Children can experience much joy from their interactions with dogs. Likewise, our canine companions can have a lot of fun with children. Before they are introduced to each other though, there are important things to consider to ensure that the relationship is safe, fun and beneficial for all!
TEACHING CHILDREN ABOUT DOGS
1. Don’t go chasing
Possibly one of the most important rules to impress upon children regarding dogs is “let them come to you”. When children first come into contact with dogs, teach them that they should not chase the dog, and that it is better if the dog initiates and is comfortable with the contact. Chasing a dog only instils fear in the animal, which could make it act negatively or aggressively toward the child. A small child chasing a dog almost inevitably ends in tears!
2. A dog is not a toy
Cute and cuddly as they may be, dogs have feelings and don’t appreciate their tails being pulled, their eyes being touched or being squeezed like a toy. Teach the child what kind of physical contact is appropriate, e.g. patting, stroking, speaking to them gently, and what is not appropriate, e.g. picking them up, tapping or hitting, pulling their tail, dragging them on the lead. For these reasons, it’s essential never to let children play alone with dogs until they are quite mature.
3. A dog must not be teased
Taunting or teasing a dog, or indeed, ‘play fighting’, must not happen at any time. Although the dog may seem to enjoy play fighting, this is not a good message to send to the dog about acceptable behaviour with children. It can easily lead to play that is too rough for the child to handle and could result in injury.
Once again, a child must realise that a dog is not a toy, that it has feelings and that it can learn bad behaviour. This is a valuable lesson in a child’s development, as one of the many benefits of children having pets is giving them a chance to develop their sense of empathy and respect for others, including animals.
4. Teach children about the responsibilities of dog ownership
It’s important for children to realise that dogs get hungry, thirsty and have certain exercise requirements – and limitations. Getting children involved in caring for, training and feeding the dog, under supervision of course, is a wonderful exposure to the responsibility of pet ownership. Dogs can also be unruly sometimes, so it’s important that children learn to control the dog and not let it play off-lead in public, or be left unattended with small animals (such as rabbits, guinea pigs or birds).
5. Remember hygiene
After playing with the dog, children should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water. Also, children should be advised not to let dogs lick their faces as this is a good way to pass on germs. Children can contract ringworm or hookworm from dog faeces, so it is important that you keep up with appropriate worming medications for your dog to avoid this. Likewise, children can also pick up fleas and ticks from dogs, so make sure these are also covered in your dog’s regular care routines.
6. Never, ever let a baby or young child go face-to-face with a dog
No matter how kind or gentle the dog, a young child can easily be perceived as a threat. Never, ever let a baby or young child place their face directly in or near the face of a dog. If frightened, there is every chance that the dog may lash out and snap at the child’s face, with devastating consequences.
MANAGING DOGS WITH CHILDREN
7. Choose the right dog for kids
If you know there are going to be children in your life, the most essential step you can take is to choose a dog that is friendly with children. If you are choosing a breed type, there are many websites available that will give general but informed advice about the most suitable breeds of dog for families with small children. If you’re fostering or adopting an adult dog, check the breed details and make sure the dog you are considering has been well socialised with children.
8. Think before “throwing the dog out” when a child arrives
When a visiting child appears in your home, think carefully before hurriedly pushing the dog outside and welcoming the child in. The dog will naturally perceive this as a punishment, and may become hostile towards the child if it is later introduced. If the visit is a once-off it may make perfect sense to keep the dog away from the child (such as putting it outside or in the garage). However, if it’s likely that the child will visit again, it may be best to keep the dog on a lead in the same room so that they can be introduced safely. It is recommended that the child and the dog do not have any physical contact until they are comfortable and familiar with each other.
9. Teach the dog to be gentle
Your pet dog must be taught that play biting, rough play, growling and snatching toys or food forcefully is not allowed. Close supervision is required whenever dogs interact with children, even when they are very familiar and used to each other. You must be quick to discipline the dog when it displays inappropriate behaviour toward the child, otherwise things can easily get out of hand. When dealing with food, teach the dog to wait before they pick up food or start eating, and if taking food from a hand, to do so gently. Keep small children away from the dog whilst it is eating or chewing bones to avoid defensive or protective behaviour.
10. Adding a new baby
A new baby brings adjustments for the whole family, with the dog being no exception. If a dog is used to spending all its time with the owner, it’s recommended that you start changing this dynamic before the baby arrives on the scene. When the baby does arrive, there may be a little bit of anxiety and adjustment to take place, so it helps to give the dog some special attention, and reward it for good behaviour around the newborn.
By rewarding the dog, and introducing it (safely) to the baby early, the dog will associate pleasant feelings with the new baby, setting the growing relationship on the right path for the years to come.
Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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