A little while ago I wrote about how you need to socialize your dog properly, pert of this being you need to make your dog tolerate children. Not be their best friend, not all dogs are, but for a working society where we can all live you need to make sure your dog can behave around children, no matter if they are ever going to come to the skin or not. It needs to be able to tolerate their presence without aggression or fear. Now, while we dog owners have responsibilities, parents also have them. Here are some things to remember when you teach your child to behave with a dog – and believe me, it needs to be taught. It does not come naturally.
One of the most common mistakes I have witnessed myself and heard from others is that small children, toddlers, are let to walk unsupervised in a house with a dog, specially if that dog is not in the same family with the child. This can lead to dangerous situations where the child will approach the dog and either forget or not care about how to give space and respect the animal. In these cases, often enough, the dog will feel threatened. If we adults are not there, we can't interfere. What of the dog is in it's bed? What if it is in a corner? What if it feels trapped? A child, specially if he or she does not live with a child or is very small, can't tell all the subtle body language the dog may be giving, leading to a dangerous, risky situation. So, always supervise your child! After all, it is YOUR child and you should be in charge of it's safety.
Respect own space
Dogs are very commonly fond of certain ”own spaces” withing the house and the yard. The most classical example is the dog's own bed, but under the owners bed, in a certain room, a certain corner of the house, a certain place on a mattress, all those can also be seen as ”safe spots” for the dog. Make sure you communicate with the dog's owner to see when the dog is at it's ”own space” and respect that space. Do not let a child approach the dog when it seeks the comfort of it's safe spot. This can well be compared to our own home. We go in our home to be at peace, to feel safe. If every random human being passing by can just walk in our livingroom uninvited, does it make you feel safe? It stresses one up, and it can lead to a point where grabbing the nearest object and swinging it against an intruder feels like a good idea.
When talking abiut dogs, they don't grab an object. They use their snout to poke and teeth to snap.
If you want the child to admire the dog from afar, leave a good space between the resting dog and the child. No matter if you don't touch the dog, hoovering 10 centimeters from it's face doesn't feel very safe.
A sleeping dog should NEVER be touched! This is a rule very important to teach, and maybe the most important one.
A gentle touch
Little children are often rough. They can't handle their plump little limbs as good as adults do and they may be a tad ”brutal” when petting a dog. Very small kids also get intrigued by possible hairs and have a tendency to grab them (don't let your afghan hound over the baby's crib. Babies grip, and they grip good), which is usually not a very good idea. The same goes with the swinging tail. Always be there, ready to instruct the child to be more gentle and make sure it doesn't grab any part it should not. Believe it or not, it's not uncommon for a small child to grab a you-know-what part of a large male dog, just saying. We can all probably agree it doesn't feel that nice, and that the dog might not appreciate the effort.
Guide the child when petting a dog, making sure the child is gentle and respectful, meaning it doesn't touch the eyes or grab the ears or anything similar. Safe spots with a strange dog are the chest and the back.
Let the dog decide when it's had enough. When it leaves, it leaves. It has the right to do so.
Feeding time is sacred
Don't. Let. The. Child. Approach. A. Dog. That. Eats. No matter if the dog is not at all food aggressive, it's not the time or space to go and interfere. The dog is eating, and it should be able to eat in peace. Don't let the child near the food bowl of the eating dog and don't let it touch the dog when the dog eats. Teach your child to wait further away or just ignore the dogs and do something else while the dogs are eating.
Even docile dogs may react if they are interrupted while eating. Or would you like to have someone poking your hands and sides and messing with your plate when you are having a dinner? What is a small correction for a dog, something they would do to each other, might be a severe injure for the child (we will talk about this later).
The same goes with dogs when the child is eating. It might make ”a cute” Youtube video to show the dog and child sharing an ice cream, but it is always better to teach the dog to respect a child when the child is eating and teach the child to respect an eating dog.
Know the animal or have someone knowing the animal around
Mr. Hyperactivity loves children and puppies. He loves playing with them and he doesn't mind either when they are a bit rough. He is a tad rough himself, too, and he doesn't have the perfect aim or concentration when playing with toys. He can jump on the ball while you are taking it or he can accidentally grab your hand when he tried to grab the toy you were playing the tug-of-war with. He always lets go, he never means to hurt, but he is just SO HAPPY and SO FULL OF ENERGY he makes mistakes. Just the day before yesterday I played with him, and he missed the rope toy just a bit when correcting his bite of it, hitting my arm instead.
If my hand looks like this after this small indicent he meant no harm with, he was just being inconsiderate, imagine how a small child's face would look.
Trust the owner. If she or he says you can't let the child play with the dog ”because he gets so hyper” or ”she is a bit rough”, don't go ”oh, but it doesn't mind, my child's used to it!”. The owner knows the dog he/she shares the house with, and he/she knows whether or not the dog can play with a child safely.
Correcting is not a bite
I mentioned earlier that the dogs correct each other. They do that with poking with their snout and snapping with their teeth. Mothers do this to pups. Friends do that with each other. Dogs of the same house do that. It's not a sign of being aggressive, it's simply interacting and telling something is not OK. Same goes with growling.
We have unfortunately grown to believe a growl or a snap is a sign of an aggressive dog. We teach out dogs to never growl and we see dogs correcting each other as ”mean”. We expect all dogs are the most docile labs or the most gentle beagles, but that is not true. We have a HUGE variety of breeds and breed mixes and a HUGE variety of temperaments. Some temperaments are more desired with house pets than others, but those temperaments wouldn't probably work with for example a hunting dog or a guard dog or a service dog. Even within just house pets we have many, many, many different dogs that prefer different things.
Some dogs, no matter what their purpose, breed, gender or age, are more prone to correct with a snout poke or a snap. From my own experience, older bitches are more likely to do this than males, but once again, this is just my own experience. Don't use it as a guide and think you can take your child to hug a strange older male because nokkaelaimet.weebly.com said it's OK.
When a snap or a poke happens, even if the skin is not broken (and usually it is not because the dog knows perfectly well how to use it's teeth) it is often labeled a bite and the dog is getting a stigma of being aggressive. REMEMBER; A BITE NEVER LEAVES THE SKIN UNBROKEN. When a bite happens, the dog is wishing to harm. It feels threatened enough to injure to get out of the situation. This is a VERY serious thing, the child often needs medical help after the incident, and we should NEVER let this happen. This is exactly why we should always supervise animals and children together.
If the child cries, but the skin is not broken (or the wound is hardly there) and the dog doesn't seem to be too ”stressed” what has happened is most likely a poke with a snout (and the kid got scared of the hasty movement) or a snap. If we happen to witness the situation, the dog has most likely presented a very wide variety of different calming and warning signals before that; stiff posture, licking of teeth, growling, looking other way eyes enlargened, panting... may they have been clear or not, may there have been many or not, those signals of the dog have been ignored and it moved on to the next phase of trying to solve the situation; physical correction. This is how dogs communicate with other dogs, and because of OUR OWN MISTAKE things have lead to the situation where the dog felt threatened or irritated or both enough to use physical force.
While there is a connection between the tendency to correct and the tendency to bite, most dogs that physically correct never meant to harm the child. They hold no grudge. They simply corrected it in a way their species work. To label this dog aggressive, to put it down or find a new home for it immediately shows our own misunderstanding of the situation and how badly we handled it before the incident. Instead of this labeling we should understand we let this happen, and we should not let it happen again. While in some cases, if the dog is super stressed around the kid in general, it would be best to not let the kid and the dog be together, usually these kind of things don't happen again if we make sure the child and the dog are interacting in a correct, safe way.
A snap or a snout poke is not a bite. Don't call it a bite, and don't see it as an aggressive move from the dog's side only. Something has happened that led to the situation, and most likely it was our mistake that allowed this unfortunate incident. If the situation doesn't result anything more serious than a crying kid with no visible physical harm or a slightly tense dog, move on. Make sure next time you handle things better. Specially if the dog is not your own dog, there are NUMEROUS things you can do to make sure in future your kid stays untouched and the dog doesn't feel threatened by it. You can start by figuring out if you let some of the forbidden things described in this post happen.
Dogs and kids can be terribly good friends and they can do lots of fun things (and get into lot of mischief) together, but this means both of them know how to behave around each other.
Socialize your dogs properly and teach your kids to respectfully treat a dog. This way a dog can really be your kid's best friend.