fighting to get my breathing back to normal. Joan Stephens

Dog owners should train their animals not to approach people they don’t know, and never to jump at them. My response, when a dog approaches me off the lead, is always to (very firmly) tell the owner to restrain it. And my response when told “it’s being friendly” is to reply: “I’m not.” I am not a dog lover and fail to understand why I’m expected to tolerate unwanted attention, or worse, by these animals. Imogen White, Herts

If I hear “he’s just being friendly” one more time (Solihull dog owners in Brueton park, I’m talking to you). The best excuse I ever heard was: ‘It’s because you have a shopping trolley and a yellow jacket.’ No, it’s because you haven’t trained the animal in your care. DarrellRivers

I used to go into schools for the Blue Cross to talk about pet responsibility. It’s hard when you have selfish, ignorant dog owners. The thing to do is to teach your child how to act. You need to practise at home. The dog probably does “want to play”, so be really, really boring. Stand as still as a post, don’t look at it, perhaps turn your back on it. Don’t say anything. The dog will think: “This is a really boring person/child, they’re not going to play with me, I’ll find someone else.” Kathryn Salomon

With regards to the problem of jumping dogs. The owner of the dog is required to be in control of the animal at all times. Having experienced this problem many times and dealing with it calmly and more forcefully, I now carry a stick on my walks. I find a few waves and a shout generally works to avert the dog and make the owner think twice about their own responsibilities. Matthew Scanlan

There seem to be several different aspects to this including an increasing tendency for people not to train their dogs properly but instead to plead with them to do something and affect impotence in the face of their dogs “natural wilfulness”.

A dog jumping up can startle a small child, but how they deal with this then begins to depend on their parents response. It is natural to feel irritated and protective as a parent. But if it is a friendly dog mainly it is most helpful to normalise dogs being friendly and communicating in different ways that they want to play. So patting the dog and explaining they didn’t mean to be scary; picking up the child to look down on the dog and discussing how the dog needs help to know how to be friendly; and helping to settle the child is probably the best approach.

Teaching a child to be scared of dogs means they can miss a lot of fun as most dogs are brilliant and there are a lot of them around so being scared of them is very time/energy consuming. Jean Annecke

Owners should understand that not everyone is at ease with dogs. I was chased by an alsatian when I was small and large dogs still make me feel uneasy. If you want to take your dog out among people then surely the onus is on you make sure it is trained and not threatening or a public nuisance. Rod Muir, Edinburgh

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