Welcome to the 12th post in our Dog Training blog series. This ongoing series features guest posts by local professional dog trainers and highlights some of the big questions they address to their clients. Today's post was written by Adam Miller of Big Dog Canine Behavioral Dog Training.
It is very important to carefully monitor and supervise your children’s initial interactions with a new dog. Both kids and dogs (especially puppies) can be impatient, inquisitive and easily over-excited, so it is crucial that an adult oversees the introduction to be sure that it goes. Kids and dogs need to be taught how to interact with one another. As of 2015, over 50% of households is the United States own a dog and the benefits of having a dog in a family are wonderful for a child – the relationship with a dog teaches empathy and compassion, fosters self-esteem, provides love and affection, teaches responsibility and promotes physical activity. With benefits like these, it is easy to see why so many parents choose to have a family dog.
Unfortunately, according to the CDC, approximately 800,000 dog bites are reported annually in the United States and more than half of the bite victims are children. Additionally, children are much more likely than adults to be bitten in the face, neck or head regions because a child is literally face height to a dog because of its small size. It is important to realize that children can be very threatening to a dog because kids tend to make abrupt movements and use high-pitched noises which can be extremely intimidating and upsetting to a dog. Many young children can view a dog as a toy and frequently want to squeeze, pull, poke or chase the animal. Some kids may have difficulty controlling these antagonistic impulses. Furthermore, young toddlers cannot empathize with a dog’s discomfort or fear of a situation. Even though school-age children do learn empathy for another living creature, they usually lack the skills necessary to properly interpret a dog’s body language or warning signs.
Dogs are pack oriented animals with a hierarchical social system. Though dogs tend to view adult humans as “alpha”, children can easily be viewed as playmates or even subordinates. If a dog is uncomfortable around children, it may posture, snarl or even lash out with a bite This is a dog’s way of communicating irritation or displeasure and the dog is only attempting to correct the child in the way the dog knows best. Furthermore, some dogs just do not like kid and this could be due to no exposure to or bad experiences with children. Dogs will be dogs and children will be children.
The following guidelines will help ensure a harmonious relationship between children and dogs.
1.) Always supervise your child’s interactions with a dog. Any child under the age of 12 should always have an adult present. The adult should stay in the background but be ready to intervene if the situation looks like it is not going well.
2.) Never assume that a dog will not react to a small child. If startled or hurt, even the best behaved dog may lash out at or correct a child. Closely observe a dog’s body language when interacting with children. If a dog growls at a child, keeps turning from a child, constantly moves away from a child or the hair on a dog’s back stands up, it is time to intervene and teach the child to leave the dog alone.
3.) Teach your child that they must always ask permission before approaching or touching someone else’s dog. Confinement can make a dog more territorial or reactive, so children should always ignore dogs that are confined to a fenced yard, alone in a vehicle, in a crate or tethered to a tree.
4.) Teach your child how to properly introduce themselves to a dog. Demonstrate to your child how to first offer a closed fist to the dog so the animal can smell the child. Show your children how to pet the dog on its chin or back first and to avoid sensitive areas like the ears, feet, tail or belly. It is best to let the dog nose its way to the child instead of the other way around because you should give the dog time to get used to the child and initiate first contact.
5.) Teach your child how to read a dog’s body language so they can notice when a dog is getting stressed, upset or dominant. If a dog does not want to interact with a child, then leave the dog alone because chances are the dog will come around once it gets used to the child and does not view the child as a threat.
6.) Demonstrate how to pet a dog on your child’s arm. Explain that poking, pulling, squeezing or hitting a dog is not okay and can quickly lead to a correction from the dog.
7.) Teach your child to never put their face near a dog’s face. It is just too risky and can easily lead to a bite if the dog feels nervous, scared or trapped.
8.) Never bother a dog that is eating, sleeping or chewing on something. Explain to the child that it is best to “let a sleeping dog lie”.
9.) Do not allow rough-housing or teasing. Do not allow your child to climb or lay on a dog. Use safe toys to show your child how to properly play with a dog. Rough-housing can encourage dominant or aggressive behavior in a dog.
10.) Children learn from modeling after their parents, so be sure to implement all of these guidelines when interacting with a dog. Never yell at or use physical punishment on a dog. Your child will think that this is the proper way to correct a dog when mistakes are made.
11.) Allow older children to get involved with the caring of your dog. Young children can help with the dog’s watering and feeding while older children can become involved in the training or grooming of the dog. Depending on the dog’s leash manners, older children can also take the dog for short walks (supervised of course). Being involved in these activities will help the child to be seen as a leader thus gaining the dog’s respect and trust.
Following these guidelines will help ensure a happy and safe relationship between your child and dogs. The rewards can be wonderful if your child is taught how to properly interact with a dog -- a truly loving bond and a lifetime love of dogs without fear or anxiety. If you have concerns, I highly recommend that you get help from a dog training professional in your area and it is a good idea to educate the whole family in order the prevent bad habits from being formed or nurtured. As always, remember to stay calm and confident when working with a child or a dog. Set a good example and always practice what you preach.
This post was written by Adam Miller of Big Dog Canine Behavioral Training. For more information or to learn how Adam can help with your dog needs, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.