I’ve seen a lot of great information floating around the internet lately about children interacting with dogs. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of not-so-good information out there as well. This is an issue that is very near and dear to my heart, as I have two beautiful dogs who are part of our family, but we are also expecting our first child in just 11 short weeks. My husband and I have discussed at length how we plan to train both our dogs AND our children to interact with one another.
And there it is. I said it. Yes, I plan on training my child. Many parents don’t like that term, though I’m not entirely sure why. That is what a parent does on a daily basis, whether they use that term or not. Maybe it’s just the word “train”. That’s what you do to an animal, not a child. Let me replace the word train with the word teach and maybe I’ll get some of you back. It is not uncommon to hear talk of dogs “being good with kids” and how to teach a dog to do so. So dog training will not be the topic of this post, but the intent here is to open the eyes of those who see it as a one-way street – where the dog is the only one who needs
training teaching, and those who believe that the dog is the source of any problems that arise between children and k9.
Before going any deeper, I want to ask two simple questions.
Question 1: Is it fair to expect a dog to respectfully interact with children, but not teach a child how to respectfully interact with dogs?
Question 2: How difficult would it be to keep your cool in a situation where someone came at you in a threatening manner and was was disrespectful of your personal space? Maybe they even touched you in an uncomfortable spot, hit you, or roughed you up… would you be upset?
If someone, whether that person was a stranger or not, interacted with you in a way similar to that outlined in question 2, you would obviously be upset. Now, you may not lash out at the person… but then again, what if you were having a bad day? What if you were in pain and that person touched you in a way that caused discomfort? Chances are, you would do or say something. You would also be thinking about how rude that person had been, how they had no manners.
Now let’s translate this into an interaction between a dog and a child (or any human being, really, but for the purpose of this post, we will talk about children). The interaction can go either way, the dog can show a lack of manners towards the child, or the child can show a lack of manners towards the dog. Many people think it’s acceptable to teach their dog to “behave” (i.e. accept anything a child does to him/her) around children, but not teach their children how to act around dogs. I’m not sure where this mentality comes from… I suspect it’s a form of the “kids will be kids” mindset. But does anyone really expect a dog, no matter how friendly, to remain polite and tolerant in a situation where his space is crowded, he is being touched in uncomfortable ways, hit, or having pain caused to him (even unintentionally)? I think the answer to this question is pretty well answered by how YOU would answer that question about yourself. Would you remain polite and tolerant? I sure as heck would not.
As cute as this may be to some:
For me, this photo brings on a mild anxiety attack. Imagine how uncomfortable this would be for the dog… now imagine if this dog’s hips were bothering him that day. There are so many horrible things that could happen here, I don’t even want to think about it.
So folks, my point here is this: YES, it is important to train (or teach, if you prefer) your children how to act around dogs. And not only if you have a family pet. Think about how many situations there are in which a child could come in close contact with a dog: while on a walk in the park or around your neighborhood, a situation in which a stray dog approaches, when visiting a friend or family member’s house… etc. Kids and dogs will interact and it is best for everyone to know how to do so safely. I have seen FAR too many circumstances involving children and dogs recently that have sent my stomach into my throat to watch. Children chasing dogs, jumping on dogs, hitting them, pulling their hair, pulling their tails, sitting on them, “petting” them roughly (AKA smacking the dog)…
Parents, COME ON! No matter how “nice the doggy is”, a dog in any of the above situations is NOT happy and it is only a matter of time before he or she gets frustrated enough to let your child know. It may take years for the family pet to reach that point, but just because your dog handles it so well doesn’t mean you should continue to let it happen. It is imperative to teach children to treat dogs with respect, just as we teach them to treat other children and adults with respect. The consequences can be devastating, even fatal, for both the child and the dog – yes, we have to think about the dog in the unfortunate circumstances of a dog bite as well. It’s not just the child who will suffer. RARELY does a dog bite without being provoked, yet it will be the dog who pays the ultimate price of euthanasia in the end.
Here is a link to a great blog post on dog bite statistics and prevention:
And parents, some very important ground rules for children when interacting with dogs:
Never let a child do any of the following: Sit on a dog, chase a dog, corner a dog, take a toy or food from a dog (this is always an adult’s job), pull a dog’s hair, play with a dog’s lips or any other part of the dog’s face, lay on a dog, hit a dog (YES, this includes rough petting), pull or grab a dog’s tail, approach a strange dog without asking his or her owner, or do anything to a dog that you might even slightly consider aversive to the dog.
Parents: please, please learn about dog bite prevention and teach your children how to properly interact with dogs. There is so much information out there. Do some research, it truly could save a life. So many people are completely unaware of this issue, even in their own homes (likely because their dog has yet to lash out. Remember, this doesn’t mean he/she won’t. Just that it hasn’t happened to date). If just ONE person decides that it’s important to teach their child how to responsibly behave around dogs because of this post, it will be worth it.
For further reading on the subject, please do a bit of research on:
– How to safely introduce your dogs to children and vice versa
– Canine body language
– Bite prevention and dog safety