Positive Pet Encounters of the Toddler Kind

As a true pet parent, I know my dog is very alluring, particularly for children given his 8 pound stature.  He is a friendly guy, to boot, though on leash his natural defense mechanism of “flight” is sorely hampered.  So, incoming hands, kissers or hugs can be overwhelming.  This was abundantly clear on our recent walk when two adorable toddlers made a bee line toward him for a meet and greet.

Freeze frame.  There are two ways this can go.  Toddlers squeal with delight and charge in to kid-handle the dog.  Or, toddlers screech to a halt within licking distance and look up pleadingly to say “We Pet?”

It is tough skill to teach to one so young, but essential for their survival.  My dog might react with a quick run as far as his leash will allow in the opposite direction and then gingerly submit to a small mauling from his admirers, but some other dogs might not react in such a friendly fashion.

One way to practice the appropriate way to approach a new dog is to practice with a stuffed animal or enlist a friend with a forgiving pooch.  Not only is it important to ask before touching, children should also learn to pet gently, on the dog’s back, avoiding the tail, ears and mouth—which are of course THE most attractive parts of the dog.

As a watchful dog owner, I often times find myself coaching little ones as they propel themselves with great delight toward that cherished encounter.  “Wait” I’ll say.  You should ask before you pet the dog.  Do you want to pet the dog?  Okay, he’s a friendly dog.  Get down on your knees and let him come to you.  Just pet him on the back. No, no, no, don’t pull on his ears.  Why don’t we leave the dog on the ground and just pet him.  No really.  Put him back down.  Etc.

I hope the trailing parents don’t mind me modeling the ideal interaction for both them and their child.  Usually it all ends with a thank you and a stolen backwards glance from the child, trailing behind his departing parents, wishing he could stay just a bit longer.

Unfreeze frame.  The toddlers stop.  One passionately states “We love your dog.” while the other pleads, “Can we pet him?”.  I smile, say yes and then turn to thank the parents for doing such a nice job training their children.

Oh, don’t pick him up, I say quickly as the excitement gets the better of one little girl who is going in for a full body hug.  Oh well, it’s can’t be perfect every time.

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