Results for: kids and dogs
Jennifer Shryock, founder of Family Paws Parent Education* is an expert on kids and dogs and has dedicated herself to helping families with babies or toddlers have a safe and happy life with the family dog. She is passionate about Creating Dog Aware (TM) Generations so that kids grow up understanding dog body language and how to interact safely and successfully with dogs. Jen has been a guest on Your Family Dog Podcast twice, once to talk about preparing for baby, and once to talk about the challenges of puppyhood. We plan on having her back a lot more as her knowledge of dogs and children is extensive, insightful, and practical.
On the website for Family Paws is a resources page with free downloadable PDFs. These great graphics illustrate important points for keeping kids and dogs safe. One that I use a lot, not only with parents of babies, but with any one who wants to understand what supervision really means when it comes to dogs, is called “The 5 Types of Supervision.” I have found that most people are very well intentioned when it comes to supervising their dogs. The problem is, they do not realize what real supervision entails. It is not enough to just be in the room with the dog. You have to be actively engaged if you want any realistic chance of preventing an unpleasant incident.
If you are not paying attention to the actions of both dog and child and watching for stress signals in the dog, you are likely to miss the opportunity to prevent a situation from escalating from uncomfortable to difficult to possibly dangerous. I like the graphic from Family Paws, because it clearly illustrates what is and is not supervision and what you need to do to make sure everyone is safe.
A good companion graphic to this one is called Success Stations. “A success station is any designated spot that a dog is limited to so that they have no options but to succeed.” Gates, crates, and tethers are all useful for providing your dog with a place he or she feels safe. I have used success stations with kids as well as with other dogs. In the Your Family Dog episode on Challenging puppies, we discussed how kids can help with making success stations by decorating a trifold presentation screen and putting that in front of the crate of a resting dog, This provides a visual barrier for the dog as well as a visual reminder for the kids that the dog is resting and cannot be disturbed.
My own dog Zuzu sometimes needs a break from the grandkids in my house so we have a sign on the gate to my office that reads: “Zuzu’s Alone Zone.” When she is in the office and the gate is closed, the kids have to ask if they can come in. Knowing she has a safe and quiet place to not be disturbed has really helped Zuzu to cope with the happy chaos of 4 children.
Helping your child and dog learn to love each other by having a plan that provides a safe and comfortable environment will set everyone: dogs, kids, and parents up for success.
From the Family Paws Parent Eduction Website:
“Jennifer Shryock is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), owner of Family Paws™ LLC in Cary, NC and holds a degree in Special Education…As a Mother, dog behavior consultant and teacher, Jennifer recognized a need for support and education for these families and began building resources for new and expecting families through her own business Family Paws. A consistent need for this specialized service led to the creation of the highly endorsed international program Dogs & Storks® for expecting and adopting families and then years later Dogs & Toddlers™, for families with babies 3 months of age and up. All of these passions and ideas have led to the creation of Family Paws™ Parent Education now offering programs all of the United States, Canada and beyond!”
While trolling around for blog ideas, I ran across this article from Dogster.com: Why is your dog eating grass? Interestingly, the author, Melvin Pena, doesn’t really give a reason why they eat grass, he just debunks common ideas about why they eat it. I have my own theory as to why dogs eat herbaceous borders, but first let’s review the myths surrounding grass consumption.
- Dogs eat grass because they have an upset tummy and grass helps them to vomit or poop. “Science offers no evidence linking eating grass with vomiting. It has shown that dogs, already nauseated before grazing, were more likely to throw up after. The same goes for the supposed laxative properties of grass.” A dog’s digestive tract is not designed to process grass, so grass actually stays in the GI tract longer than a dog’s regular diet, thus not really acting as a laxative.
- Dogs eat grass as a nutritional supplement. If you are feeding a quality food, it’s unlikely that your dog needs supplemental nutrition, but even if it did, since a dog cannot easily digest grass, it probably is not seeking it out as a vitamin supplement.* Besides, dogs are also known to eat “known to eat underwear, rubber duckies and loose change.” Last I knew, my dog was not getting vital nutrients from my grandkids bath toys! Moreover, according to an article in Psychology Today, by Dr. Stanley Coren, “Dogs that had their diet regularly supplemented by plant matter (vegetables or fruit) were no less likely to eat grass which seems to kill the idea that dogs are eating grass to make up for the absence of vegetable matter in their normal food intake.”
- Dogs eat grass because their ancestors did. This was a new theory for me! I do not recall reading anywhere that ancient wolves ate grass. But, wolves do eat grass eating animals such as deer. When they eat the prey, they generally eat all of it, including the stomach. So, if there is grass in the stomach of a wolf (ancient or modern), there’s a good chance it’s from a secondary source.
Many dogs eat grass spring, summer, and fall. Some dogs eat grass more in the spring, when it’s tender and sweeter. My own dogs don’t eat the lawn, but prefer my ornamental grasses and will graze on weeds that grow along the paths we hike. My theory as to why they become herbaceous connoisseurs is much simpler than the convoluted reasons above (and follows Aristotle’s Principle of Parsimony** that one should look for the explanation with the fewest assumptions)]. I happy to say that Dr. Coren agrees: Dogs eat grass because it tastes good. And, of course, there’s no accounting for taste! Bone appetite!
* If you are concerned that your dog needs additional nutrition, or worry that a health concern such as dry skin, itchy paws, or ear infections may be food related, please speak with your vet. And be sure to look at this monthly checklist so you can catch heath problems earlier rather than later.
**Also know as Ockham’s Razor.
Reisner Veterinary Services posted a link on their Facebook page on November 19, showing a video of three different dogs, two of which are being hugged by small children. For those of us who work with dogs this is a very scary video as the first two dogs are clearly stressed by what is happening and the third dog is being put into a situation that can quickly escalate into a bite to the child’s face. Here is a link to the page they reference (the post is dated 11/10/16 and titled, “Do you have a child who likes to hug the dog”):
And here are Reisner’s thoughts on the videos:
1. Hugging is NOT a positive interaction for many, many dogs. If an individual dog does seem to enjoy it, it is usually a learned behavior, and may be tolerated from only certain people. Generally speaking, children are less tolerated than adults. If you look closely at a dog’s face while being hugged, you’re more likely to see stress than pleasure.
2. It’s clear from videos like this that knowledge about dog safety is lacking. It’s doubtful that this is a deliberate attempt to put toddlers at risk. We need to press on and educate the public. I also need to remind myself that the great majority of parents are not connected to progressive dog groups and pages on Facebook, and have absolutely no idea of the risk.
3. Most dog bite injuries that end up in emergency rooms are to young children, in the head, face and neck. It’s very easy to see why.
Just because a dog IS tolerant and patient doesn’t mean the dog needs to be confronted with such aversive interactions (including the infant tapping a toy on the dog’s head). The dogs here are just being set up to fail. Why tempt fate?
I couldn’t agree more with Reisner’s comments. I would add that there are plenty of good sites online that educate parents about appropriate interactions between kids and dogs. Here are some of my blogs as well as my favorite online sites:
And here are some great websites with terrific advice and resources for parents:
Kids and dogs can live harmoniously, but it requires supervision of small people, an understanding of stress signals in dogs, and respect for the needs of both children and canines.
With the opening bell of Halloween behind us, the holiday season is underway! Thanksgiving is looming around the corner and our dogs may or may not be ready for the onslaught of activity that is the end of the year. I have written several columns about preparing your dog to have a jolly holiday, but here are some reminders (as well as links to those columns) of what you can do to make this merry for everyone.
- Make sure your dog knows sit! “A dog that is sitting is not jumping on Grandma, chasing the grandkids, or running joyfully through the house announcing the visitors. Practice sit everywhere and at all times of the day or night. (50+ sits a day is not over doing it, really.) The more times and places your dog sits, the more it becomes his default behavior and one that he is likely to do when in doubt about the busyness around him.
- Know your dog’s stress signals! “One common stressful scenario is staged photo shoots…Think carefully about how you arrange the family photos. If your dog goes from open mouthed to close mouthed, wiggly to barely moving, looking at you to avoiding eye contact, he is telling you that this is not comfortable for him. Your best bet is to give him more space, especially around his head and face. Also give him several tasty treats throughout the photo session and have someone dedicated to be his private treat dispenser so that he has one person to focus on. If there are loud children, sudden movements, or other distractions that un-nerve your dog, give him a treat every time a kid shouts, runs, or otherwise acts in an erratic fashion.”
Exercise your dog! Getting Fido out for a good romp before the guests arrive (or before you leave to go to Grandma’s house) will help him to be the well-mannered dog you know is in there somewhere. And by exercise, I mean taking him to run in a field, chase balls till he drops, and generally be active for at least 45 minutes. Then, when he gets back to the house, a stuffed Kong and long nap are not only in order, but welcomed!” (See also “Fun”nel of Activity! for a detailed strategy for taking Fido from crazed to calm.)
- Food Management: human and canine. One food strategy to keep in mind is: “Have dog appropriate treats handy in every room so that you can reward Fido when he is well behaved and to distract him from temptation. For instance, if our pups are lying around providing doggie ambiance, I will drop a treat or two at their noses to let them know that I appreciate their calm demeanors. I will also use a well timed canine cookie to get Bingley to move away from a grandchild’s toy.”
If you are looking for things to keep your pup occupied and out of trouble, or Christmas presents for your favorite canine, here are some things you might consider that will give him mental challenges and/or more fun at mealtime:
- Intelligence toys: There are many food related interactive toys on the market and finding the right one for your dog can be challenging. Bingley is not as interested in the food as he is in the challenge so I look for food toys that require him to puzzle things out a bit, such as the Tug-a-jug, Buster Cube, and Kibble nibble. Buckley loves his Twist and Treat because it rolls and quickly distributes the object of his desire.
- Interactive Food bowls: Our dogs love their puzzle food bowls. Not only does it slow eating (thus helping to prevent bloat in big dogs), but it makes dinnertime challenging and entertaining. I rotate the bowls between all the dogs so that no one knows which bowl is going to appear next, all part of the fun!
- If your dog is a chewer and loves to hunker down with something to gnaw, consider investing in an elk antler for him, or one of Nylabone’s interesting chews (such as a Galileo bone). Check out the Village Pet Market or Bath and Biscuits (both here in Granville) for other interesting toys and treats designed to keep your dog entertained and out of mischief.
Paying attention to the signals your dog is giving you, and providing him with appropriate physical and mental outlets for his energy will help all of you to have the merriest holiday season ever.
One of the reasons people have dogs is because they love it when their dogs curl up next to them in the evenings while they read or watch TV. This doggie ambiance doesn’t have to be something that happens by chance, but can become an integral part of your dog’s routine. Here are some suggestions for creating a Zen dog that I have gathered over the years from experience and other trainers.
1) Exercise! How much exercise does your dog get? A healthy adult dog needs about 1/2 hour of hard aerobic exercise each day. (By this I mean running after balls, dogs, etc., not a 1/2 hour stroll around the neighborhood). Remember: a tired dog is a well behaved dog! I have one dog asleep in the chair next to me, one in his bed, and one at my husband’s feet sound asleep because we took them for a 45 minute run through the woods (which included swimming in a pond, chasing after each other and after sticks, and gathering approximately a quarter ton of burrs…). Besides, playing with your dog is fun for both of you. So get out there and move!
2) Aroma Therapy works on dogs too! A few drops of lavender oil between your dog’s shoulder blades can be very calming. You can also sprinkle a few drops on his blanket or bed in the room where you hang out and watch TV, or use an essential oil diffuser to help everyone in the room chill out! Another relaxing essential oil is peppermint. Put some on a cotton ball and dab it onto the pads of your dog’s paws. Most health food stores have good essential oils (as well as diffusers), or contact me if you are interested in Doterra oils.
3) High quality food. Dogs with poor diets can show ADHD-like behavior. There are many high-quality foods on the market made with real meat, vegetables, and starches other than corn.* There are also several grain-free, or limited ingredient foods available for dogs with food sensitivities or allergies. The hardest question is not where to find it, but what to choose! Here in Granville we are blessed with two stores that stock premium dog foods: Village Pet Market (740-587-3656) and Bath & Biscuits (740-587-0011). I can, with good conscience, recommend any food that either of these stores offer, and the owners are great at helping you to choose the best food for your dog. If you want to learn more about choosing a good food, check out The Whole Dog Journal.
4) Teach your dog to relax. I got this idea from Colleen Pelar on her Living with Kids and Dogs website:
Sue Sternberg of Rondout Valley Animals for Adoption deserves the credit for this idea. It’s one of my favorites for calming dogs down. Start in a small, quiet room. Be boring. Just sit and read a magazine while paying peripheral attention to your dog. When he finally lies down, click and throw him a treat. Yes, that will cause him to come running over to you in the hopes of some interaction. Nope, sorry. You are too busy reading your magazine. Soon he’ll go lie down again. Click and throw him a treat. Gradually, your dog will learn that you really like when he is still. Be sure to keep rewarding him the longer he’s quiet. The more effort you spend on training this, the less you’ll have to do it over the course of the dog’s life.
5) Through a Dog’s Ear Music. This music is designed to sooth the savage beast and promote a canine meditative state of being. There are 3 volumes (though I have only used Volume 1) and you can find them at:
Hold it! Water and oil? Yes, water and oil.
Why on earth would I say this?
There are a lot of reasons, but the most common one is because many dogs of young couples may be well socialized to adults, but were not introduced to many children when they were puppies. Thus, the squealing, flailing, small mysterious object who arrives suddenly one day, may smell like a mammal, but the noise it generates sounds like a squeaky toy and it’s movement is like a wounded prey. Older children are oddities to many dogs as well. They run around, yelling, squealing with delight, flinging arms, toys, and generally having a grand time that excites the dog to join in, (or in the case of herding breeds, to bring into line), it may scare the dog as the excited play escalates, or their inappropriate attention (sitting on him, pulling his tail, poking his ears) may drive even the most tolerant of canines to total distraction. Thus, from the dog’s point of view, this new arrival may not be a bundle of joy, but instead a tempting bundle of intrigue or a frightening source of discomfort, which is off limits, and which occupies the near constant attention of his people.
So, what’s a new set of parents to do? There are several things that you can do to make this transition easier for all involved. The key is to start before Junior comes home from the hospital!
1) Be sure Fido knows his manners. Key behaviors to have in place are: sit, sit, sit, and sit. That is to say, sit should be your dog’s default behavior so that if he does not know what to do, he offers you a sit. He should also know to sit when asked (the first time, not the 5th), as well as to hold the sit until given the next directive. Remember, sit is your friend and can be the quickest way to keep your dog and your child safe.
2) Just as important as sit, is a good reliable recall. Imagine your toddler careening towards Fifi as she is curled up on her bed in the corner. If Junior gets there, Fifi has no escape route. So, before a close encounter of the canine kind happens, call Fifi to you and have her sit. Then direct Junior towards one of his toys or at the least, in the opposite direction of Fifi’s domain.
3) Give Fido a safe haven where he can retreat to rest and be away from the baby. This can be a crate, an exercise pen, a baby gated area, or his own room (such as the guest bedroom, the laundry room, a corner of your home office). As your child gets older, make sure he understands that the dog’s bed/blanket/crate is the dog’s and not a play place for him. Everyone needs a place to decompress, be sure your dog has one.
4) Teach Fido that bad things can mean good things for him. For instance, handle your dog all over (think ears, paws, tail) while providing tasty treats. i.e: lift his ear with one hand while giving liver treats with the other. Teach him that people approaching him while eating means tasty things happen. As he eats, approach him and call his name, when he looks up, drop some cheese or other yummy item in his food bowl. (If your dog stiffens or is otherwise leary about having people approach him while eating, get a positive reinforcement trainer to help you.) This way, if your child grabs his tail, for instance, he will be far more tolerant than if you have never paired touching his tail with treats.
When the time does come for Junior to make his entrance, here are a few things that might make the transition easier for Fifi:
1) Before the baby comes home, bring home a blanket or something else with the baby’s scent on it. Allow Fido to smell it and get used to the scent. When you do bring the baby home, keep her at a safe distance but have Fido sit near you and give him treats for being calm and quiet around the baby. If needed, have one person give the treats while another holds the baby. The key is that the baby and the treats happen at the same time. If the baby leaves the room, the treats cease as well.
2) As counter intuitive as this may seem, ignore Fido when the baby is not around and pay attention to Fido in some positive way when the baby is around. Your goal should be to have your dog not just tolerate, but actually enjoy the presence of your child. This is best accomplished by pairing the presence of the child with the presence of things the dog enjoys. Perhaps Fido gets a stuffed Kong while the baby eats, or you can scratch his ears while the baby is sleeping in a bassinet nearby, or you can toss his kibble piece by piece around the room while you sit on the couch with Junior. In this way, your dog begins to understand that the mystery object is a good thing, as good things happen to him in its presence.
3) Get yourself a copy of “Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind!” by Colleen Pelar https://www.dreamdogproductions.com/livingwithkidsanddogs/resources.html#. Colleen’s book is the best on the market for helping parents deal with the chaos of a life filled with kids and dogs. Colleen has lived the life as a mother of 3 boys and 2 dogs and she has practical, easy to follow advice for kids and dogs of all ages, from infancy to the teen years, puppyhood to old dog. If you buy only one book on kids and dogs, please make it this one! It is also available on Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Living-Kids-Dogs-Without-Losing/dp/1933562129/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389632572&sr=1-1&keywords=living+with+kids+and+dogs, and I generally have a few copies available for purchase as well.
Also, be sure to check out all the useful information on Colleen’s website: https://www.dreamdogproductions.com/livingwithkidsanddogs/index.html.
If you are nervous about adding either a dog to a family of kids, or a child to a family of dogs, do not hesitate to call or email me with your concerns or questions. I am happy to help you make the easiest transition to this new state of being and I want you to enjoy your life of canine/kid chaos to the fullest.
Often times, when we think about dogs and special populations of people, our thoughts turn to infants or small children. Certainly I have written and podcasted about a variety of kid and dog issues.*
Pat Miller, trainer extraordinaire, has an article in the January 2019 Whole Dog Journal called Spending the Golden Years with Dogs.** She addresses the pluses of owning a dog in your senior years as well as important points to remember about how much canines can cost, and how critical it is to make the right choice about the type of dog you adopt.
Some of the positive points she makes:
You will likely be home more. In retirement, most people have more time to spend with friends, family, and dogs. This is a grand time to have a dog. If you are an active soul who loves to walk and hike, how much more will you enjoy it with an enthusiastic canine?
You might travel more together. Have you ever considered a motor home to see the country? This is a great way to have your dog come with you without worrying if relatives will welcome your dog, or if you can find a dog-friendly hotel.
Keeping a canine companion for company is good for you! Increasingly, retirement and assisted-living communities not only allow, but welcome pets as they recognize the importance of companionship to mental and physical health.
She does caution the following:
Providing proper care for dogs can be costly. Retirees are likely to be on a fixed income and can limit the amount someone feels he or she can spend on a pet. Pet insurance can help with some of the medical costs (especially for catastrophic illnesses or injuries), but keep in mind that pets require regular vet visits and medications such as heart worm and flea/tick preventatives.
Seniors must be sure, more than ever before in their lives, to make good adoption choices. I thought this was one of the most important points she made in the whole article. If you are 68 years old and have recently lost your 14 year old Golden Retriever, you may be tempted to get another Golden. You have had them all your life and they are your breed. Think, however, about the fact that you were 54 when you last got a puppy. Are you really, truly, up for the challenges of an energetic youngster? Can you lift a large dog into the car if injured or sick? Perhaps it is time to consider a medium size dog, and/or a middle-aged or senior dog at the shelter who needs a home and can offer you 6-8 years of loving companionship. Think seriously about what you can and cannot do, and choose wisely grasshopper.
Ms Miller goes on to address training tips and equipment that might make life easier and safer for everyone involved. Included are tips on leashes, harnesses, treat delivery systems, and training.
She also includes a section on Caring For Your Dog After You’re Gone. It is important to recognize that your dog may outlive you and you need to make provisions for his health and well being. She outlines various strategies, including setting up a pet trust, providing for your dog in your will, and/or making a written agreement with a someone you trust to love and care for you pet when you are gone. I know from personal experience that it is very easy to have a clause put in your will for your dogs. I have had one in my will for over 20 years. Having recently updated my will, I can attest that a good lawyer will not laugh at you, but respect you for caring so completely for those who cannot care for themselves.
But for now, as I seem to be careening towards my senior years, I am happy to hike, travel, and cuddle with my canine BFF, and I look forward to many happy dog years ahead! I wish the same for all of you!
**Unfortunately, you need to be a subscriber to access the full article, but here is the link nevertheless: Spending the Golden Years with Dogs
I was skimming through my photos for a particular image and found so many that I enjoyed, that I decided to do a post just on the happy animals who have populated my life in one way or another. Some of these are my animals, some are clients, some are just buddies I have made during my travels. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!
First, here is my granddog Tex* enjoying the water:
Flatties (short for Flat Coated Retrievers) just wanna have fun:
Kids and dogs (or cats as the case may be!):
A few friends of mine…canine and others of a different nature.
And lastly some former chicken clients say hi to their mom…
I hope these snippets make you smile and cheer up your day as much as they have for me! And, remember, life is short, so go play with your dog!
*Tex, unfortunately is no longer with us. We miss him terribly, especially his exuberant nature and enthusiasm for life.
This year has been a challenge for me and my family as we lost 2 dogs to cancer and one dog to a seizure disorder. I wasn’t sure my heart could take any more sorrow and I was a bit hesitant to risk it on another dog, as Bingley was my canine soulmate. But, if I have learned anything, it’s that loving a dog with everything you have makes it nearly impossible to live without one, and it is that love of a great dog which propels you forward into another canine experiment.
So meet Zuzu, my newest pooch. She, like Bingley, is a flat-coated retriever, and true to her breed, is one of the happiest dogs on the planet. At 16 months she is a teenager who is unlikely to grow out of her teenage enthusiasm anytime soon. Channeling her inexhaustible energy into constructive activities and teaching her to focus on the task at hand are my immediate goals for her. To do this, I have decided to enlist the aid of a book I recently discovered: Fun & Games for a Smarter Dog, 50 Great Brain Games to Engage your Dog, by Sophie Collins.
This book is great on so many levels beginning with the introduction and a part on playing safely with your dog which includes a very important section on playing with children.* Take the time to read the section on play and training before you plunge into the individual games, as it will set you up to better use the games to your particular dog’s advantage and is a wonderful reminder that training and play can happily overlap. After all, “there’s no reason you can’t teach your dog by playing with him.” She also has sections on dog personalities, toys, and clicker training.** And, be sure to read the “About You, What You Need To Do” as it reminds us that we can be part of the problem when our dogs are not “getting it.” Subsequent chapters divide the games into categories: Basic Games, Bonding Games, Brain Games, Fitness Games, Figuring it out, and Getting Along.
She starts with the basics of Sit, Down, Wait, and Let’s Go (which you have likely taught your dog already, but perhaps used different names for these behaviors). She makes the point that, “It is better to make sure that your pet stays responsible and reacts promptly to key commands instead of moving on to other exercises at the expense of the basics.” So, she goes over these core behaviors in detail so that you can be sure that you are clearly communicating to your dog, and he clearly understands what is expected of him. This section is a good place to begin as it really does help you to pay attention to your words and your body language so you can more effectively communicate with your dog. Moreover, the rest of the games will be easier for you and your dog if you have figured out how to work with one another.
As you work through the various exercises in the book (and you can easily pick and choose those that are most appealing to you and your dog) she continues to provide clear instructions as well as explaining what he is learning and why this behavior is useful. Almost every game has a note that will enhance the learning experience or give you an extra challenge. When playing Hide-and-Seek with your dog she suggests that you, “Try hiding at different levels: going up a level, for example, perching on a bunk bed because dogs don’t automatically look above eye level when they’re searching for something but instead rely on their noses.”
In addition to Clicker Training, she also has sections explaining positive reinforcement training and the Dominance myth. Her easy to read and understand instructions, coupled with her explanations of the science of learning and play, will broaden and enhance your understanding of how dogs think and learn. But mostly, this wonderfully accessible book will convince you that playing with your dog is a great way to live, learn, and love together for a lifetime.
Above: Zuzu and I practice some fetch, sit, and give, 3 days after picking her up. Playing games is a great way to establish a strong bond with your new dog.
*Having kids play with dogs is great, but should never be done without the direct supervision of an adult. Colleen Pelar and I talk about Simple Games for Kids and Dogs in our podcast airing 12/20/16, and see my other blogs on kids and dogs: Forced Friendship and And Baby Makes Four.
** See also our podcast, Why Be Positive?
Reisner Veterinary Behavioral Services posted this on August 20 and I think it contains important information about “safe” dogs, and that you cannot force dogs to like anyone (emphasis mine):
This news item was noted on my feed: “A dog that was being trained to be friendly with children bit an 8-year-old child in the face Sunday and will be put down after a quarantine period…A veterinarian at XYZ Animal Hospital told the officer that one of her employees took the male Shepherd mixed dog to a location “in an effort to make the dog friendly with children.” The deputy spoke to the employee, whose son was bitten, and she told the officer that everything was fine with the dog for about an hour, but when they went to leave the yard the dog attacked and bit the child on the face.
The wording of the news story is interesting: this was “an effort to make the dog friendly with children.” We can’t ‘make’ dogs be friendly to anyone. Forced social interactions with an anxious dog can make things worse.
There was a recent discussion among veterinary behavior colleagues about anecdotal stories of [large, national pet supply chain] trainers taking dogs around a store and asking children, whose parents were shopping, to give the dog food. Of course, these exercises sometimes result in snapping or biting.
It’s simply not always possible to distinguish “safe” dogs from those at risk of biting. Whether a dog is new to a family or not, there can be unforeseen bite triggers in interactions with children – who stand closer to eye level, who giggle and jump, who may try to kiss or hug, and who may be intimidating just because they’re unfamiliar. And as we’re repeatedly reminded in the news, asking an owner for permission to pet a dog does not guarantee safety, because the owner himself/herself may be unaware of those risks.
If you’re a dog owner/guardian with a mildly anxious dog, or a parent of young children, keep the two at a safe distance from each other. The dog person can counter-condition with food and reassurances without setting the dog up to fail; the parent can explain why this is the kindest and safest strategy with a nervous dog.
So, can you ever trust a dog around children? It depends on the dog, it depends on the child, and it depends on the circumstances. But, the safe answer is unfortunately “no.”
Toddlers can be very scary to dogs as they move erratically, make odd and often loud noises, and may appear threatening as they lurch toward the dog. Elementary age children run, yell, race around, and do all the things that they should do as kids, but are confusing to dogs. Children may find a dog so irresistibly cute, that they cannot resist hugging Fido, and that is not something most dogs enjoy. Babies are particularly vulnerable, so dogs should never have access to a newborn baby, unless the baby is held in an adult’s arms. (Even better, have the dog on a leash as well when around a baby.)
However, there are things you can do to make life with kids and dogs run smoothly:
- Learn what your dog’s stress signals are, so you understand when he is telling you that he is uncomfortable with the situation.
- Allow Fido to say no to meeting people. If he backs away, turns his head, averts his eyes, or does not move to meet the new person, he is clearly saying that he does not want to interact with this human. Do not let the person try to pet your dog if he says no. Letting him have a choice in who he meets will help him to be more comfortable with the world, and will reduce the chances he will growl, snap or bite.
- Make sure Fido has a safe haven to go that is his alone. Sometimes your dog will need to re-group, so give him a bed or crate in a quiet, comfortable place where he can go and not be disturbed.
- Don’t let your dog get pinned into a corner! In addition to a safe haven, make sure you dog has an escape route so he can leave a situation that has become uncomfortable.
- Teach your children how to correctly meet a dog and supervise, closely, the meeting. (See: A Parent’s Guide to Dog Bite Prevention by Colleen Pelar.)*
- Family Paws has a lot of good information for parents as well as terrific handouts that clearly define what supervision is and is not and which illustrate safety procedures that will help to keep everyone, dogs and kids, safe.
Give your dog positive attention when the kids are around, so that he learns to happily anticipate their presence. As I stated in one of my blogs: Your goal should be to have your dog not just tolerate, but actually enjoy the presence of your child. This is best accomplished by pairing the presence of the child with the presence of things the dog enjoys. Perhaps Fido gets a stuffed Kong while the baby eats, or you can scratch his ears while the baby is sleeping in a bassinet nearby, or you can toss his kibble piece by piece around the room while you sit on the couch with Junior.
You are your dog’s best advocate and the one to whom he should be able to turn for help navigating the human world. Forcing a friendship between your dog and anyone is not a good idea for either the dog or the person seeking his attention. Instead, allow your dog to have some control over his life (thereby reducing some of his anxiety or nervousness) by choosing who he wants to meet and rewarding him for making the effort to be social.
*Colleen also has a wonderful book, Living with Kids and Dogs, without losing your mind, that I recommend to all parents trying to negotiate the blend of canines and small humans.
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