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!

Audrey Hepburn and her Yorkshire terrier. Click for source.

Dog-related links from around the Web this week:

Careers in Behavior and Training. Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve daydreamed about quitting my job and becoming a full-time dog… person? Karen London, who did just that, shares some of her wisdom about careers in canine behavior and training. (The Bark blog)

In France, the (Abandoned) Dog Days of Summer. I admire a lot about French culture, but this is really appalling: Apparently, an estimated 100,000 dogs are simply abandoned every year by their French owners when they take their long summer holidays. The French SPCA comments on their campaign to end this practice. France has the highest numbers of pet ownership in all of Europe; you’d think this wouldn’t be an issue there. Big sigh. (NPR)

Police Dog “Bono” Plays by Own Rules, Plants Drug Evidence at Nearly Every Crime Scene. So, this is actually a big problem, and I’m surprised I haven’t read about it more before: Police dogs read their handlers so well that they generate an unfortunate amount of false positives when sniffing for illegal substances. How do we fix this egregious problem? Anyone heard of this phenomenon before? (Reason)

Hearing in Colors: Your Dog’s Coat Color Predicts His Hearing Ability. Stanley Coren, the popular canine psychologist, discusses research on how coat patterns and colors relate to hearing ability. This doesn’t break it down so far as to say that black dogs hear better than brown ones, but the research affirms the fact that primarily white or merled or piebald dogs do not hear as well or are more likely to suffer from hearing loss. (Psychology Today)

Fast and Furry-ous: Flyballin’. These are such great photos; the dogs look like they are having a blast! You can feel the energy and excitement. (Identity: V+E)

Reflections. OK, no dogs in this one, but this just made me giggle, particularly the photo with the whole crowd of sheep staring at their reflections. Really puts an image to the cliche “herd mentality.” (BCxFour)

The Benefits of Pet Ownership for Children. As a child who pestered her parents constantly for a pet, I’ll add a hearty amen to this article. Some great research cited here, too. (AAHA Healthy Pet Blog)

Pawsitively Amazing: Kiya. These sweet photos of this disabled German shepherd actually brought tears to my eyes. What is it about disabled dogs that is so gut-wrenching and inspiring? Probably because they don’t seem to worry at all and still have such light and joy in their eyes. It will get me every time. Kiya looks like such a doll, too. (The Daily Dog Tag)

Review: Love Has No Age Limit

Love Has No Age Limit, by Patricia McConnell and Karen London

This is the book I have been waiting to read. Ever since I made it known here that we were leaning toward adopting an adult dog, everyone told me there was only one book I needed to read: The new release from Patricia McConnell and Karen London, Love Has No Age Limit.

After poring over this wonderful, practical, little volume, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the only book that a potential dog adopter needs to read. The book is slightly over 100 pages, but McConnell and London say everything that needs to be said to prepare your home and heart for a rescued dog.

Love Has No Age Limit has a strong emphasis on preparation. The authors do all in their power to keep their readers from being blindsided by the many challenges that come with adopting a dog. But with their advice, these challenges are not daunting; rather, McConnell and London equip their audience with the right tools and the right perspective to rehome any dog.

I appreciated their practical tips for preparation, such as: Don’t give the dog full reign of your house right away. Treat the dog as if she is not housetrained, even if the adoption agency says she is; the stress of moving to a new home can cause some dogs to forget the rules of going inside or outside a house. Set your house rules with your family before bringing the dog home (this one struck a chord with me, because I am going to need to do about two months of instruction to get my husband up to speed with all that I’m thinking about and planning for our dog).

McConnell and London, per their backgrounds as well-respected animal behaviorists and trainers, also emphasize the importance of establishing a relationship and a bond. With some dogs, this bond may be instantaneous; with others, it may take a few months or even a year or more. Knowing that both are acceptable possibilities has helped me tone down my fears about adopting an adult. “It often takes a year to fully integrate a dog into your household,” the authors say, and this was such a relieving reminder. Everything does not have to be ideal all at once; don’t expect a perfect dog in two weeks.

The overwhelming message of this book is to have patience with one’s adopted dog. This was such a welcome message to me. After all of my months of planning and research, I am plagued by the thought that I am going to mess the dog up, that he or she won’t be “perfect”–which is silly. Of course the dog won’t be perfect. Of course I will make mistakes. McConnell and London just keep saying, “Have patience. Have patience with yourself and with your dog.” And that’s the message that matters.

Disclaimer: I requested a review copy of this book from Patricia McConnell’s publishing house.

Pup links!

An Afghan hound and her lady in Paris. Source: The Paris Apartment

Fascinating dog-related links from around the Web this week…

Concerns about Unleashed Dogs. Karen London reflects on how we, as a community, should respond to this ever-growing social issue. Even though I’m always tempted myself to take a well-behaved dog off leash, I know I shouldn’t if it means that people with aggressive or untrained dogs can do the same. (The Bark blog)

The Evolution of Barking. Why did domestic dogs start barking? Here’s a summary of recent research on the topic, which I find quite interesting. Part of this research was briefly discussed in “Dogs Decoded.” (The Bark blog)

10 Things You Must Know about German Shepherd Dogs. A brief collection of the background and personality of this beautiful breed, which I am more and more leaning toward. (In Style Dog)

When Internet Memes Collide. Inter-species friends! That is one adorable and tolerant sheltie, to play so well with that squalling–but evidently delighted–infant. (Pawesome)

Polar Bear Befriends Dog. More inter-species friends! This blog should be proof enough that nothing delights me as much as YouTube videos of creatures from different species playing together. (The Premium Pet Blog)

To Barney’s New Family. A touching letter from a popular mommy blogger to her Scottish terrier’s new family. She made the wise decision to surrender the dog after determining that he did not fit well with their family and that she could no longer adequately care for him. It’s a heart-wrenching decision, but it happens so often, especially among young families with babies and poorly trained dogs. (Nat the Fat Rat)

Cousin. Famous blogger Heather Armstrong snaps a photo of a dog in Bangladesh, who accurately displays the prototype of the ancestral domestic dog. (Dooce)

Spay, Neuter Programs Are Paying Off. This year, fewer than 4 million dogs and cats will be euthanized, down from nearly 20 million in the 1970s. Let’s keep up that decline! (Ohmidog!)

Drunk People Are Buying Adorable Puppies They Won’t Want in Five Hours. Now this is a really terrible phenomenon, but at least the pet shops–unethical as they are to be selling puppy mill puppies–are creating an ordinance against it. (Daily Intel)

Teach a Dog to “Hold”: The Consequences. A totally precious–and obedient–Newfoundland proves how good he is at this command. (NewfandHound)

Can My Dog Make Me Healthier? All dog lovers can already answer this with a resounding, “YES!” Stanley Coren presents some evidence. (Psychology Today)