The existence of a special relationship between dogs and children is frequently portrayed and celebrated in art, literature, and film. In reality, while this bond is certainly achievable, it is not something that always falls automatically into place. The following suggestions are offered as methods of avoiding the pitfalls which may easily damage the confidence of both dog and child, thus undermining a potentially happy, healthy, and trusting association.[/b]
Dogs cannot use speech to articulate their emotions and even very experienced owners may miss some of the subtle nuances of the body language used by dogs as a means of communication. Dogs do not have hands to push away, they cannot say go away, sometimes they cannot walk away. If their body language is ignored, misinterpreted, or simply unobserved, the only means of expression left to them to warn of discomfort is a growl or a non-contact snap, and if those fail to get the message across then the last resort is the bite. To avoid any potential conflict between dog and child it is essential that they each should be taught respect for the other, which can be achieved by observing a few commonsense rules.
Never permit a child and a dog of any size, age, sex, or breed, to be together for even a moment without adult supervision. This includes not allowing the unconfined dog to sleep in the child’s bedroom. Young children can unintentionally, or through curiosity, hurt or frighten a dog by grabbing, poking, or just startling it. It is suggested that, until around the age of 6, a child cannot understand the meaning of a growl, so any warning of discomfort/apprehension given by the dog will go unheeded. This may lead to an unfortunate incident that could have been avoided with adequate supervision.
A child should never be permitted to tease a dog with toys or food, or provoke a dog in any way at all. Calm games should be the order of the day. A child running around, squealing, waving arms or objects about, will cause the dog to become over-excited and promote chasing, jumping, and nipping behaviour. Chasing games excite the prey drive of a dog and it may well try to grab hold of clothing, or knock over and thus accidentally hurt the child. Conversely chasing a puppy can frighten it or teach it that running away from people is fun. If running away is seen as a game then it will make training the dog to come when called more difficult. Tug-of-war games are not a good idea either. Not only do they encourage notions of superiority if the dog frequently ‘wins’, but they also teach the dog to hang on and bite hard.
The dog’s own area should be respected by the child. If the dog is in its bed, crate, basket, etc. it should be left in peace and not be interfered with in any way. Similarly, when the dog is eating, sleeping, chewing a bone, or playing quietly with its own toys, it should be left alone.
It is important to teach a child to be cautious and careful around a bitch that is in season, is pregnant, or is with her puppies. A child should not attempt to lift a pregnant bitch or touch or lift any dog that is unwell or injured.
When encountering strange dogs it is essential that the child should understand that they must at no time be touched without the permission of the owner. Children should never lean over a fence, reach into a car, or enter a garden, to pet a dog, and any dog tethered anywhere should be left alone. Many dogs will seek to protect their territory from perceived intruders. ‘Territory’ may also include the personal space of a dog on a lead or restrained by a tether.
The arrival of a new baby can have an unsettling effect on all members of a household, not least the family dog.
If the owner gives permission to pat the dog the child should approach calmly from the front or side so that the dog can see him/her. A dog should never be approached silently from the rear. When coming close to a dog the child should not stare into the dog’s eyes as this can be un-nerving for the dog and may be interpreted as a challenge. The dog should be allowed to sniff the child’s clenched hand and then it can be stroked on the chest or shoulders. The child should not lean right over the dog nor attempt to pat it on the head or try to hug the dog as, again, these actions may make it uncomfortable and signal a challenge.
With small children and small puppies the correct method of lifting a dog should be taught in order that the puppy is not hurt. One hand should be placed around the chest and tummy with the other hand under the bottom to support the weight of the pup. The pup should be held close to the body to reduce the chance of dropping the dog when it wriggles and to provide it with a sense of security. With very young children it is probably advisable to have the child sitting down and to place the puppy in his/her lap.
The dog should not be allowed to lick the face of a child and hands should always be washed after petting, grooming, playing with the dog. Hygiene is of especial importance if the child has access to the dog’s toilet area.
Dogs also need to learn good manners. Plenty of socialisation with children, adults, other dogs, etc. in various situations will help to develop confidence and calmness. Basic obedience commands such as‘sit’, ‘come’ and ‘leave’ can, if obeyed, help to defuse a situation which might otherwise end in tears. Once the child is old enough he/she can help in training the dog by standing in front of you and using simple commands e.g. ‘sit’, ‘come’ and rewarding compliance. This will reinforce the child’s position in the household as he/she will be seen to share your authority and will therefore assist to engender respect in the dog
Dogs and babies
The arrival of a new baby can have an unsettling effect on all members of a household, not least the family dog. It is wise to start preparing the dog well in advance of the birth. If any of the dog’s routines such as feeding times, walk times, play times, training times, etc. are to change when the baby arrives then start the changes as early as possible so that the dog has become accustomed to them by the time the baby is home. If the dog is to be restricted from areas that it has previously had access to, or its sleeping arrangements need to be altered then, again, start the changes in good time.
It is important that the dog associates the presence of a baby with good things happening. A very good idea is to purchase a life-size and realistic baby doll which you can carry around, talk to, nurse, sing to, put down to sleep, and treat just as you would a real baby. Give the dog lots of attention and affection while you are doing this. A recording of baby noises will help familiarize the dog with the sounds to be expected when the baby arrives.
When the baby is born have someone bring home a blanket or article of clothing (not a used nappy) that has the baby’s scent on it. The dog should be allowed to sniff the item and praised and rewarded for taking a calm interest in it. Do not allow the dog to chew or play with the item.
The dog will be naturally curious when the baby is brought home. Mother should come in first and greet the dog and then bring in the child. Do not exclude the dog from the baby. Allow him to look and sniff, praising and rewarding him for his gentle interest. Whenever the infant is receiving attention include the dog and praise his good behaviour around the child. Do not allow any opportunity for the dog to feel left out and resentful of the new arrival. Always remember that dogs should never be left alone with babies/children. If at all possible try to spend a little time alone with your dog, but always make sure that the most rewarding experiences for your dog occur when the baby is present.
This article was written by Dogwebber Shadowboxer.
Joined: May 2004
Joined: Mar 2006
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