Dogs & Children Living In Harmony
By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
Whether you’re expecting a child and already have a dog, or you have kids and are about to get a new dog, there’s a lot you can do to ensure that the two will have a safe, lasting, and mutually beneficial friendship. Of course, the number one priority is to teach both your dog and your child what is ok and what is not ok to ensure safe play for both parties. The majority of serious dog injuries involve children under the age of five and dogs who are known to the child. If you have a dog and have no intention of having children, your dog should still be conditioned to accept and not fear children, as he will inevitably come in contact with them at some point in his lifetime. Likewise, even if you don’t have a dog, your children should be taught how to be friendly, cautious, and unafraid around dogs.
Raising Dog-Friendly Kids
Both you and your children need to understand that even the most gentle, patient, and reliable family dog has limits, and is fully capable of biting if pushed too far. Therefore, young children should never, ever be allowed around dogs without responsible adult supervision.
Young children have little to no perception of the pain that they can cause a dog through tugging, poking, and even slapping. They must be taught from as young an age as possible that one must be gentle with animals. If you don’t have a dog yet, teach your young child to gently pet a stuffed dog, or visit a friend who has a well-behaved dog and use that pooch as a teaching aid. Teach your child how and where to pet a dog and what kind of touching is uncomfortable for dogs. If your child is old enough to understand logical explanation, start a dialogue about what kind of touching is nice and what kind of touching hurts. Ask them if they would like their ears pulled, or if they would like being patted roughly on the head. Talk about how nice it feels to have your back rubbed softly and how uncomfortable they would be if somebody grabbed them by the foot and made them stand on one leg. Help them understand the bite hazard associated with dogs by explaining that dogs do not have hands to push you away when they don’t like what you’re doing; all they can do is bite. They must understand that playing with dogs is a privilege, and if they do not treat dogs nicely, they won’t be allowed to play with them.
Explain to your kids the no, no’s associated with being around dogs. They should understand that they should never disturb a sleeping dog, never pursue a dog who runs away, never restrain a dog who is trying to get away, and never to bother a dog when he is eating or chewing. Make sure they understand that they must never approach a dog without the owner’s permission. Even if it is a friendly neighborhood dog, you never know if they have an injury, have been sick, or if anything else has happened that could make seemingly unwarranted aggression likely. They should also know that they should never put their face in a dog’s face, stare at a dog, or run from a dog. You can help ensure their safety with your dog and other dogs by teaching them about dog body language too. Look around online for pictures of dogs snarling, dogs with their head low and their tail between their legs, dogs with the hair on their back standing up, and dogs baring their teeth. Show these to your children and tell them to stay away from any dog displaying this aggressive body language. Explain to your children what kinds of games are appropriate for dogs and which aren’t. They should understand that tug-o-war and wrestling games are off limits, and games like Frisbee, fetch, and hide and seek are safe and fun.
Let your kids participate in the training and care of your dog whenever possible, and to whatever extent their age and size allow. Explain to your children why it is important to feed the dog every day, make sure he has clean water, and gets nice long walks. Talk to them about how they need their parents to take care of them, ask them what it would be like to be a little kid without any grownup help, and tell them that your dog needs their help to live a happy, healthy life. This will help them understand why dogs need so much attention and care, and help them develop a feeling of responsibility towards the dog.
Teach your children how to give commands to the dog and how to enforce them. Also, make it the child’s responsibility to keep the dog fed and watered, if they are old enough to take the responsibility seriously. These actions will establish that your child is above your dog in the pack and help avoid problems like food aggression. Make a chart for the fridge that shows when Fido gets fed each day and when he goes outside. Have your child check off each chore as it is accomplished. This is a great way to teach young children responsibility, accountability, and caring for other living things.
Raising a Kid-Friendly Dog
The largest part of preparing your dog for the presence of children is conditioning him to accept the kinds of touching, play, activity, and noise associated with children so he won’t react with fear or aggression to these new experiences. If you have friends with kids, let your dog meet them under firmly controlled circumstances. Make sure, however, that these are well behaved, gentle, calm children so they don’t frighten or hurt your dog and set you back in your conditioning. Be sure to reward him with plenty of treats and praise for tolerating young children’s form of play. You can also take your dog to the park or to sports games and practices. This will help him acclimate to the excessive noise, shrieking, and yelling that he is sure to experience with children in the home. Just remember that if he gets frightened or starts to behave aggressively, you should just leave and try something more low-key to start. You can also play with him in a loud, exuberant manner, running around and shrieking with excitement. You may feel silly, but if he gets accustomed to you behaving like this, he’ll be more comfortable when children do the same. Also, get him used to being touched all over, hugged, and tugged on, but always be gentle, never hurt the dog, and always make it a pleasant experience with lots of praise and treats.
Before you have young children in your home, you dog should have mastered sit, down, stay, and leave it or drop it commands. He should be able to hold a down stay for long periods of time. It is extremely important that your dog reacts to these commands without hesitation.
If you are expecting a new baby, get your dog used to any changes in routine, like when he’ll be walked or fed, as long as possible before the baby comes home. Also, set up the nursery way ahead of time if possible. Acclimating your dog to as much of the impending change as possible before he actually has to get used to a new living thing in the house will make the transition much more smooth.
Make sure that you don’t banish or ignore your dog once a new child comes into the home. Although he must be the lowest member in the pack, he is still a part of the family and should be treated as such.
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