Kids with dogs…How much is too much?
I picked a really hot topic this week to discuss, and it was complicated to stay as objective as possible. After all, my entire blog was created because I wanted to help people keep their animals and kiddos safe in the most reasonably responsible way. I struggled making this post happen because I was a bit worried about the reception it might have, but the importance outweighed the worry in the end. I pride myself in having a very open view of what my clients are doing with their dogs, and respecting their wants as long as it’s not detrimental to the dog, or to the relationship they have. But the relationship we teach our kids to have with animals will be imperative to the future of animal care and understanding, so it’s important that we put our pride aside, and look at this as rationally as possible.
I have two kids, at the moment they are 2 and 7 years old, and they have a fairly good understanding of what it means to respect an animal’s space. For instance we have a 14-year-old dog, that also has some physical health issues that have always made rough play a struggle for him. From the moment the kids were able to move around, we always tried to explain that Scoonie was hurting and they should leave him alone, other than supervised pats and belly rubs. Karma loves kids, so she has always been different, if anything we have to chase her away occasionally because she just CAN’T stop kissing babies! Vino is a giant mess, he tends to be an unstoppable force, and unknowingly knocks kids over quite often. Not a single one of my 4 legged kids has an issue with the 2 legged variety, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t follow some basic ground rules, because like it or not, EVERY dog has a threshold, and it is a possibility that your child can pass it if they don’t understand how to interact with a dog respectfully.
Supervision We ALWAYS supervise our dogs ! Like I said above, ALL of my dogs enjoy the company of people, including the tiny ones, but that doesn’t mean I throw my kids and dogs in the back yard alone and go inside. If we are spending time in the yard, the dogs and the kids are with us. If I leave the yard, the dogs and/or the kids go with me so I can make sure everything is going smoothly. It doesn’t mean I don’t trust my kids or my dogs…but I don’t. Let me explain! For the most part, my kids have been raised around dogs, and I expect them to treat them with respect, BUT that doesn’t mean all of the neighborhood kids, friends, and even my kids, can’t do something that can put my dog in a compromising position, so leaving them alone would just be a mistake on my part. If we have a lot of kids running in and out of the house, I don’t even slightly hesitate to either put the dogs in my room, or in their rooms (crates) because they are safe and comfortable there.
Structured Time- By no means am I saying my kids and my dogs can’t spend time together, in fact, I love including my kids in the training endeavors we have with each dog. My oldest child likes to follow me to agility so he can spend some time with Karma, and it’s a good exchange because I’m there walking him through everything, and keeping an eye on their time together. I love when my clients bring their kiddos to class, it gives them the chance to see other dogs, practice a reasonable respect of each dogs needs, and learn how to interact with dogs other than their own. It also gives me a chance to cover respectful interactions with their own dogs, as well as when they meet other people’s dogs with the entire class.
Personal Space- Just like us, dogs have their own level of personal space, or a “threshold” if you will, and on average we all get to know our dog’s level fairly well. Understanding that is imperative to helping them have the best life possible and the best possible relationship with little ones. I know that everyone wants those cute snuggly pictures of their dog and their child, but it’s just not doable for some pups. The stress alone can be enough to bring about odd situations that you may never have expected to happen. Yes, ANY dog can bite. Period.
So let’s be real, and this is where things get fuzzy for some…riding a dog is NOT cute…for a lot of reasons! Health should be a give me…but hey, maybe not, so imagine a lot of weight on your back at all times, bouncing around and screaming, you can’t possibly imagine that would feel great over the years! Remember that threshold I mentioned above? The one that EVERYONE has? Yeah, eventually there is a possibility that it will be passed, and it can most definitely be by doing something your child has done a thousand times to your dog, and when they bite, who will you be angry with? A select few may say the child, but for those that blame the dog, because they “should know better”, that’s just silly. No one, I repeat NO ONE wants to have uninvited children ride on them, jump on them, stand on them, kicking, hitting, punching, biting, poking, or pulling on any sensitive areas (ears, tail, legs, face). So why would I assume my dog would like it? If you wouldn’t be amused by a child doing something to you, it’s likely your dog really wouldn’t be either, they simply tolerate it. Again, YOU are your dog’s best advocate, so protect them. Each dog is different, we can’t possibly expect our friend’s dog to be okay with the same things you do with your dog. So teaching a basic respect of personal space, that can be generalized will protect your dog and child.
Let me be clear. I absolutely am NOT saying that no dog likes to be snuggled, or have play time with a child. Just make sure it’s not the other way around. Let your dog decide what they are comfortable with, and within reason. Karma wiggled her head right under Aiden while he was sobbing about having to take a photo with my lights. I ended up with this image, and I am so smitten with it. It sums up her love for people, and this child in particular, BUT I wouldn’t recommend placing a child on top of a dog.
When I discuss physical respect with elementary school classes, I always make sure they understand that riding on a dog is unacceptable because I hear, and see it a lot! I also cover;
- Jumping on a dog’s body
- Bothering a sleeping, or eating dog
- Removing things from the mouth
- Pulling on ears, tails, legs, and faces
- Petting without asking
- Hitting with, well anything…hands and feet included!
- Rolling all over the dog’s body
- If a dog growls, immediately STOP what you are doing, and back away!
Let Them Tell You- This is something I am asked a lot! “What do I do when my dog growls at a child?” Really, you know your dog best. If your dog is uncomfortable, the last thing you want to do is correct away a growl, and allow the issue to continue. If a child is pulling on your dog’s ears, and he/she growls, pay attention, it means something! It means they are uncomfortable, and as their advocate, you’ll want to REMOVE the problem. First of all, don’t let children pull ears…rude…second of all, they are plainly telling you they don’t like it. If you hush the growl and keep them there, it’s likely they will move to the next step, which can be a nip/bite. The average response usually is, “my dog would never”, or “he’s not aggressive”. This has NOTHING to do with being aggressive, and ANY dog can bite if left to fend for themselves in the wrong situation. Listen to your dog, and protect them!
So let’s back up a moment here, am I saying we can’t let our kids play with our dogs? No way! I LOVE the relationship that my kids have with my dogs, in fact, that’s a huge reason WHY I have dogs! I do however stand behind supervised time, and teaching my kids that my dog is not in fact a pony. I would expect someone to respect my space, and my body, so I should be teaching my babes to do the same, wether it’s a dog or a person. So think twice before you post images of your child standing on your puppy, or jumping up and down on him while he’s sleeping. It’s not that anyone wants to “judge” your choices, but people well versed in animal behavior will tell you, it’s just not a good idea! Don’t forget, YOU are your dog’s best advocate, so pride aside, there is NOTHING wrong with a dog disliking a finger in the eye, take the time to ensure your kids learn to be respectful and kind, teach your dog how to leave, and learn to listen to what they are telling you. Your dog and your child will likely have the greatest adventures ahead of them, if they can learn to coexist with respect!