Creating a safe home for dogs and children

In some ways, this is a continuation of my hypothetical dread post about Pyrrha’s phobia of children. Many thanks to everyone for your kind comments, advice, and anecdotes. You are the best.

A toddler and a floofy-looking terrier mix

I feel that there are three types of dogs, when it comes to interacting with children: (1) dogs who inherently adore children, (2) dogs who tolerate children, and (3) dogs who are afraid of (dislike) children.

The most important caveat of these types, however, is that ALL dogs, regardless of type, can be provoked to bite or to otherwise harm a child. It can be hard for many people to believe this about their beloved family dogs, but it’s a vital fact to remember for those who keep children and dogs under the same roof.

Bo, who acted as my surrogate dog before we got Pyrrha, was the definition of Type 1. He worshiped children! On the pedestrian mall, he wanted to greet every child he saw, especially the small ones, probably because they were the ones most likely covered with food remnants. He is also a golden retriever, a breed famous for its adoration of all humans, regardless of degree of knowledge. I feel that most stable dogs are Type 2, which is nice. Many dogs can coexist peacefully in a home with children, even if they aren’t naturally magnetized toward them. Eden, from my best observations, is Type 2. She’s interested in children and wants to greet them. Eden doesn’t show any fear of children but neither is she naturally attracted to them (any more than she is to other strangers). Pyrrha, sadly, is Type 3, as are many dogs whose fears span a wide range of beings/things.

Boy with a Boston terrier.Despite these categories, I feel that many parents (especially those of young children) treat ALL dogs as if they were Type 1 (i.e., naturally in love with children). And even if the dogs are Type 1, I see many parents abusing the tolerance of their dogs by letting their children manhandle the dog, hurt them, stress them out, threaten them, etc.

I am often appalled by the photos that circulate on social media of “cute” baby/dog photos, often with the dogs showing extreme calming signals and distress with totally unaware infants draped over them. Such photo ops are downright dangerous. They are NOT adorable, under any circumstances. Even in these vintage photos in this post, only the first dog (that scruffy, cute terrier-looking pup) seems happy to be with a child; his mouth is open and relaxed. The Boston terrier with the boy has a hard mouth and does not look pleased, and the mix on his hind legs with the girl (below) would clearly rather be doing something else. Dogs and Babies has a great post of appropriate child/dog photos; you’ll notice that they are very different from the most popular ones circulating on Pinterest, which tend to treat dogs as props.

Two very charming faces

If and when we have children, here are some basic guidelines we plan on observing.

  1. Supervise, supervise, supervise! I’d never leave a small child unattended with any dog. Ever. Dog bites can happen in the blink of an eye, and that is not a risk I’m ever willing to take.
  2. Watch for stress signals/calming signals in the dog and take action to remedy the situation. Does the dog dislike the fact that the baby is crawling in its direction? Remove the dog to a place where it feels calm, or vice versa, redirect the baby.
  3. Create havens for dogs to retreat to. For us, these are the dogs’ crates. Our dogs like their crates and we treat them as sacred space. Kids won’t be allowed to tease or poke at dogs while in crates, and the dogs will always have free access to their crates when they need a break.
  4. Be alert for resource guarding scenarios, in which the dog may feel compelled to guard its food or toys from a curious child. Never let a child approach or touch a dog while the dog is eating.
  5. Never put the dog in a compromising situation. Even if my dog tolerates a baby pulling its ears or climbing on its back,
  6. Look for ways to create positive interactions. Pair baby interactions with positive associations for your dog. A wonderfully simple way to do this is food. Babies are messy eaters, and dogs generally love this about them. As an another example, my friend Catherine has an adorable video of her toddler playing fetch with their lab/shepherd mix, Ava. Her daughter, who recently learned to walk, was playing a rudimentary game of fetch with Ava; she’d pick up a ball and throw it, and Ava would politely pick it up and drop it at the child’s feet. Ava was clearly not stressed about the interaction, and it was a great example of a dog and very young child interacting in a way that was safe and fun for both parties.

These are just some ideas. And perhaps another reason I’m not jumping at the gun to procreate is that all of this sounds exhausting. I’m not surprised that parents of young kids who also have dogs just don’t have the time or energy to do these things. It takes a lot of work. And dogs naturally become neglected when a baby enters the household. It’s a sad reality, but there it is.

Importantly, I am not a parent yet, but my husband and I have plans to have children at some point in the future. I am thankful to be aware of these resources now, before we have kids. Furthermore, this research informs the way that I help kids interact with my dogs and help my dogs interact with kids. Supervision is so key, and there seems to be so little of it in dog/child relations. The dogs will always be an important part of our family, and I think it’s only fair to them to treat them with dignity and respect — and in so doing, you are protecting the safety of children. It’s a win-win!

Do you have kids in your home? How do your dogs interact with children? What are some of your success stories?

Resources for Parents Raising Kids and Dogs

10 things my fearful dog isn’t afraid of

When you live with a fearful dog, I’ve found that it’s easy to get weighed down by all of their issues. The fears are often the only things you can think about when you consider your dog and watch them interact with the outside world.

Pyrrha by the back stoop
The first day we had her; this is where she hid from us for a few hours.

Pyrrha is our fearful dog, and she will always have fear issues. I’m coming to terms with this reality, but I also want to take the time to consider the ways in which she’s made progress and the things she’s overcome since coming to live with us in May 2012.

This probably seems like a silly list to someone who has a confident, stable dog — and trust me, if I had to list the things Eden wasn’t afraid of, we’d be here a while — but these things represent milestones in Pyrrha’s gradual development.

So, here are:

10 Things My Fearful Dog Isn’t Afraid of

  1. Me! (Now, she treats me like I hung the moon and the stars, but for the first few weeks in our home, she didn’t want anything to do with me. Our relationship has clearly transformed since then.)
  2. House guests. (She’s even not afraid of male house guests anymore, which is a big accomplishment for her.)
  3. Squirrels, birds, and any other small vermin. (Her wavelength: Mmm, mobile snacks!)
  4. Other dogs, when the dogs are in an off-leash context. (Despite her reactivity to other dogs on walks, she actually adores other dogs and loves playing with them.)
  5. The guitar. (Used to hide in her crate when Guion played the guitar; now sees it as a normal part of life.)
  6. Riding in the car. (She loves car rides and has always traveled like a champ.)
  7. Fireworks.
  8. Thunderstorms.
  9. The elderly.
  10. Skateboards or bicycles or other similar moving objects on the street.
The queen
Pyrrha today; a much changed dog.

If you have a fearful dog, how have you seen her or him progress? What are some things your fearful dog isn’t afraid of?

New: Resource guide for shy, fearful dogs

Brokering a tentative peace
Our shy dogs, interacting. Check out those calming signals!

So. I’m realizing that volunteering for a German shepherd rescue means that shy dogs just come with the territory. This is probably true for most dog rescues, but GSDs are fairly well known for their sensitivity and predisposition to shyness (particularly if they’ve come from rough backgrounds).

That said, I’m also realizing how many of our potential adopters don’t really know what to do with shy dogs. I was this way myself when we adopted Pyrrha! I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

Obviously, I’ve done lots of reading and research since, but Pyrrha is still a work in progress, just as I am. We both have lots to learn. To help myself and to help others with shy dogs or those adopting shy dogs, I’ve created a new resource page:

Living with Shy Dogs

This will be an active page, which I will add to from time to time, particularly as I hear from all of you about your favorite resources for fearful dogs. Feel free to share in the comments below!

RAINER UPDATE

He is happy to be back inside and home life has returned to a nice equilibrium, as much as we can maintain. As many of you have noted, Pyrrha is generally uncomfortable with Rainer being here (see her body language above), but they have brokered a tentative peace.

Rainer still has some mysteries about his health, which we are actively trying to solve with the help of SGSR and our vet. (Essentially, he’s just kind of weak in the back end and has poor balance. X-rays have since ruled out hip dysplasia, so we are looking into other diagnoses.)

The good news is that he has another potential adopter interested in him, who may meet him this weekend, weather permitting. The former family fell through, but this person sounds like a great fit for Rainer and his needs. Will keep you posted!

Let me know what you think of Living with Shy Dogs and what you’d add, if anything!

Fearful dogs class, plus training goals for Rainer

Last night, Rainer and I went to a one-time, one-hour class at Canine Campus, called “Rescue Remedies: Fearful Dogs.”

Rainer in training class
Trying to take photos in class never works out so well. This is the best one I got! Those are his ears.

Canine Campus is where Pyrrha went for her obedience class, and I’m a big fan of the trainer, Deven. Deven has had numerous shy dogs herself, and she seems to really understand them.

While Rainer was mostly unable to calm down for the majority of the class (lots of pacing and circling), I was really thankful that we went. Deven reinforced so many concepts that are easy to forget with shy dogs. The class was also really motivating to me to stop being such a passive trainer. Now that Rainer has acclimated to our lifestyle, it’s time to start actively teaching him things. I can’t just wait around and hope that he’ll learn something.

Rainer lounging at home
Safe at home.

This lesson was really reinforced coming and going to the class. The worst part of last night was getting to and leaving class. This is the issue: Rainer has a severe fear of getting in cars. Severe to the point of nearing the biting threshold.

My husband was gone last night, and I was stuck with the Jeep, so getting Rainer into it was quite the ordeal. It took me about 15 minutes. I was plying him with tons of treats, but as soon as he’d get within a foot of the car, he would freak out: jerk back, trying to pull out of the collar, biting the leash, etc. I was finally able to get him in when I put some treats on the car seat, and he got brave enough to put his paws on the seat, and I lifted his back end into the car. Once in the car, he rides OK; he’s so scared of it that he doesn’t move much at all.

The traumatic part of last night was leaving Canine Campus. After class concluded, I asked Deven and her co-trainer Mary to come out to the car with me and help me strategize. Mary started by treating him for nearing the car, and then throwing treats away from the car, giving him the freedom to back up when he wanted. This went on for 10 minutes, however, with Rainer showing little inclination to get any closer to the vehicle.

Instead of diminishing, his fear was only growing, and when we approached him, his entire body tensed up, and I could tell this was a dog who was ready to bite if we tried anything else. Deven clearly recognized this too and came back out with a sheet and a muzzle. I felt so dejected. I hated to traumatize him further, but we were never going to get him in that car.

We put a meatball in the muzzle, and I could snap it on him; this freaked him out. While he was trying to get the muzzle off, we put a sheet beneath his abdomen, and Deven lifted his back end, while I picked up his front end and put him in the car. He was fighting the whole way. The poor guy. My adrenaline was racing, and I felt so upset. And embarrassed. He was so upset.

Upon leaving, Deven reminded me that this is something we would need to work on every day. Rainer’s fear of getting into cars will not go away on its own. Seeing him in such a state of panic last night really brought that home. This is a dog who really doesn’t know anything about the world; everything is frightening and new to him. It’s our job right now to help him take those baby steps toward confidence.

Rainer lounging at home

So, that said, here are some really basic things I want to teach Rainer in the time that we have him:

  1. Car desensitization. Every day, practice working near and in the car. Treat him for approaching; treat him for just looking a it in the early stages. Move up to getting him to enter the car on his own.
  2. Name recognition. Treat him and praise him for giving us any attention when we call his name.
  3. Sitting for food. I know that this dog can sit, but we cannot get him to do it! I keep waiting for him to offer the behavior at meal time (luring him back with the bowl), but he won’t do it. I also wonder if this has something to do with his bad hips. Sitting could be painful for him, so we may need to find an alternate behavior.
  4. Grooming desensitization. Treat and praise for whenever he submits to brushing, touching paws, opening his mouth. Move up to this gradually; brushing is the easiest place to start.
  5. Leash manners. Learning how to walk politely on a leash; getting him not to freak out when we see other dogs (freaking out, for him, means frantic circling; no barking or anything like that, thankfully). Practice safe zone training (LOTS of distance between the stimulant) early on; only take short walks where I can control the environment without pushing him past threshold.

As you can see, we have a lot of work to do. But I believe in him and in his potential to overcome a lot of these fears, with our patient help.

Pup links!

Red Aussie puppy. Click for source.

Great dog-related links from around the Web this week:

Dogs in the Workplace. Happy Bring Your Dog to Work day! While my office would frown on dogs in our space, I think Pyrrha would actually do pretty well here, particularly since I have a very quiet department. Did you bring your dog to work? Would you, if your office allowed it? (Pawsh magazine)

Travel 101: Prepping Your Pooch. I found this list of travel preparations from Vanessa–who recently made a cross-country move with her family and dog, Rufus–very helpful. I’m taking a 5-hour trip with Pyrrha in July to visit my parents and many of these tips were really helpful and insightful. Also: Doesn’t Rufus’ travel hammock look so cozy? Now that’s how I want to travel on my next road trip! (The Rufus Way)

No Party Zone. Do you avoid having house guests because of your reactive dog? Kristine shares some thoughts and a recent near-encounter with their future landlord. (Rescued Insanity)

Couldn’t Have Been a Lab; They Don’t Bite. Katie reflects on the dangerous precedent we set by breed stereotyping. Just because a dog is a lab doesn’t mean that it’s incapable of biting or showing aggression toward people. (Save the Pit Bull, Save the World)

Bye-bye, Cesar Millan. Animal rights advocate and professor Marc Bekoff celebrates the news that Cesar Millan’s TV show “The Dog Whisperer” is being cancelled. I for one am glad to hear it. What do you think about it? (The Hydrant)

Stay Away from “Stay” with Fearful Dogs. This is an interesting perspective from a dog trainer who believes that teaching a shy dog to “stay” could actually ratchet up their anxiety levels. Makes sense to me. I’ve been trying to teach it to Pyrrha, and it does actually make her way more nervous than other commands. Maybe we’ll get there eventually. (My Smart Puppy)

Ebon’s Training History. A sweet post charting the evolution of training for a dog over the course of his life. It’s interesting to think about how our dogs change with us as we grow up. (Musings of a Biologist and Dog Lover)

Lessons Learned from Dogs: Morgan and Kuster. Tales and Tails is doing a really sweet series on what she’s learned from her four dogs. Here are the stories from the two more difficult dogs of her pack, the German shepherds. Very heartwarming and well written. (Tales and Tails)

Innovative Ideas: Helping the Homeless and Shelter Dogs. Discussion of a program in San Francisco that would pair homeless youth with shelter dogs. Sounds like a really great idea; looking forward to hearing more about it. (The Bark blog)

Animal Love. Just some pretty, dreamy photos of animals collected by one of my favorite lifestyle/design bloggers. (Miss Moss)

Superdog Lova. Great, playful photographs of this high-energy spaniel. Very sweet. (Ulicam)