To a dog, children can be unpredictable and scary! They move, sound, act, and smell differently than adults and are more likely to lack boundaries. This can lead to increased stress and even a fear of children in many dogs, increasing the likelihood of a bite incident in the home.
Because of this, it is very important that parents, friends, family, and older children understand dog body language and signs that your dog may be uncomfortable or stressed before things escalate.
Signs of Stress and Fear in Dogs
Common, more subtle signs of stress in dogs include:
- Looking away
- Clown-mouth, where the far corners of the dog’s mouth are pulled back
- Furrowed brow
- Stiff, alert ears
- Flattened ears
- Sideways ears
- Grinning or ‘smiling’
- Cheek puffing
- Teeth chattering
- Squinting or blinking
- Panting (when not hot)
- Sudden loss of appetite
Dogs that have higher levels of stress and/or fear may exhibit more severe signs such as:
- Raised Hackles
- Lip Curl
- Bared teeth
- Moving in slow motion
- Startling/Jumping easily
Examples of Stress in Dog-Child Interactions
Example 1: Multiple kids are around and reaching down to pet the dog’s back. The dog is crouching and actively moving away from reaching hands. His eyes are wide enough where you can see the whites of them (Whale-Eyed), and his ears are pinned to the side and back of his head. This dog is stressed and NOT enjoying the interaction.
Example 2: A young boy has wrapped his arms around the dog’s head to give him a hug. The dog’s eyes are wide with the whites showing (whale-eyeing) and his head is pulled back. He is shown with his tongue slightly out, likely from lip-licking. This dog is stressed and NOT enjoying the interaction.
Example 3: A young girl rests her head on her dog with her hands holding the side of his neck. The dog’s head is turned away from her with his ears pulled back. The sides of his mouth are back wider than his eye-line (clown-mouth) and he appears to be panting. This dog is stressed and NOT enjoying the interaction.