A friend of mine just had a baby. They also have two lovely dogs. As I sat at the hospital indulging in some baby-talk with the adorable baby, I got to thinking about how the baby might be introduced to the dogs. It then occurred to me that the topic for this week had to be children and dogs.
You know what they say about real estate – location, location, location. Similarly with children and dogs – supervision, supervision supervision. That is the first and the most important thing to remember in this context. If you need to leave the room for a minute either take the dog with you or the baby. Children can quite often be too much for dogs and can overwhelm them unless they are taught how to be around dogs. While we wait for children to grow up enough to understand how to be around dogs, it’s the adult’s job to ensure that all play is supervised.
It’s very important for adults to learn the body language of dogs. This should give very early indication as to what is stressing the dogs out and help adults guide children to avoid stressful actions. Dogs communicate with calming signals such as yawning, licking their lips, turning their head, sitting or lying down. To learn more about calming signals look it up on Wikipedia or get a copy of the book On Talking Terms with Dogs.
When children play with dogs, it’s important to keep the activities nice and calm. Don’t allow rough play. Don’t allow children to pull the dog’s ears, tails or lips. Dogs don’t like to be hugged. Teach children to be gentle when petting dogs and stick to petting a dog on his shoulders. Treat searches, puzzles, storytelling and doing activities together are good ways for children to engage with dogs. Playing tug, fetch and wrestling are not so good and must be discouraged.
I encourage all my clients to also designate a spot that the dog likes as the ‘Safe Zone’. When in this spot, no one is allowed to disturb the dog at any cost – not for petting or walking even. This will teach the dog that when in the ‘Safe Zone’ he can be assured complete privacy. When interacting with children, he can then opt to move to his safe zone if he is feeling overwhelmed. Of course, children in the house as well as children who visit need to be taught that when the dog goes to his safe zone, he is not to be followed or disturbed and that they are to look for another game to play.
As the children grow up, they will be meeting more dogs. Teach the children that the best way to meet a dog is to allow the dog to approach the kid and not the other way around. If the dog chooses to approach the kid, then he needs to be able to examine the kid without interruption. Children need to learn to stay still and allow the dog to examine them. They need to learn to ask the dog’s guardian if the dog is okay with children.
These are general good habits that will keep their interaction with dogs pleasant and build a good association with dogs. I read a quote once that said “Dogs need to learn good habits and so do children”. It’s up to the adults to teach their children good habits, while they can take the help of a behavioural counsellor to teach their dog good habits.
Additional Links and Resources
This is a simple & fun video for parents to watch. While I agree with almost everything in this video, I would not encourage the body language of the girl in this video. I would instead recommend that she not bend over the dog and face the dog. For better body language trips during meet and greet, check out the poster below.
This is a good poster that shows how NOT to greet dogs and polite ways of greeting dogs. Children and adults need to know this and practice it. Adults in particular need to learn this, because children learn by watching what adults do.
Here is another video that is not as fun as the previous video but has very sound advice and I agree with everything in this video 100%
This is another simple article with plenty of useful tips and very sound advice: Be Safe with Dogs from Blue Cross Pets
If you want to get a bit geeky and delve into some “sciency stuff”, check out this article: Educating Children Reduces Risky Behaviour Around Dogs (though I am not sure that the bulk of bites in India come from stray dogs. I’d like to see good research on that).