Last night, I briefly watched our friends’ sweet two-year-old daughter, L.
As you may recall, Pyrrha has always been somewhat nervous around children, especially the younger ones (babies, toddlers). We don’t have kids, and while we have many friends with children, she is not very exposed to them. She tolerates older kids fine (quiet ones aged 7 and up), but the little ones frighten her. She once growled at an approaching four-year-old, and I removed her from the situation. I was so discouraged by that, because a.) we want to have kids one day ourselves, and b.) training out of fear with children is a very difficult thing. It’s not like you can walk up to the parent of a toddler and say, “Hey, my German shepherd is scared of kids! Can I let her sniff your baby?”
Anyway. L. came over and I had her in my arms, on my hip. Pyr got very excited and barked at L. With that, Pyr got relegated to the backyard while L. and I stayed inside. Pyrrha was naturally upset about this, but after about 15 minutes, I could hear that she stopped whining and fidgeting.
L. was sitting with me on the couch, and so I decided to carefully introduce Pyrrha back into the house. I put Pyr on a drag lead and brought her inside. L. sat on my lap and I let Pyrrha approach L. Pyrrha approached her cautiously, but then sniffed her hands and started licking them enthusiastically, which made L. giggle.
L. was eating some pretzel snacks and asked me (I think! Toddler-speak is hard for me to decipher!) if she could feed them to Pyrrha. I showed L. how to feed them to Pyrrha with a flat palm, and Pyrrha enthusiastically took all the snacks from L. without the slightest amount of fear.
I was very heartened. Food works wonders with our shy girl! L. was great with her, too; she let Pyrrha sniff and lick her and didn’t squeal or move in quick, sudden ways. It was a brief interaction — L.’s dad soon came back to pick her up — but a positive one.
How is your dog with small children? Do you have any training tips to accommodate a shy dog around kids?
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.
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…
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?
The big news of the day is that we have now officially submitted our applications to the Virginia German Shepherd Rescue and Southeast German Shepherd Rescue! Even though we won’t move until May, I wanted to go ahead and send our applications so the vetting and approval process could get underway. It goes without saying that I am so excited.
Here are some dog-related links from around the web this past week:
Sidetracked by Grammar. As a copy editor and a dog lover, I definitely appreciated this vet’s list of grammatical pet peeves. The one that really gets under my skin? People who write about “German shepards.” Nope. Not a thing. Learn how to spell. (Pawcurious)
Pocket Petunia’s Big Adventure. A sweet post about therapy dogs visiting a local school and teaching kids about kindness and mercy toward others. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)
Color-Coded Dogs. Fun photos of dogs playing in groups arranged by fur color. (Ours for a Year)
We had glorious early autumn weather here this weekend and so we decided to hike up to Carter Mountain Orchard with friends. Failing to be outside on a weekend like this would be a severe crime. Liz, Bo’s mama, was out of town for the weekend and we were left with the beautiful Bo as our charge. I thought he’d have a great time in the woods and so we decided to pile him in the back of our Jeep and head out there.
My husband informed me on our way up that it was Festival Day, which meant that the entire town–and their dogs!–were at the orchard. I was nervous. Festival Day at the orchard was stressful for me as a human; I wasn’t sure if it was going to be totally overwhelming for Bo.
Thankfully, however, our hour-long hike up the mountain proved to sufficiently tire him out, and by the time we reached the throngs of people, Bo was in a calm, resting state.
A few things I learned from the outing:
Bo is extremely even-tempered; he’s the perfect dog to handle a big crowd, especially once he’s a bit tired. Dozens of kids came up to him and most were very polite and sweet with him. He took it all in stride–even when a rather pushy father stuck his toddler in Bo’s face. The toddler kept grabbing Bo’s tongue and pulling it and Bo didn’t even flinch. I gently moved Bo away from the kid, who started to scream, but the father eventually got the message: Yep, it’s time to keep your kid from torturing patient animals. However, I was very relieved to have such a trustworthy dog with me.
Taking a retriever to an orchard means that said retriever will try to retrieve every fallen apple on the ground… even when there are literally hundreds of fallen apples. I think he was eventually overwhelmed by all of the tasty retrieving options and finally gave up.
I saw two German shepherd puppies among the crowd up there and got to pet one who had recently been adopted from a breeder in Chesapeake. The puppy was very sweet and didn’t seem too overwhelmed by the madness. As he walked away, though, I couldn’t help but notice his already extremely bent hindlegs, in the GSD show fashion. It made me a bit sad.
Bo is especially fond of my brother-in-law, Win.
Bo is weird about drinking water that’s not from his specific bowl at home. He was clearly thirsty when we reached the top, but when we offered him a bowl of water at the orchard, he only took one lap and then moved away. We kept trying to tempt him with it, but he was uninterested. Strange.
On the hike down, we took him off leash and he was wonderful. He’d wander a few yards ahead of us but always stopped and turned around to make sure we were still following. A quick whistle or call of his name would bring him back to the trail after he went bounding after a random scent or squirrel. His recall is not superb, but he will always stop and listen when you ask him to; it’s just getting him to come that’s the hard part. A play bow on my part was often a helpful incentive. And a ginger cat cookie from Trader Joe’s…
One of the most joyful things in the world is watching a dog running free in the woods.
Resounding opinion of all of our hiking friends: “Bo is the perfect dog.” He’s pretty darn close.
All in all, we had a perfect day and I’m so happy that Bo joined us. I can’t wait to go on similar adventures with our own dog! And hopefully Bo will come along too…
We still have seven months to go until we can get a dog (but who’s counting??), and so I still have a lot of time to research, read books, meet dogs, and gather advice from seasoned dog people (like yourself). I go back and forth a lot about what breed/breed mix we should get, where we should get him/her from, and what our priorities are for a canine companion.
As with many major decisions, I keep vacillating about what kind of dog we should get. At the end of the day, I don’t really care if we get a purebred anything. I just want a dog (with a few qualities as a starting point for how to sift through all the overwhelming options).
There are still so many questions that tumble through my mind at this point…
Is it wrong to want a purebred sometimes? Is it wrong to get really jealous when a friend announces that she and her new husband are looking for an Aussie puppy?
Will I be emotionally strong enough to turn down a potential rescue if it’s really not the right dog for us?
Is it unwise for us to adopt an adult GSD if it’s our first dog?
Will we be able to handle various behavior problems?
Am I even mentally prepared for the amount of dog hair that will coat our house?
How hard will it be to train my husband all of these things that I have learned?
Which vet should we go to in town? How do we know if we have a good vet?
What if our dog doesn’t like other dogs? Or worse, hates kids? Can I help him/her with that?
Are these questions out of control, or are some of them worth thinking long and hard about? If you have any of the answers, do share! I’m all ears.
In all of my reading and all of my hours spent volunteering at the SPCA, I think one of the main lessons I’ve learned about dogs is this: Many people should not get a dog.
That sounds like an extreme statement. Let me qualify it.
The more I learn about dogs, the more I take them seriously. I used to think dogs were easy pets to have. Just grab a puppy anywhere, bring it home, and it’s your best friend for life! Turns out it’s not that simple. Dogs are complex animals who require a great deal of love, attention, and training. Temple Grandin’s book Animals Make Us Human even made me seriously question whether I should get a dog. Her recommendations for dog ownership are somewhat extreme in this modern age. Grandin seems to wish that all dogs could roam free around the neighborhood, like they used to do a few decades ago. Otherwise, she asserts, dogs are not enjoying a joyful life as they are locked up in a crate for 12 hours a day. She has a point.
A cultural misunderstanding of a dog’s complexity is why we have so many truly incredible dogs waiting in the emotional wastelands of our shelters and humane societies. Granted, the shelters are doing the best job they can with the resources that they have–but not even the best shelter can provide a dog with all of its emotional needs. Only a human family can do that.
But what kind of human family should get a dog?
It’s a difficult question to answer, and clearly, everyone has to make that decision for themselves, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I’m always dismayed by the number of people I meet who seem fundamentally unsuited to caring for a dog–the people who abandon that briefly loved dog a few months later. I probably see a disproportionate number of these people because I’m a part-time shelter volunteer, but I still think it’s an important issue to address.
It always breaks my heart when I hear about people giving up their dogs. I understand that, in this economic climate, many people can no longer handle the financial burden of a dog (or cat, or gerbil, or what have you). In this respect, it is wise to give up one’s dog to someone who may be better equipped to care for him. However, I am generally appalled by the pet ads on Craigslist from people who are abandoning their animals. These are common excuses that I see:
“We don’t have room in our apartment anymore for our Great Pyrenees.” No, duh. Maybe you should have considered that before you brought that white fluff ball home. That sweet, cuddly pup that looks like a stuffed animal is going to turn into a 130-pound yeti in a matter of weeks.
“We have to get rid of our dog because I’m allergic.” I understand that some people may not know they’re allergic to dogs before they bring them home, but test this one out a bit. Ever stayed at someone’s house and felt congested from their pet’s dander? Maybe dog ownership is not for you. Spend some quality time with some dogs before you commit to bringing one home.
“The puppy is nipping at my children.” Yep. That’s what puppies do.
“We’re moving and so we have to get rid of our dog.” I understand that there may be extenuating economic circumstances, but in general, I think it’s cruel to abandon your dog because you’re moving. I myself wouldn’t dream of moving into a place that wouldn’t allow me to bring my dog with me.
Or, the most infuriating: “We just don’t have time for her anymore.”
Frustrating Craigslist posts aside, here’s my amateur’s vision of the types of people who shouldn’t get dogs:
People with young children who want a dog–or worse, a puppy–to be a playmate/guardian for their children. These people really make me the most anxious. I see them come into the shelter with their little kids and ask if we have any puppies available. My guard goes up instantly. There is nothing wrong with getting a dog so your kids can enjoy canine companionship. However, many young parents seem to underestimate the commitment that a puppy demands. It’s kind of like having an infant all over again. And your kids are not going to raise and train that dog for you, no matter how much they beg and plead (trust me. I was that kid once! My mom was the primary caretaker for our dog, and she wasn’t really keen on having that job in the first place). Parents buy a puppy for their kids and then realize a week later, “Oh, crap. This creature needs a lot of attention that I’m not willing or able to give it.” And the dog or the puppy ends up at the shelter, confused and bewildered.
People who travel a lot for work or are never home. A dog will not have a high-quality life if she lives the majority of it in a crate. Dogs are social animals. They need our daily companionship and interaction.
People who don’t have a clue about a dog’s emotional, physical, and mental needs.
People who won’t take the time to train their dog or think that training is “cruel” or somehow makes the dog less happy. Nothing could be further from the truth. A well-trained dog is a happy dog, because she knows where she belongs in the family order. A well-trained dog is mentally balanced, content, and a respectable member of society.
People who will neglect the physical health of their dog. The more reading I do about dog food, the more I am appalled at what we’ve been feeding our pets.
People who won’t spay or neuter their dogs because they think it’s unkind or depriving. Unless your full-time job is a reputable breeder, please, please spay and neuter your dog. The world is filled with unwanted dogs who are the result of irresponsible humans. I see their sweet faces every day at the shelter. Think of them before you hesitate to spay or neuter.
I hope this doesn’t come across as judgmental or cynical, even though it probably does. This post stems from my deep wish that people took dog adoption more seriously. I think dogs in America would be so much better off if their humans took the time to do a little more research. I’m always very encouraged when I do meet other dog owners–like many of the incredible dog bloggers that I link to on my site (on the right sidebar)–who understand, even better than I do, the tremendous commitment we must make to our dogs. I hope I will carefully and judiciously consider all of these elements before my husband and I bring a dog into our home. It’s not a decision to be made lightly. And that’s the main thing I’ve learned.
How about you? What kind of people make the best dog owners, in your opinion?
Although I didn’t spend a ton of time with dogs this week, here’s what I learned from the two dogs I saw during my weekend with my family:
Dublin is a three-year-old chocolate lab mix who belongs to our dear friends and neighbors, a family with two young girls. Dublin was adopted her as a puppy from an adoption drive in our home town. My father, who loves dogs like I do, has adopted Dubs as his own dog most of the time. She adores him, too, which I think is quite evident from the photo above.
She’s very smart and great with the girls, Ally and Kate, who are 9 and 7. Dad plays Frisbee with her almost daily and has taught her to retrieve the disc by name and to get into different formations with a command (telling her “cross” means that she’ll run into the other yard and wait for the disc to be thrown over the fence). She’s excellent with the Frisbee and hardly ever misses a catch. Like most retrievers, she could play all day long. Dad has also recently taken to bringing her canoeing with him on Lake Norman, an activity that she reportedly loves.
Our best guess is that Dublin is mostly a lab, but we think she may also have some pit bull in her lineage, due to her stockiness and the shape of her muzzle. Dublin was a very excitable puppy, but now that she is three, she has the ability to calm down considerably and temper her activity level to those around her.
I saw her display this ability when I took her on a walk on Saturday afternoon with her young charges, Ally and Kate. The girls were especially keen to walk her on the leash and I decided that Dublin seemed calm enough to be handled by them. I was a little nervous about it–since I’d walked her before and she’d been like a firecracker–but Dublin walked sweetly and calmly by these little girls and was generally perfect the whole time. The only exception was when she saw squirrels darting around campus. I told the girls to just drop the leash if she started charging after a squirrel. This happened a few times and was an infinitely preferable situation than having the girls get their faces skinned up by being dragged along the sidewalk by this strong, stocky dog.
Overall, Dublin taught me that:
Lab mixes can excel at Frisbee.
High-energy dogs can reach a state of calmness–eventually.
A three-year-old dog is very different, energy-wise, than a one-year-old dog.
The mark of a great family dog is a dog, who even though young, can temper her activity level to her child companions.
This is not Dally, but this fluffy puppy looks nearly identical to her. Our neighbors across the street, who have three young children, bought Dally as an 8-week-old puppy from a breeder in Oak Ridge (I think from this kennel). She’s now probably 11 or 12 weeks old and just as fuzzy and adorable as ever. Naturally, I had to go over and meet her–along with the rest of my family.
The family’s gorgeous backyard is partially fenced, but they don’t worry about sweet Dally, who was patiently waiting for her humans to return on the brick stoop outside. She bounded up to us, rolled over, kissed our legs, and playfully mouthed our hands. I was surprised at how gentle she was at mouthing; most retriever puppies I’ve met love to chomp their needle-sharp teeth into soft human hands, but Dally seemed somehow aware that gentleness was required. I wondered if this was something her doting family had already taught her.
Like all good goldens, Dally was extremely attentive and sweet toward all types of people and displayed no signs of fear when met with men, women, and children of all sizes (our family fairly swarmed their backyard). She also seemed very smart; I was impressed that she immediately obeyed the command “sit” from the family’s energetic 7-year-old daughter.
What I learned from Dally:
A golden retriever puppy is one of God’s greatest and most adorable gifts to humankind.
Families with young children should just get golden retrievers. Don’t even look at a terrier. Or any toy breed. Just get a golden. There’s a reason why they’re so popular with families with kids; their temperaments seem ideally suited to the hectic lifestyle of a young, busy family.
On Friday, I volunteered for the Charlottesville SPCA during an adoption promotion event on the downtown pedestrian mall. It was the 35th anniversary of the mall’s creation and the streets were packed with people. I was helping walk dogs (including Elizabeth, featured above), handle kittens, and talk to people about adoption.
When I got there, I was feeling kind of uneasy about my role as a volunteer. My husband walked me over there and as we walked, he mentioned that one of our mutual friends harbors some disdain toward me for my dog obsession (OK, that’s fine; it is a bit out of control) and for being a volunteer at the SPCA. This person thinks that pets are frivolous and unnecessary and that people should never own domesticated animals. Accordingly, this person believes that it is silly and wasteful for me to give my time to dogs at the SPCA.
Naturally, I disagree, but I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty as I went over there. Should I be volunteering at the homeless shelter instead? Serving food at the soup kitchen? I do believe that people are more valuable than animals, but I’ve never felt called to work with the homeless. I don’t think I’m gifted in that kind of ministry. Thankfully, there are many people around here who are capable and motivated to work with the many homeless people in our community. I’m just not one of them.
Somewhat troubled in spirit, I arrived at the SPCA’s table and was handed the leash of a large, placid lab/hound named Thurgood (not pictured, because I think he was adopted this weekend!). Our area was mobbed with people, especially parents with children. Animals act like magnets to most kids. The cat pen was packed with little kids who were squeezing kittens and the three dogs that we handled were constantly being hugged, petted, and ambushed. Thankfully, the shelter staff made a good choice by bringing Thurgood and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a senior hound who is extremely patient and slow-moving; she’s friendly to everyone, especially those who smell like food. Thurgood is a youngish, steady lab/hound mix and I worked primarily with him for a few hours. He was stubborn, but very gentle and submitted to the attentions of every type of person who rushed up to him.
The dogs were showing signs of exhaustion and stress–especially the third dog, Benny, who was unable to cope with the crowds and had to be walked away from everything–but they never showed signs of irritation or aggression. This alone taught me a lot about patience. I think I would have snapped at someone if I had armies of squealing children sticking their fingers in my eyes and mouth. But the dogs took it all in stride.
One of the biggest lessons the dogs taught me that day was about unconditional love. As I’ve already mentioned, our table was very popular with all of the children on the mall that day. But I also noticed that we drew a steady crowd of homeless and mentally handicapped adults. These people were more or less ignored by the other booths. It was assumed that they weren’t capable of supporting any of the neighboring causes or even carrying on a rational conversation about a business or a fundraising campaign. Other people would just look right past them when they approached, as if they weren’t there at all. No one paid them any attention. Except for the dogs.
The dogs treated them like everybody else. These socially marginalized people found attention, respect, and love from these animals, who did not discriminate against them based on their appearance, mental ability, or class. I will particularly remember a mentally handicapped woman who stayed at our table for almost half an hour. She kept stroking Thurgood’s head over and over, bending down to hug his neck, and kept excitedly saying to me, “Look, he likes me! Look how much he likes me!” I reassured her that he did like her. Because dogs don’t lie.
If I ever had to give an answer as to why I love dogs, I’d tell this story. The unconditional love of dogs is one of the primary reasons why they matter. It’s the motivating reason why I think we should do everything in our power to give these homeless dogs the best life possible. They have done so much for us and we have done so little for them. Just watch a dog lavish love on a complete stranger. I think that should be proof enough that dogs are valuable.
Siro Twist Pet Bed. This bed is so attractive and designer-friendly. Too bad it’s $460. Because you know if you bought your dog a $460 bed, he’d never sleep in it and prefer the pile of old towels by the back door. (Pawesome)
Holy Imprinting! Imprinting is always totally adorable. Especially when it involves a Pembroke Welsh corgi and two yellow ducklings. (Cute Overload)
Not Enough Time. I would just like to add my rousing agreement to this post from the Inu-Baka blog–and step up on a brief soapbox. I am always astounded by people who bring dogs into their lives with seemingly little thought to how much time dogs need and deserve. Clearly, as the writer here points out, you can have a full-time job AND be a great dog owner. If you say that your full-time job keeps you from caring for your dog, you don’t care enough about your dog. And you should never have gotten a dog in the first place. For anything that we prioritize in our lives, we will make time for it. I make time for my husband because he matters to me. I make time to read because I love to read. I will make time for my dog because I will love my dog and want what’s best for him.
I once heard a new dog owner talk about how dogs were so much better than children because “unlike kids, you can leave a dog in a crate for 12 hours and it’ll be fine.” I think my mouth fell open. No, that dog will NOT be fine! This is borderline animal abuse. And yet so many people think this is an acceptable way to “live” with a dog.
I always get a little nervous when people come into the SPCA looking for dogs as “companions” for their young children. I feel like many parents believe that dogs come pre-programmed to be a child’s best friend. Nothing could be further from the truth. The great “Lassie”-like dogs you see are great because of extensive training, attention, and care. So many people adopt cute puppies for their kids and then, less than a year later, those same puppies are back in the shelter–confused and abandoned–because people were totally clueless about how much attention and time a puppy needs.
Judge your schedule very carefully before bringing a dog into your home. This is something I tell other people and I tell myself regularly. Adopting a dog is not a carefree or temporary commitment. Don’t get a dog if you will abandon it a year later. Dogs deserve better.