Creative Child

Safety: Play Date Checklist for Friends with Dogs in the Home

By Joan Orr and Teresa Lewin

When a child wants to go to a friend's house, a responsible parent asks some basic questions. Will a parent be home? Does the family have a pool? Is the yard fenced? Are there firearms in the house and how are they stored? Rarely does it occur to a parent to ask if the family has a dog and if so, what steps will be taken to ensure that there are no incidents. Take safety precautions with these tips.

We recommend that parents visit the home of the family that their child wants to visit to meet the parents and the dog. We have created a check list of situations to help parents judge whether it seems safe to leave their child at a home with a dog.

Start with the red light criteria. As soon as you can check off even one item, follow the instructions for that criteria level.


Red Light Criteria (do not leave your child to play at this house, invite the other child to play at your house instead):

  • Dog is chained or tied up outside or there is evidence that dog is kept tied up. (Never leave your child at a home where a dog is tied up outside. There is too much danger of your child wandering out into the dog’s zone.)
  • Dog seems uncared for; house smells like urine or feces.
  • Dog comes to the door barking and growling and continues even after owner answers the door.
  • Owner is rough with the dog, yelling, hitting or grabbing it by the collar to get it to comply.
  • Dog seems afraid of owner or ignores the owner's attempts to control it.
  • Dog is a kept as a guard dog.

Yellow Light Criteria (leave your child only if the dog will be crated or locked away the entire time):

  • Dog comes to the door barking and/or growling, but stops when told to do so and seems friendly when the owner answers the door.
  • Dog insists on getting between you and the owner’s child.
  • Dog is overly excited and races about or jumps all over you and your child.
  • Your child is not comfortable with the dog.
  • Dog holds his tail up in the air and wags it slowly or not at all.
  • Dog wags his tail low to ground or between his legs.
  • Dog seems fearful and hides, retreats from you or barks at you.
  • There are multiple dogs.

Green Light Criteria (leave your child if supervision will be adequate):

  • Dog is on a loose leash, in a crate or in a down stay when the owner answers the door.
  • Dog greets you in a calm and friendly manner with wagging tail when the owner gives permission.
  • Dog obeys the owner and the owner rewards this with praise or treats.
  • The dog owner agrees to supervise all interactions with the dog.
  • Your child is comfortable with the dog.

The Rules for Other People’s Dogs

  • No hugs and kisses.
  • Don’t take anything from the dog, or approach him while he is eating, chewing something or resting.
  • Interact with the dog only if the parent is present.
  • Interact with the dog only if he comes to you wagging his tail with a loose and friendly manner.
  • "Be a Tree" and stand still if the dog is too frisky, seems threatening or otherwise causes concern.
  • Call home if you are worried.

dog safety puppy play date

If your child cannot follow instructions and is likely to follow a dog around trying to interact with him, then you should only leave your child if the dog will be in a crate, a pen or another room with no access for your child.

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Joan Orr and Teresa Lewin are the co-founders on non-profit Doggone Safe. Doggone Safe’s mandate includes dog bite prevention through education and dog bite victim support. They are the co-creators of the Doggone Crazy board game, the Be a Tree teacher kit, the Clicker Puppy training DVD, several ebooks and online courses about dog body language and safety around dogs. They are known for their work with clicker training and TAGteach and have co-authored the book, “Getting Started Clicking with Your Rabbit”. Their websites are,, and They have received numerous awards for their work.

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