Safety comes first
As a parent and dog owner, it is important to consider a number of things before taking your children for a walk with a dog. Often parents like to leave the dog walking task to the children and they think it’s important to strengthen the bond between child and dog – but asking your children to do this too quickly and too soon can have unpleasant consequences.
How can you check whether your child is ready to walk the dog independently?
1. Does the dog already walk nicely on the leash without pulling?
If that is not the case, it can be quite a challenge for the child to keep the dog with him, especially if it is an older dog and a larger breed.
2. Does the dog already walk nicely past distractions such as cars, people, cats, etc.
This is very important! Certain breeds sometimes want to go after cars or bicycles, other dogs are super excited when people walk by (or find it super scary) and jump up on people who often don’t like it (or pull away from it). Does your child know what to do in such a situation?
3. Is your child big and strong enough not to be pulled far by the dog
It will happen – the dog suddenly pulls hard on the leash, or chases a cat and runs across the street and your child can’t stop the dog and falls. Or get dragged along. Or, in a panic, let go of the leash. All situations to be very careful with!
4. Can your child already assess whether a situation is dangerous and respond well and quickly?
How often do you not hear “my dog does nothing” while that dog is growling at your dog. A child cannot (yet) assess whether or not this is the case, with all the potentially unpleasant consequences that this entails. Kids don’t recognize dog body language – even teenagers can struggle (if they look up from their phones at all…) and can’t judge whether certain situations are safe or not.
5. Can your child distract the dog and has the dog learned to respond well to this?
Does your child recognize a possible unpleasant situation, does your child know what to do and has the dog learned to respond well to what your child indicates?
6. Can your child handle situations that are serious?
For example, the dog that breaks free, is threatened or attacked by another dog?
Do not forget about the mental and emotional damage that the child can incur when a serious, serious situation has arisen. Think of the dog that runs away, the dog that suddenly crosses the street. Whether or not it was the child’s “fault”; they will feel guilty about what happened. They have experienced something very bad without it being in their power to stop it and this can cause lifelong trauma. Adults should simply never give that responsibility to a child.
How can children learn to walk the dog?
How nice is it to go for a walk with the dog! What can you do then?
Children up to about 8 years old (depending on the child and also the dog)
- You can buy a 2 for young(er) childrene attach the leash to the harness (a collar is not recommended). The child still has the idea that he is walking the dog, while the adult also has a leash and can intervene if necessary.
Children from about 8 years old to about 12 years old (also depending on the child and the dog)
- If the child is a bit older, you can let him or her hold the leash while you walk next to it yourself (see photo at the top of this page). While walking, explain what the dog is doing, why sniffing is so important, what the dog’s body language means. Keep active supervision.
Children of all ages
- Let children – and most find this very gross – clean up the dog’s poop. This teaches them that this is also part of the walk. That can be a challenge – first put such a bag around your hand, then pick up the poop, then close the bag – while the dog is already doing all kinds of other things.
Let children never a flex line use when walking. They do not yet have the skill to handle this properly, to understand how far the dog can pull away, how to intervene with the brake if the dog suddenly crosses the street.
If your child is already walking the dog alone, ask him or her if he or she is there safe at feels. Children often find it quite scary to walk the dog alone and are relieved if they can tell this honestly.
Realize that “in the past” it was much easier to walk the dog. There just weren’t as many dogs as there are today, the streets have become much busier, it’s much more challenging for the dogs outside to environmental stimuli than “before”.
This poster is a guide to see if your child is ready to walk the dog alone:
This article is written by Marjan Baas, owner of Dog School The Art of Dog Training-NL and Family Dog Mediator.
- Licensed Family Dog Mediator® Division Training & Division Kids
- Kids Around Dogs Approved Professional
- Family Dog Private Trainer