Children and Dogs
By Barbara Masi
Living with a dog can be beneficial to children. Dogs can enhance children’s self-esteem, teach them responsibility and help them to learn empathy. However, children and dogs may not always automatically start off with a wonderful relationship. Parents must be willing to teach the dog and the child acceptable limits of behavior in order to make their interaction pleasant and safe. This is true with ALL breeds of dogs.
Please DON’T get a dog FOR your child. This is a family decision and a family dog. It may be your intention to have the dog belong to your child but your dog will bond first and closest to the person who feeds it, lets him outdoors, generally cares for him, and spends the most time with him. Young children especially are not capable of walking a dog of substantial size and strength. These days, school age kids’ schedules often call for the children to be away from home more than adults, so guess who he will bond with first?
Teaching your child to behave around ANY breed of dog … ANY size of dog is most important. Puppies are a little different and may be adaptable to more handling and kissing … but many of us get our dogs from rescues / shelters where they do not know the true background on the dog. Use these guidelines when you first get a dog:
- Respect the dog’s privacy and quiet – all living creatures are entitled to this. A child must be taught not to bother the dog while it is eating, resting or sleeping. Often having a crate in your home provides a “safe place” for your dog during the introductory period as it will allow him to feel safe and secure in his “den” – his own space. Feeding time is an especially important time to keep your child away from your dog in the beginning. If you wish to allow your child to feed the dog a treat, allow this only UNDER YOUR SUPERVISION until the dog becomes more used to his new family.
- Do not disturb a sleeping dog – no one – child or adult — should ever touch a sleeping dog because it may startle the animal, resulting in a growl or even a snap. Be aware that some dogs sleep with their eyes open. If you must wake your sleeping dog, call his name and have him recognize that you are there and have him come to you rather than you to him.
- Do not allow your child to disturb the dog when he is laying down – no crawling up to, running up to, laying upon, kissing, hugging, petting or jumping on the dog when he is relaxing (even if the dog is awake!). The dog may choose to get up and walk away, but the next time he may growl or bite. Do not allow a child to follow the dog when it goes to its safe spot – his corner, his bed or his crate. He needs a place to get away alone when his tolerance level has been reached.
- Kindness/Gentleness – a child old enough to have a dog share their home must be old enough to treat it with kindness. If they are unable to understand this, they are not ready to have a dog (or other animal) as a pet. Do not allow your kids to chase your new dog. This includes crowding the dog or backing him into a situation from which he feels he cannot retreat. This provokes fear biting from any dog. This is also where the crate comes in – the crate is off limits to everyone but the dog. Keep the door to the crate open so he can escape to it when he feels he needs to. Teach all children NOT to reach into the crate when the dog is in it. Remember that staring at a dog is a threat – it is a challenge that dogs use between themselves and they will often respond assertively when stared at.
- Horsing around or play fighting – With a new dog in the house, children who often find that this type of activity has been customary in their home will have to find another place to do this. Out of doors is best for any activity like this, as long as the dog is not outside with the child. Any type of physical contact that appears threatening to the dog will result in a growl or bark – continued barking will occur as a warning. Once the warning is ignored, the dog may proceed to the next step which is to snap or bite the child. Once the child and the dog have adjusted to being together the play time may be more rowdy between the two.
- Don’t allow your child to hug or kiss your new dog’ face for the first few months – most dogs will not feel comfortable with this behavior until they have warmed up to you over a few months. Your dog would rather be scratched on the chest. In addition, a dog may see a child’s hand upon his head as threatening, especially from a being their own size and one as active and confident as a child. Let the dog come to you and the child. With time, your dog will learn to trust and love you both.
- Door Bolting – Be extremely careful about leaving house doors, cars doors and gates open. Dogs move so quickly that they will be out the door and down the street in a second. Teach your child the importance of this responsibility in order to keep your dog safe. Make sure you have a hold of your dog’s collar before any door is opened to let anyone in/out of your house. It is a good idea to actively teach your dog the command for “wait” and use it consistently, reducing their desire to bolt through any open doors.
- Sleeping in the child’s bed – your new dog should NEVER be allowed to sleep with a child until they have been totally established in the household, which could take as long as an entire year. This is true of any breed dog. Permitting a dog to sleep with a child allows the dog equal status with the child and may cause many behavioral problems from the dog.
- Obedience School – We highly recommend that any dog – especially those living with a child — be taken to obedience school by an adult (PetSmart & PetCo offer these classes at a reasonable fee). As a parent, you want to provide the safest and happiest home environment for your entire family.
In summary, it is the responsibility of the adult/parent adopting a dog to understand the dog’s needs and to teach these rules of behavior for interacting with a dog to their child. Most dogs are docile and will seldom bite without cause but you do not know the background of a shelter dog. Any dog will bite an adult/child as a last resort, as a reaction to stress and fear for their own safety. The guidelines described herein, should be followed by all adults, as well as by children. And remember……….
CHILDREN SHOULD NEVER BE LEFT ALONE WITH A DOG.