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My son is around 6 years old. On the way to school we see many different dogs. He wants to touch everyone.

What guideline can I provide my son, to interact with unknown dogs?

Aims:

  • not scare my son;
  • not risk anyone's health.

Is there any "code" dog owners act on?

(Additional complication: We speak a foreign language and could not fully understand the country's language.)

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  • Facilitate good teamwork between your son and a dog, encourage them to think outside of the box and never stop moving outside of their comfort zones, remind them to always give 200 percent performance and to seek opportunities with win-win outcomes, and don't forget to tell them the best defense is a good offense; that is what good coaching is about.
    – lila
    May 7 at 22:43
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    @lila =D Great!! ☆ May 8 at 4:30
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Generally speaking, it is better to avoid unknown dogs because of health and safety issues. If your son wants to say hi, this is the order of events that should happen:

  1. Your son sees a dog;
  2. Your son should identify the dog's owner (if the dog is tied up) if nearby;
  3. If the owner is found, before approaching the dog, your son should ask the owner:

Is he friendly?

If the owner replies:

Yes.

  1. Then your son should ask:

Can I say hi?

And if the owner says:

Sure.

  1. Your son can approach the dog

  2. Your son should let the dog sniff him first. He should not make sudden movements or loud noises. He should be respectful, and not try to contain, pick up, squeeze, or hug the dog in any way. He should also only pat or pet the dog's back at first. Your son can ask the owner about where the dog most likes being petted. Your son should only say hi for about a minute before going on his way. Your son should get on his way sooner if the dog is aggressive.

You should teach your son to (assuming he is not with you) never:

  • approach an unleashed dog;
  • start petting a dog without the owner's permission;
  • agree to follow an owner to their car or somewhere else to meet their dog (kidnapping risk);
  • say hi to a dog that is scared of him, whining, barking or jumping, or bad body language;
  • or do anything else risky.

The worst-case scenario is that your son gets bitten by a dog. If so, have him immediately ask the owner if the dog has had his shots (like rabies). If not, he should tell the owner to phone (and for his phone number) a veterinarian or hospital immediately as well as you (the parent). If he did get something like rabies, he would need immediate medical attention. If the dog has had his shots, then your son should head back home to clean the wound. See here for how to do that.

Sources:

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In addition to Nai54's excellent answer, I want to concentrate on the "code" the dog acts on.

Many children have the instinct to pet animals on their heads, because that's what they see in TV and images. But for a dog a hand that is approaching their head from above can seem very scary and intimidating. You should teach your son to never pet a dog on the top of the head, always on the side of the shoulder or front of the breast.

Do a little role play with your son. He plays the dog (crouching on the floor) and you play your son trying to pet him. Look him in the eyes and move your hand towards his forehead from above. Then ask him if he felt good or bad. Repeat the same play, but this time pet him on the cheek from the side. Ask him how this felt in comparison. This first hand experience is ideal to make him understand dogs and remember not to pet the dogs' head.

Here's a graphic that shows the most common errors people do when meeting dogs:

enter image description here

It's best to teach your child a "dog etiquette" in comparison to our human etiquette:

  1. If two people meet, they shake hands to say hello. Dogs don't have hands to shake, but they sniff each other to say hello. If your son meets a dog, he should first crouch or kneel down beside the dog and present his hand to be sniffed without trying to touch the dog. You can see the correct stance in this presentation on slide 18.
  2. Once the dog sniffed his hand and thus said hello, he can ask the dog if it wants to be pet. Since the dog cannot understand human language, your son should pet the side of the shoulder or the breast in front of the front legs for 3 seconds. If the dog moves away, it doesn't want to be pet. Otherwise it's okay with being pet. See how this 3 second rule works in this video.
  3. After your son has introduced himself so friendly to the dog, and if the dog doesn't move away, he can continue petting the dog for another 3 seconds and then see if the dog wants more or moves away.

This comparison makes the rules of introduction easy to understand for a child. In reality they allow the dog to build trust in your son by

  • Avoiding intimidating body language.
  • Getting to know him (by his smell) before being touched.
  • Experiencing that your son is not intrusive or intimidating by going for the top of the head first or holding the dog against its will.
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    Thank you for your great answer :) Sadly I can not split the bonus :D so I decide for that one, who does need it more ;) May 11 at 5:11

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