Children and dogs
Submitted by: Four Positive Paws
Approximately 4 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the US. (These are reported bites only. The real number is suspected to be 3 times higher). The majority of them are children. Most of them are boys between the ages of five and nine and were bitten by their own dogs. Most of these bites could have been prevented.
The golden rule about dogs and kids is to always directly supervise when dogs and children under age 12 interact. It is a myth that only certain breeds bite and that dogs naturally love children. Every dog may bite under the wrong circumstances and dogs that love children are dogs that made good experiences with them.
The following recommendations are for dogs that are friendly.
If you have children in your life — or if are about to add a child to your family — and own a dog who is wary of or cautious around children, we urge you to seek the advice of a professional positive dog trainer.
It is very important to teach children some basic rules about how to act around dogs and how to handle them. It is equally important to socialize dogs — even the ones who do not live with children — to kids. The more positive (from the dog’s perspective!) experiences dogs have with baby humans, the better. Dogs should associate children with something good, not with little fingers that stab their eyes and poke their ears, pull their tail and tackle them while they are trying to take a nap or chew a toy. Thus, teach your children to ask the dog to come to them when they would like to pet him (if your dog does not willingly approach your children, please do not force him to interact) and teach them to respect the dog’s space when he is napping, resting or eating.
If you have your children’s friends or your brother’s kids over and you notice them teasing your puppy, please stop them! If they refuse, it is your responsibility to keep your dog and the children safe. This may mean that you need to crate your dog in a safe room while your children’s friends are over.
Every child needs to be taught that she can never play with Boomer without adult supervision and that she needs to treat him like a living, breathing being with needs of his own. Teach your child to walk calmly around dogs, speak quietly and gently and to throw things for the dog rather than at the dog. Although many dogs are very stoic, like humans, they do not enjoy pain and even if they tolerate it, wise parents do not to take this for granted.
It may surprise you that few dogs enjoy hugging and that many bites are related to tight hugs by young children. Dogs may feel trapped and as they are canines, not primates, they do not understand this human display of affection. Teach your children not to hug your dog while you gently teach your dog to accept hugs from you — the adult — so that eventually everyone in the family can safely live with a dog who enjoys hugging. A word of caution, not every dog can be taught to tolerate hugging and other handling exercises. It depends on the dog’s age, temperament and his history with children and adults. It is best to start this type of training when Boomer is a puppy.
Always crate or confine your dog in a safe room when you cannot supervise while he is around children under the age of 12.
Encourage your children to help you teach your dog his basic manners and some tricks. Children love trick training and clicker training, in particular, can help forge a strong bond between dogs and children and teach children empathy and compassion for animals. Clicker training is non-confrontational and will teach your dog to accept you and your family as his benevolent leaders — no need to scold or punish your puppy physically. Your dog will learn to associate your child’s presence with fun training sessions and treats! Let your neighbor’s children feed treats to your puppy after asking your puppy to perform a simple behavior, like a sit. Children should always be associated by dogs with great things, like yummy treats. Please coach your children during these exercises.
Further, teach your dog to enjoy being touched and handled so he learns to associate being touched with favorite treats. Thus, should he ever have his tail pulled — he will shrug it off rather than feel threatened.
- Gently hold his paws and give a treat.
- Give him a hug and give a treat.
- Look inside his mouth and give a treat.
- Gently tug his fur, ears, tail and so on and give a treat each time.
- While puppy is eating, walk over to him and drop a tasty treat into his bowl in addition to what’s already in there! You are teaching him that our presence near their food is a great thing.
Making this fun and enjoyable to your dog will get him used to human handling and our presence near their resources, such as food and toys. It will teach him to enjoy children and tolerate vet exams — the types of handling your dog may not be too fond of at first. These exercises are for adults only. Make sure your kids do not imitate this.
Additionally, be sure to teach your dog not to view children as prey objects. It is only safe for your kids to allow Boomer to chase them under your direct supervision (it is never safe to allow children to chase dogs). It is dangerous, however, if your dog jumps on your kids, nips at their heels and pant legs and otherwise treats them like his squeaky toys. It may be cute for your little puppy to do this now, but what happens when Boomer weighs 90lbs?
Instead, have your kids attach a favorite dog toy to a 6-ft string and run off as your dog gets to chase them and attack the toy instead. If your dog gets carried away, instruct your children to “freeze like a Popsicle” with their hands tucked into their armpits and have them ignore your dog. The games can resume when Fido is calmer. If he gets rough again, have them say “oops” and put your dog away until he settles down.
If, while you do any of the above exercises, your dog stiffens, growls, lunges, barks or snaps at you, call a professional, positive trainer immediately. Do not punish your dog for being upset. If you punish him for feeling tense, he may not warn you with a growl the next time. Your dog may learn to inhibit growling but he will still feel upset and thus may bite without warning. Growling is part of the canine communication repertoire. It is a warning sign that tells you something is not right with your dog. Heed this warning and get professional help right away. Choose a professional positive dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist who is familiar with systematic counter conditioning and desensitization.
Last but not least, please make sure that your dog is healthy.
Pain is a big stressor for anyone, dogs are no exception. Many bites occur during times when dogs are in pain but the owner failed to notice until it was too late. Ear infections, for example, can be very painful for a dog and a dog that is normally very tolerant may very well bite if his infected ears are touched or pulled.
Other medical issues owners may miss include post surgery pain (make sure your puppy gets to rest after his/her spay/neuter surgery!,) tooth decay, arthritis, knee pain, hip dysplasia, Lyme disease, thyroid issues, urinary tract infections, internal/external parasites, and more. So please take your dog to get his annual physical (more often for pups and geriatric dogs) and be sure to check your dog yourself on a regular basis.
Remember to enjoy your puppy and to keep training sessions fun for everyone involved. Soon, your puppy will be a cherished family member you can be proud of.
Clicker Puppy, by Karen Pryor
Living with Kids and Dogs … without losing your mind, by Colleen Pelar