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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kids and Dogs, good companions?

The child has no escape here and the child
 is on the same level as the dog. In a home situation
 this is a disaster waiting waiting to happen.

Chance & Steeler visit David J. Thompson Mailing~ Day Care Center 
Before any interaction with the dogs, I give instructions to have the children sit in a circle , then I bring the dogs to them. This shows the dog's that I have things in control.  It is just as vital to explain possible upcoming actions by the dog to children before they happen. (dog may give a paw, may lick the face, may sniff, etc.)
After learning about the dogs, all posed very nicely for a picture!  

Kids and dogs, are they always a match made in heaven?

This article was written for families that adopt older dogs. While the basic premise is the same for all dogs, puppies require a bit more stabilization and training by the adults in the home before the child can get involved  in any way.

‘Wow! Kids with a clubhouse and a dog?’ That’s what I used to think as I watched Petey and Spanky in the Little Rascals. Mine was a dog-less home, I had only a pet chicken named Henry, and thus I set out to capture every neighborhood dog that I could find and take it for a walk, regardless of whether it wanted to go or not! Did I ever get bit? Yes, but not from walking a dog. On a day when the neighborhood children were teasing a fierce Chihuahua mix  my leg became a victim and while I was an unwilling participant in the bite, it taught  me respect for the dog! And of course after that, dragging my pet chicken downtown on a leash didn’t look so bad  either!
Lassie of course was another of my favorites. Heck, what kid didn’t want a dog to protect them the way that Lassie had protected Timmy?  Hollywood had some great characters, but they were just that, trained characters, even the dogs. Which brings me to my topic; do kids and dogs always go together?

Having had children and dogs, and going on twenty plus years of experience with both, I can safely state that children and dogs do not always make good companions. As well, I will never agree with this reasoning by some ill prepared people that state, “getting a dog will teach the children some responsibility.” I for one do not want my young children responsible for any other living creature at such a young age. Who needs the pressure? If you are getting a dog that you intend to care for yourself while teaching your children lessons along the way, that’s fine, no one really suffers.

I’ve seen some absolutely wonderful dogs up for adoption but on occasion difficulties do arise. One has to realize that a shelter only has information from the owner who surrendered the dog. If I drop off Fido and say, “yeah, he loves kids!” they may take that as fact until they can disprove it. The truth is, until you get the dog into your home you won’t know for sure how it will get along with your children. Dogs may act fine until they begin to settle in, and that’s when Cutie can turn into Cujo! It may happen all at once or you may see it gradually.

Within the last few years, Therapy Dogs International has required children to be near the immediate area where dogs are being tested for therapy work and I can see why this feature was proposed. Young children have ear curdling screams and quick unpredictable movements which to a dog can be seen as possible prey to be hunted down, or, an untrustworthy source.

Keep in mind older dogs that have not grown up around children are not used to the closeness that a child adorns on them. You know, sharing the love, the spit, the hugging, and the hair tugging which youngin’s seem to want to thrust upon a dog. Kids sometimes show a kind of... well, ‘in you face’ love that only a mom can enjoy!

It’s my personal view that parents, while not thinking their kids are perfect, certainly believe they would never hurt an animal and this is true of the majority, but it is not the hurting of the animal that  triggers most dog bites. Actually what causes most attacks are children doing what children do best which is innocently giving their unconditional love to anyone or anything around them. Heck, I’ve seen youngin’s cuddle with a hermit crab and get pinched!

Much of the problem is that children just don’t know how to respect the personal space of a dog and this is usually when the growls and nips start to happen. With that being said, know that when you adopt a dog and you have children, you now have double duty on your hands! Not only do you have to keep your dog up to date with training, you also have to remind your kids how to respect the dog’s boundaries as well as respect the dog’s warning signs. Only when a child learns to respect the dog, will there be some peace in the home. Don’t feel bad, it’s not just young kids who act like this, I’ve seen some seriously sick minded adults act ridiculously stupid around a dog!

 When my oldest son was about three years old he received a bite on the nose while bending over a mother dog that was in a box with her puppies. Sad lesson learned, but a lesson learned never the less for both of us. It made me more aware of what my kids needed to learn and my son had a constant reminder of how to respect a dogs space each time he looked in a mirror.  If you were to ask my children today about their childhood, they would tell you that I put the family dog before them, but they did not see, nor could they comprehend, what I was really doing which was to give them a constant reminder of how to respect a dog in order to keep themselves safe from harm. Now if you ask my husband the same question his response would be, "I wish I was treated as good as the dog!"

No dog should ever be left alone in a room with a child. Even though you go over rules on a regular basis with your children and do regular training with your dog, both child and dog really only remember the last few hours of their life unless an incident was painful or frightening.
If you have ever asked your pre-school child what he or she did during the school day , you'll find you won't get much of an answer, and if you do it won't make much sense anyway because they forget!   This is the reason that parents, dog trainers, and teachers, are repetitive with teaching, as neither dog nor youngin’ remember what they have learned the first few times a lesson is taught and some do not retain what they have learned very long after they have learned it!

Unfortunately words are not as strong as actions. We can tell a child, “hot, don’t touch!” But what does hot really mean to a child? How many children actually burn themselves before they understand what you are trying to tell them? Suffice it to say I purposely told  my children to touch a hot surface so they would get a little burn and learn their lessons just a bit quicker! Okay folks, don’t turn me in to CPS, it’s just disturbed humor, it did not really happen!  But you get the meaning?

A hug around the dog’s neck or a kiss on the cheek is just too tempting for young children. Remember, kids act on impulse and dogs act on instinct. It is important to recognize the two for what they are.

 Impulse: A sudden wish or urge that prompts an unpremeditated act or feeling; an abrupt inclination:
Instinct: Acting or happening without apparent forethought, prompting, or planning:

So, what’s the deal? What should we be telling our children? Even if you can get across a few of these basic rules it will be helpful.

Always act in a calm manner around a dog

Always ask an adult if you can pet a  dog

Never approach the dog with a raised hand over the head for petting, go under the chin instead. A hand over the head can be seen as a threat to a dog.

Never put your face up to a dog’s face

Don’t stare at a dog

Don't jump on the dog

don't hug/pull around the neck or body.

No screaming and running around the dog

Don't tease any dog, especially if the dog is in a pen, behind a fence, or tied up

No tug games. When you play tug and the dog ends up with the prize you are actually putting them above yourself and other humans in the home.

Always keep in mind that dogs do not see young children as being above them, they are seen as equal or lesser than the dog.

Growling, tail tucking, cowering, and ears back, are a dog’s way of saying, 'please leave me alone!' teach your kids these cues

And a really big misnomer is, 'a wagging tail means the dog is happy and wants to play!'   This can also mean , 'Attack mode.'            

                                     WOW!  Doesn’t owning a dog sound like fun?

Ah, don’t despair folks! Many dogs are adopted into a family and work out just fine, but teaching children the correct way to respect and play with a dog is not only playing it safe but it can be fun and rewarding as well. Showing a child how to train a dog using positive and fun training methods can fill the child’s need to be with the dog and give them a sense of pride and accomplishment at the same time! Keep in mind that that all training should be supervised by an adult and lessons should be kept short. Lessons can occur frequently throughout the day but they should be kept to fifteen minutes max as a child does not yet have the tool needed not to show their frustration. Believe it or not your dog will pick up all frustration in a human's voice.  Again, this goes along with a child’s impulse reaction, so always explain what and why you are doing something and keep it fun for both the child and the dog!

Safe Play
Games like hide and seek (hiding something and asking the dog to find it), and fetch games are fun and non threatening to dogs as long as the kids don’t chase after them to get the object they’ve asked the dog to fetch. The dog should be taught to bring the object back and drop it.   Teaching objects is also a fun way to play with a dog. Train one item weekly, and once the dog knows that item start teaching another item the next week and so forth. All trainings should be done under parent supervision and remember, the better the reward the better the dog’s attention! 
 Like everything else, this learning process has to start in the home.

How to protect ones body

Just as important as teaching children how to respect a dog is  teaching them what to do if a dog suddenly goes on the attack! Now there's one I bet you didn't think of!

Tell the child not to scream or run. tell them to drop to the ground on their belly, bring their knees up to their chest and curl up like a ball, protect the back of their head and neck with their hands by interlacing their fingers, or if they have a backpack, book, toy, etc. use that to protect their head and neck and wait for the dog to leave. He may get in a few good bites, but if they respond to the attack as little as possible,  as hard as it might be, chances are the dog will no longer view them as a threat and will leave.

Keep in mind that parenting skills include teaching your children how to act in  foreseen and unforeseen situations with animals. Showing young children what they can do rather than just saying what they can’t do and guiding them through it with a ‘hands on demonstration’ is very much worth the time and effort in keeping your children safe.

"So, until next time, before seeking out your new dog, guide your kids through the rules and hey, check out some pet chickens as well!  After all, they make for better eatin’ in the long run! "

Click here for some great advice on  kids and dog interaction from the ASPCA

Click here to view a great youtube video on reading a dog’s body language. After you view it, see if it's  worth watching with your children.

And Just for fun! Check out Jessie the Jack Russell! Dogs with excess energy do very well with learning tricks. And no good deed goes without reward! This should get your kids energized and ready to help you  train! 

Steeler (Therapy visit)
The child is near the dog but acting accordingly.
Basically just not moving! If he
were a touchy- feely- mobile kid there may
be a different outcome under the best
of circumstances. Why? Well, one step backwards
and the child would fall on the dog.

Chance (therapy visit)
 Chance was not brought up with kids like Steeler was, but he is trained to act accordingly.
Mack, the young lady, is acting calm and although close, she is not  right in his face, and both dog and human are looking away from each other so there is no threat.

This is a therapy visit and this adult
 knows my dog fairly well, but  kids
 do this all to often and this should
be avoided. Humm, maybe the
grownups are setting the bad

Normally this would be a NO, NO.The child's hand is
clearly over the dog's head and their faces are in close
proximity.  A nervous/fearful dog might bite in this situation.  

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