Teaching kids and dogs how to behave with one another

Click for source.

NOTE: This is a piece I wrote a while ago, and since I don’t have any good photos of Pyrrha or any good updates lately, I thought I’d post it to start a conversation. Pyrrha is pretty scared of children, especially infants and toddlers, and this is an area I really want to work on with her. I welcome your thoughts, comments, and advice! — Abby

Despite what this adorable picture suggests, in general, kids are pretty terrible with dogs.

Kids like to tease dogs. Even if they’re just babies and unaware of what they’re doing, kids like to mess with dogs. They like to stick their hands in the dog’s eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. They like pulling the dog’s tail. They like riding on the dog’s back. They like squeezing dogs around the neck to express affection, even though the dog interprets this as invasive and frightening. This doesn’t mean that kids themselves are terrible. They’re often unaware of what they’re doing and how to read a dog’s body language.

Kids have a tendency to freak dogs out, for all the reasons listed above. Kids are really noisy. Their body language can be erratic and unpredictable to a dog. They like to get right up in dog’s faces, in their food, in their beds, on their backs. It’s no wonder that many dogs are afraid of children and that many, unfortunately, lash out in fear-based aggression.

But dogs, undoubtedly, bring (most) children an immense amount of glee. Even babies will light up at the sight of a dog. It always warms my heart when I see this. And there are many dogs who seem to love nothing more than children. (Bo is one of them: He drags me after strollers and runs up to every kid we see, beside himself with excitement, or with the prospect of food crumbs on grubby faces.)

There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that dogs and kids were “made for each other,” but that’s not always the case, and the majority of dogs AND kids need to be taught how to behave around one another. So how do we train them to behave well with each other? It’s not something that exactly comes naturally to either species.

TRAINING KIDS

As someone who doesn’t have kids, I often worry about those parents who don’t train their kids well with regard to dogs. I have responsibility for training my future dog how to act around kids; I expect that parents have the responsibility to train their children how to act around dogs. When we’re out walking, I can’t tell you how many times parents have let their little children run up to Bo to pet, squeeze, or hug him, without so much as a glance at me or a question if my dog is even friendly toward children. Thankfully, Bo is wonderful with kids, as I mentioned before. But what if he wasn’t?

I always walk Pyrrha very carefully around playgrounds and around people with young children. Thankfully, we haven’t had any parents let their tots run up to us (and I think this has a lot to do with breed; Pyrrha looks “scarier” than Bo, the golden retriever, does) and if a kid wants to pet her, they usually ask first. But this certainly wasn’t always the case with Bo. Parents would let their little children run right up to him without asking me.

But: Have you ever had to intervene in a situation between children and your dog? What would you tell the parents, perhaps by way of educating their kids?

Karen London posted a great short list of things she tells children about dogs, covered by the funny but true heading: “Don’t lick the dog,” from Wendy Wahman’s picture book for kids. That book sounds like a great resource for any parent of young children. I feel like I should buy a bunch of copies to hand out to parents on the downtown pedestrian mall here…

The Lab babysitter. Click for source.

TRAINING DOGS

One of Pyrrha’s last remaining big fear thresholds is little children. We seem to have ameliorated her previous big fear, which was greeting other dogs, and she hasn’t snarled or raised her hackles at a dog in two months. I consider this a huge victory! But the kid thing is another issue entirely.

Pyrrha is OK with kids who are calm and move slowly. This, unfortunately, is not many children. She’s submitted to attention from older children, perhaps 5-7 years of age, and she doesn’t seem bothered by pre-teens or teenagers.

It’s the babies and toddlers who really make her anxious. This is, obviously, a really difficult thing to work on. I wouldn’t let my infant around a German shepherd who was scared of babies, and I always keep Pyrrha removed and completely controlled when she’s in the presence of small children. So what do we do? How do I work on exposing her and acclimating her to this fear? It’s not like you can ask an infant to work with you, to make all of its movements calm and controlled, to stop squealing erratically.

She once growled at a toddler who tried to come near her. I removed Pyrrha from the situation and put her inside. It was a scary and disheartening moment. I want a dog who’s OK with little children. But how do we get there?

For those of you who adopted an adult dog, how did you expose your dog to kids? How can we help Pyrrha overcome her fear of small children, without endangering babies or eclipsing Pyrrha’s fear threshold?

As always, I’m very open to your suggestions!

Pup links!

Black labs go with everything. Click for source.

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Are All Dogs Monsters? Kristine sagely reminds us that all dogs can bite and we should never take that fact for granted. (Rescued Insanity)

Preventing Dog Bites. Patricia McConnell throws in her two cents about how to prevent dog bites. Reading body language is key! (The Other End of the Leash)

Dog’s First Camping Trip. This post caught my eye, because we’ve discussed taking Pyrrha camping with us in the coming months. Anyone go camping with their dog? Any tips we should know about beforehand? (Go Pet Friendly)

How to Teach Children to Get Along with Dogs from an Early Age. A very thorough and thoughtful article on training your kids to treat dogs with gentleness and respect. (Whole Dog Journal)

Elderly Dogs and Babies: A Primer. This is a funny (and sad?) piece on what a baby does to your elderly dog, by one of my favorite online writers, Nicole Cliffe. (The Hairpin)

Seven Steps to Off-Leash Reliability. Ian Dunbar’s progression of training elements that lead you to having a dog who is trustworthy off lead. (Some Thoughts about Dogs)

Dogs Make Weddings Look Good. This is too cute: Jenny trained a pair of French bulldogs to participate in their humans’ wedding. Adorable. (Of Pit Bulls & Patience)

Emmanuelle Walker. Fun, mod illustrations of dogs riding in cars. (Gems)

Pup links!

A lady and her English cocker spaniel. Source: LIFE magazine archives.

Dog-related links from around the Web:

If the Characters in Downton Abbey Were Portrayed by Canine Actors… A friend shared this on my Facebook wall, and I just had to share it here, too. If you watch the period soap opera Downton Abbey, you will appreciate these comparisons. I think they’re pretty spot-on. Matthew is totally a golden retriever and Mary makes a lot of sense as a poodle. And, poor Edith! The Bedlington terrier! (Dogster)

How to Properly Care for Your Dog’s Teeth. Canine dental hygiene is usually pretty terrible, and, from my experience, it’s an easy thing to forget to take care of–and not exactly fun when you do. This is a thorough article, however, that reminds us all of why it’s very important to care for our dog’s pearly whites. (The Whole Dog Journal)

Investigating Halitosis. Related to doggy dental care, here’s a veterinarian’s list of possible causes of your dog’s terrible breath. (The Bark blog)

Where’s the Beef? Subtitle: “Why your dog should never eat another Milk Bone or Beggin Strip, and you should avoid the Slim Jims.” You won’t ever want to buy those products again after you read this article by Amy Renz. (Goodness Gracious Treats)

Identifying Merle. I grew up with a beautiful tricolor merle Australian shepherd and I’ve always had a fondness for merle coats, especially when they come from conscientious breeders. But I learned a ton from this post and learned that I’ve been incorrectly identifying some dogs as “merle” that really aren’t. Fascinating stuff. (Musings of a Biologist and a Dog Lover)

House Rules and Time-Outs. Aleksandra shares her wisdom about how they use “time-outs” to teach their newly adopted pitt, The Dude, some house manners. Great, gentle, and effective advice. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

Binq Design. If I was in the market for a tiny dog, and had a lot of cash to spare, I think I’d definitely consider these functional and attractive side tables + dog beds. They look like they’d be a nice place for a toy breed to hide out during family commotion. (Dog Milk)

Bambino vs. Fido: On Loving Dogs Less. Shauna, a pregnant blogger, reflects on how her relationship with her dogs will change–and stay the same–when she welcomes her baby into the world. I found this post very reassuring. As someone who hasn’t had kids yet but plans to one day, I confess I’m frankly terrified of the idea of emotionally displacing my future dogs. But, as she points out in this post, you don’t displace your dogs in your heart; you just make room. (Fido & Wino)

BFFs. Greyhounds snuggling on the couch. So cute. (Hiking Hounds)

Religious Dog Bumper Stickers. OK, pretend bumper stickers, but these still made me giggle. My favorite: “I’m Catholic but my corgi is affiliated with the Church of England.” (Dogs of the Interwebs)

Dog Refuses to Go Into Pool to Get Tennis Ball He Desperately Needs. In need of a laugh on this fine Tuesday? Look no further than this very, very determined golden retriever and his quest for one slightly out-of-reach tennis ball. (Best Week Ever)