How to Pet a Pup with the Zara DogDog Club

3rd September 2019

Words by Anna Crichton // Photography by Camylla Battani

There’s a magnetic attraction between children and animals. Often it’s the new and exciting or the soft and cute. But sometimes it’s the comfort and peace they can bring.

With dogs in particular, there’s often a knee jerk reaction. Either the child instantly wants to reach out and touch the dog, or they’re anxious and shy away. In either situation it can take time to reach a feeling of comfort between the two. Trust is needed between both; they each want to know they can interact together without getting hurt.

So how do you build trust between child and dog? Every situation is different but there are some key rules we can all follow to help build a positive relationship from the start.

1. Ask first

Before a child approaches a dog, either they or the adult must ask permission from the dog’s owner. Some dogs aren’t comfortable around children and may not be safe to approach. Others can be too boisterous and may be known to jump up. Either way, asking allows the owner to consider the situation and offer advice on how to greet their dog, or decline if appropriate.

2. Offer your hand

If allowed to greet the dog, the child should offer their hand out for the dog so they can see the child is friendly and safe. The dog may sniff the hand, put their head or body into the hand to encourage a stroke or it may simply decide to walk away. Just because the owner has said the child can greet the dog doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog wants to interact at that time. It shouldn’t be forced.

3. Stay calm

It’s important not to let the child get carried away, either with too much petting, or running around and shouting lots. For the first meeting, a calm interaction is best. Encouraging the child to call the dog and patting the leg invites the dog to come to them. If they come then they can engage in petting them, play or give them a treat. If they walk away then they may not be interested and the child should be told not to pursue them.

Regular meetings of this kind will build up trust between them and from here, a new relationship can flourish.

As a child, I was fortunate enough to grow up with dogs. I trusted them implicitly and saw them as fellow family members. But I was also bitten by a dog and so I easily understand how children can both “over-love” dogs and be fearful of them too.

I launched The Zara DogDog Club to help children to learn more about dogs, whether they love them or fear them, in the hope that we can teach them to respect dogs and build more positive relationships between the two.

You can sign up to the free club at to receive regular newsletters packed with advice and information for children to learn about dogs. You can also use the Zara DogDog books to teach children about dogs in a fun and story-led way. The books are now being used as part of the RSPCA’s education outreach and we’ve had very positive feedback from parents and teachers alike.

The Zara DogDog books can also be purchased through the links below:

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