Tips & Training

Dogs and Kids: Can they get along?

Our favorite restaurant has outdoor seating, where you can bring your dogs to hang out and enjoy your meal with a side of sunshine. We frequently bring Margot and Cooper along when we eat there, and we tie their leashes to the table (with a carabiner on their leash handles) while we eat. There’s a small fence that separates us from the sidewalk, and people often reach down to pet the dogs as they pass by. The dogs love it, we love it —it’s truly one of our favorite weekend activities. However, our favorite restaurant is located adjacent to an American Girl store, and we found out the hard way that Margot has a real problem with children…

One Saturday afternoon, we were enjoying a meal, with the usual stream of young girls and their moms passing by. They’re always dressed up super cute, and we love seeing their excitement as they go by. Suddenly, I heard a shriek, and before I could even react, Margot was stretched to the end of her leash, aggressively trying to bite a little girl. We sprang into action, and thankfully the girl wasn’t hurt (just scared), but I’m still wondering to this day, “Why did Margot behave like this?

Cooper’s a relaxed dog, and lets kids do whatever they want with her. Margot on the other hand, can’t be within ten feet of a human child without turning into a monster. Naturally, every kid that walks by wants to pet Margot. She’s a nine pound ball of fuzzy gray curls; I can totally see why children gravitate toward her (I want to squeeze her, too!). There have been several incidents, though, that led us to the conclusion that Margot simply does not like, and can’t even be around, children. We can’t think of any traumatic experiences in all of her three years, so what gives?

My Dog Hates Kids

Upon research, I came across The Yellow Dog Project, a global movement for owners of dogs that need space. The concept is simple: if your dog doesn’t like to be approached, put a yellow ribbon on his collar or leash. Ideally, everyone in the world would know the yellow ribbon as a signal, and respond appropriately by staying back or approaching with extreme caution. In an even better world, people would approach all dogs with caution, yellow ribbon or not!

There are many reasons for your dog to wear a yellow ribbon (sickness or injury, fear, aggressive behavior, training, the list goes on). Not all dogs wear a ribbon because they’re aggressive. I thought this was a great idea, because it does get tiring having to tell people that your adorable dog is actually not-so-adorable and rather unfriendly, so I tried a yellow bow out at the park. I noticed right away, though, that people were coming right up to us and complimenting our yellow bow, instead of staying back!

Since the yellow ribbon isn’t a surefire way to alert children of the monster that is Margot quite yet, I wanted to see what else we could do to manage the situation. I’ve determined two simple rules:

  1. Pet owners, it’s important that you socialize your dog while she’s still a puppy, so she’s not surprised later in life when a pint-sized human runs up to her. Three weeks to 3 months of age is the prime time to provide puppies with positive experiences with unfamiliar people (children included!), dogs, other animals, environments, etc.
  2. Parents, it’s important that you teach your kids to approach dogs with caution. They may look cute and friendly, but not all dogs are. Don’t pet dogs when they are alone without their owners present. Always ask the dog’s owner for permission, and if the owner says no, don’t press the issue.

Helpful Resources

Puppy Socialization Checklist

How Kids SHOULD Interact with Dogs

How Kids SHOULD NOT Interact with Dogs




Join the conversation!

We would love to know your thoughts and experiences! Join the conversation in the comments section below.

  • Would you know to stay back if you saw a yellow ribbon dog?
  • Have you ever tried the yellow ribbon in your neighborhood?
  • What things have you done to acclimate your dog to children, and vice versa?

About Rachael

Rachael is the designer and owner of MATTIE & MARGOT, an online dog collar + leash shop with over 200 styles. With three dogs and a fiancé at home in California, there’s never a dull moment!

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Comments (9)

9 responses to “Dogs and Kids: Can they get along?”

  1. While our pooch doesn’t have any serious issues with people, mostly dogs, we have had issues similar to this. After a couple minor incidents (no injuries!), we’ve realized WE need to speak for Edi. WE need to make sure that WE intervene on his behalf and make sure WE’RE setting him up for success!

    We got a “Please Give Me Space” vest for Edison to wear while we’re out and about and it’s helped (a bit – he’s got such a smooshable face!). Here:

    We also are lucky to have a rockstar dog who is great with everything – so we often use her as a buffer for Ed: “here, small child, pet this one instead!”

  2. Daphne says:

    My dog, Zoe, has always had issues with kids and unfamiliar dogs due to our lack of socializing her early plus her nervous nature. Recently, Zoe was diagnosed with lymphoma and has not been doing well at all. As to not cause her any more stress I decided to find a way to keep strangers away. There are a few shops on Etsy that sell a type of sleeve that can go on the dogs leash in many colors and with many sayings. I got an obnoxiously bright yellow one that reads “I NEED SPACE” and so far it is doing the job. I love the idea of the yellow ribbon project but until it is well known I had to find something more glaringly obvious. Thank you for bringing more attention to this!

  3. MArie says:

    I totally agree with you. Parents must teach they kids! My three dogs are rescues and especially one of them doesn’t like kids at all. He tries to chase them, he’s a schnauzer, maybe the breed has something to do with it, or the fact he’s a rescue. I do the same thing Hanna above does: “pet this one instead”.

  4. Lauren says:

    My dog can be reactive towards other dogs, so I recently took her to see a dog trainer. The trainer told me about the Yellow Dog Project and recommended I place a yellow ribbon on her leash; my initial reaction was, “Well, that’s a good idea, but no one is going to know what it means.” She said, “Then tell them. The Yellow Dog Project won’t get the attention it needs unless we help spread the word.”

    I do agree with her response, and I have been able to inform a few people about the purpose of the yellow ribbon. However, the vests and leash sleeves are easier to understand immediately. Until the yellow ribbon becomes a bigger deal, I may have to switch to a leash sleeve.

  5. What a fabulous article!

    Growing up in an adult only household, Soda really only ever spent time with adults – who unless they’d had a few cocktails – generally knew how to approach her respectfully and knew when she wanted space.

    As Soda is a working dog breed, little toddlers to her seem to resemble sheep and if I let her in that situation she would round them up! As a result I’m very careful about Soda being with children.

    The funny thing is so many parents just let their kids run up to dogs like Soda because they seem fluffy and cute. Education in key, and this article is a great step in that direction – thanks Rachael!

  6. Clairie says:

    To answer your question, I think kids and dogs can get along really good. I’ve recently read about a study which says that pets can help develop cleverness and sense for responsibilities… So we are raising our two kids with Ben, a lovely Beagle and the only problem we have with other kids/people is that he is so cute that they just stop by next to our fence and feed him what is actually not really ok for me because at first, he would eat (unfortunately) all and we can’t control when is that happening and with what, but mainly because it’s dangerous to just come and feed an unknown dog… Like last week, an older lady came with a small girl and when I asked them what are they doing, their answer was that they came to give some food to him. I kindly asked them to stop feeding him but I just cannot control everyone… Besides that, he has really no problem with kids, I just feel like strangers just shouldn’t act like this…

  7. While I’m pretty chilled with kids, it continually surprises me the people and parents we come across that show no respect for dogs space. Please… Just teach the kids to respect us dogs. Ask permission and don’t rush up to our faces.

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Pick of the Week

  • cuddle clones plush toy of your pet

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