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The family dog can add so much quality to your child’s life – IF the relationship is nurtured and encouraged along the right path.
Getting the relationship off to the right start makes it a lot easier to protect your child in the long run. Let your child handle and care for your dog straight away – this establishes the right “pecking order” within your family, which carries into the future even when the dog weighs perhaps ten times more than your child!
Let everyone in the family take turns in feeding and grooming your dog – this not only helps your dog bond equally with everyone, but it also determines his place as being submissive to his human family as he has to depend on ALL of them for his food and care. This will protect your child from the dog treating him or her as though they were lower in the pack.
Teach your child the correct tone of authority to use when talking with your dog. If possible, enroll your dog in obedience training classes and take your child along too. Let your child observe and arrange for him to take part if possible. Not only will this develop your child’s confidence, it will, once again, protect your child by establishing the right relationship between human and dog.
Some children will develop a bond with a dog and the resulting relationship is magical to watch. Our son never spoke in more than a whisper to our dog Cassie – but she was so in tune with him, this was all he ever needed to do.
You Child and Other Dogs
Do train your child in doggie etiquette – it will give them so much confidence when they know how to act with dogs – and the positive response they get from dogs will be such a positive affirmation for them.
Let your child know that when meeting a new dog, the owner should first be asked if it is ok to touch the dog. If it is ok to do so, teach your child to extend their hand, palm down and fist lightly clenched so the dog can sniff the back of your child’s hand. This will protect your child from having his or her fingers nipped should the dog feel inclined to do so!
Once this initial approach has been made and accepted, some gentle conversation is as far as it should go unless the dog’s owner is quite happy for your child to gently stroke the dog – under the dog’s chin is usually the best place to do this.
I would like to add an extra little word of caution here, if I may! Please don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because a dog happens to be small. I have encountered more snappy little dogs than large ones – I think they feel they have to assert themselves just that little bit more in order to make you take them seriously! Do protect your child from small dogs too – treat small dogs with as much respect as you would treat a large dog.
Do be aware that dog’s do not like being stared at – this will be considered as a sign of aggression. Not staring at a dog is so much harder for a child to do, because with all human contact, your child has been conditioned to make direct eye contact. Another thing which needs to be taken into consideration is that a child is closer to a dog’s eye level – AND a big dog’s jaws – they are therefore just so much more vulnerable.
This is one of the main reasons I never encouraged my children to touch strange dogs – after all, prevention is better than cure! Though I can almost always tell a dog’s temperament from it’s posture, expression and general body language, I saw no point in assuming the dog we’d just met wanted us to pet it!
If, however, a dog made this plainly obvious, we were always happy to oblige and ended up having a good old romp, where the dog got thoroughly petted and we ended up covered in slobber and hair – all part of being a dog lover, I’m afraid!
Do also be aware that a strange dog may not accept what your family dog does. Therefore, make it very clear to your child that hugging is permitted only with a dog you KNOW will tolerate this.
Other Things To Be Aware Of
A young dog will be very playful and eager to please, but he will also be a a great deal more brash than an older dog. However, an older dog will be a lot less tolerant that a young one. Our beautiful dog Cassie, who at one time was quite willing to be our son’s pillow, footrest, beanbag, snuggle-rug AND goal-keeper extraordinaire! – would get up and walk away if our granddaughter, Jade went to her for a simple hug. Cassie was an elderly lady by this time, and as far as she was concerned, little Jade was being a pain in the neck – and we taught Jade to respect that.
- no staring – a dog can see this as a challenge.
- no screaming – this evokes the preying trait in a dog
- no playing roughly – things could get a little heated and all out of control!
- no running away (easier said than done!) as once again this evokes the preying instinct in a dog.Your child also needs to know that a dog’s moods vary – thankfully not as much as ours – but they do! A female in season can be in some pain and is certainly a bit under the weather emotionally.
Protect your child by teaching him or her to respect a dog’s space. Never let them reach into a space such as a car or a cage to pet a dog. This could be considered as invasion of privacy and provoke a negative response.
Protect your child by teaching them to recognize a dog’s body language. The warnings signs they should be taught to recognise include raised hackles, growling, a change in body posture, ears flattened against the head, tail between the legs and snarling.
You’d think that was obvious enough, but, brought up to be totally confident with dogs, my fearless granddaughter encountered her first dog snarl and thought it was a smile – oh well – talk about getting it wrong! We had to step in very quickly and take control of the situation!
Never let a child pursue a dog which is backing off or running away. This really is just asking for trouble, as this brings the dog’s fight or flight reflex into operation and if the dog cannot get away from this “thing” that is following – his next option is to fight back – and unfortunately, a child is no match for a jaw full of sharp teeth.
Nervous children need to be protected from dogs just as much as dogs need to be protected from nervous children. After all, you don’t want your nervous youngster to have his very worst fears confirmed by having a bad experience with a dog – even though it was probably his nervousness which brought it on in the first place.
Protect your child by strongly discouraging him or her from nervously touching a dog and then withdrawing the hand. This could invite a nip from the dog – a nervous reaction from the dog in response to your child’s nervous actions.
Keep children who are nervous of dogs away from dogs. A child who is likely to get startled or run away from a dog is likely to provoke the preying instinct in a dog. And I have seen too many dogs put down for biting children when a little bit of common sense could have avoid the entire painful situation in the first place.
We have a little friend who is fascinated by our dogs – but he is also terrified of ALL dogs. At his insistence we tried to introduce him to our gentlest dog – but he panicked so much, he completely confused our dog! Our poor dog’s face was a picture of perplexity!
Now if she had a nervous disposition, the chances of her biting would have been extremely high – however, as she is well and truly socialized – she just sat there and watched his behaviour with the funniest look on her face!
Our little friend now looks at our dogs through the patio doors – and runs and hides behind our curtains if they even so much as look at him. Thankfully they, for the best part, totally ignore him!
Insist on Respect
Our children were taught to respect their pets as much as they respected other friends and family.Very early on they learned that a puppy is not a stuffed toy and that they had to respect the dog’s wishes even if it went against theirs.
They were not allowed to wake a sleeping dog just because they wanted to play with it, however they soon learned all they had to do was play “loud” enough and our dogs would instantly be wide awake and raring to go!
We did teach them to think about how a dog was feeling – and not push a dog beyond its endurance.
Just plain good manners, really! – But it took them a long way and enabled them to create wonderful memories of their charming canine companions. To summarise on ways you can protect your child:-
- Take your time when looking for a dog. Do your homework. Learn the differences between the various breeds and choose one best suited to your lifestyle and experience.
- Be honest with yourself about the amount of time and work you’re willing to put into building a relationship with your dog. Don’t make things difficult on yourself – if you don’t have the time required to properly raise and train a dog – don’t get one.
- If you’re buying a thorough-bred dog – choose a reputable breeder, one who puts a huge amount on emphasis on his dogs’ temperament. A breeder who is proud of his dogs will be willing to guide and advice you throughout the dog’s life.
- If you’re choosing your dog from a Shelter – ensure the staff are able to provide you with as much history as possible about the dog. Also, be very clear about your family circumstances – Shelter staff will be happy to help you choose just the right dog for you.
- Protect your child by training and socializing your dog properly. It’s never too late to start – but consistency is the key. Seek professional help if necessary. Problems will not “just go away”!
- Protect your child by teaching him how to behave around animals. Physically supervise all children – specially little ones – around dogs. Remember, your dog may not tolerate from other children what he tolerates from your – I mean his own children! Take extra safety precautions when other children visit – insist they obey your ground rules – as much as to protect your dog against them as vise versa.Do take a little time to protect your child through some basic training. Your child will benefit not only from an excellent relationship with your family dog, but this will also give your child a greater sense of overall confidence and authority, together with a great sense of leadership.