"The dog was
created specially for children. He is the god of frolic."
– Henry Ward Beecher -
a pet's care can build a child's self esteem and teach empathy for
"What Pets Teach Children"
1) Love -
through caring and feeling appreciation (sometimes indirectly),
knowing efforts make a difference.
2) Pride In A
Job Well Done - from accepting and meeting responsibilities.
Skills" - by learning what is best fo rthe pet and unselfishly
gaining pleasure from knowing the animal feels good, safe and
Understanding - from gaining knowledge and empathy for another life
and accepting its differences and limitations.
Raising a child
with a companion can be beneficial for the entire family. Children
taught to care for pets learn how to share and deal with
responsibilities. Pets improve a child's ability to relate
sensitively to others; through learning their efforts matter,
children often become more generous. Caring for a pet requires
understanding of how another life feels; it teaches children to
be empathetic and to look at other's perspectives and not just their
own. As children mature, these relationship skills may assist them
in dealing with other people, not just animals.
pet-bonded youngsters may be reassured knowing their children have
at least one true-blue friend in the world to rely on. During
lonely times, when feeling misunderstood or treated unfairly (which
is much of the time during adolescence!), it's nice to know children
have trusting companions to turn to that won't judge them, criticize
their clothes, talk about hem behind their backs, boss them around
or reveal any of the their secrets.
"Luc and his rescue GSD Eich"
"Dogs can help kids feel better about themselves..."
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A lick in
the face with a big wet tongue can enhance a child's self-esteem and
sense of empathy.
That's one of the lessons to
be learned from a University of New Mexico doctoral dissertation
inspired by a dog named Norton.
Robert Bierer, 34, who got his
Ph.D. in family studies from the College of Education this month,
says his emotional bond with Norton, his 10-year-old Australian
shepherd, helped him decide how to focus his research.
The result: a 138-page
dissertation on "The Relationship Between Pet Bonding, Self-Esteem,
and Empathy in Preadolescents."
Bierer, a counselor at
Whittier Elementary School, studied previous scholarly work in the
field of human-animal interactions. His contribution to the field
has been to concentrate on a particular animal (dogs) and a
particular age group (children 10 to 12).
"People have known for years
that dogs are good medicine for children," Bierer said. "What I
found is that preadolescent children with pet dogs have
significantly higher self-esteem and empathy than children without
Those higher ratings in
self-esteem and empathy hold true whether the dog is "owned"
individually by the child or by the entire family.
That is, just having a dog in
the house makes a difference, regardless of whether the family is
headed by a single parent, the mother works outside the home, or the
child has siblings.
"I never expected the results
to be as strong as they are," he said.
In a summary of his work,
Bierer also notes that "owning the dog earlier or later in the teen
years did not have the same impact on sensitivity and emotional
"I don't feel comfortable
saying that owning a dog earlier or later is not helpful," Bierer
said. "It's just that this is when it really makes a big difference.
A dog doesn't judge whether you're right or wrong. When you're on
your way into adolescence -- which is a challenging time -- having
that secure base, that unconditional, nonjudgmental relationship
with a dog, is very helpful."
Using questionnaires designed
as psychological research tools, he asked fifth-grade boys and girls
at three elementary schools about themselves and their pets.
Of the 126 children who
answered the questionnaires, 93 had dogs and the rest did not.
Visit Dr. Bierer's website (Dogs
+ Kids = Higher Self Esteem/Empathy) here.
To offset more
mundane pet-related chores, try to get your child involved in fun
dog activities. Some ideas include pet therapy programs at nursing
homes or hospitals; dog shows for conformation; obedience or
Junior handling competition; agility classes; Frisbee or flyball
competitions; breed specific activities such as herding, sledding
and earth dog tests; pet parades; and visits to school for "show
In your own
backyard, children can have backyard dog shows, circuses and plays
and performances with the dogs in starring roles and parents as the
remember, the BIGGEST CHILD/DOG PROBLEMS come from
LACK OF SUPERVISION.
A question that is commonly asked by people that about to acquire a
new dog or puppy is, " How are they around children ?" This is
especially true of couples with small children or who plan to have
children in the future. It can also be asked by grandparents who are
about to acquire a dog. There is so much information and perhaps
misinformation that is spread by word of mouth that it is certainly
valid question one would expect directed to a breeder or someone
like myself (who has two wonderful Chesapeake Bay Retrievers , an
American Cocker Spaniel, and a Jack Russell Terrier).
I cannot recall the number of times people have asked about the
Cocker and my grand-kids, commenting " I have heard that cockers
and kids don't mix well" or " Aren't Chessies too mean to have
around kids?" I have even read comments like this on some of the
canine e-mail lists that I read. Well, in my opinion, having your
and kids, or grandkids, get along is not as simple or as easy as
picking the right "breed." I think my philosophy, what I am about to
write about, relates to most breeds. I suppose there are some
breeds that might be better to have around children, but I am not
convinced of that. At least, I don’t think the breed of dog is the
If one were truly concerned, I believe that asking how the dog is
around children is only part of the question. What also needs to be
asked as well is " How are kids or how will my kids be around dogs?"
And, in the end, the really correct question should be "What do I,
a parent or grandparent, have to do in order to maximize the
relationship between my kids/grandkids and my dogs?" Not
addressing this question could result in kids getting hurt and,
perhaps, in dogs being blamed unjustly. I realize that there are
individual cases or individual dogs that should not be around kids
one reason or another. But I am writing about that vast majority of
cases where Fido (the dog) and Rufus and Esmeralda (the kids) can
and should live in harmony.
First of all let me tell you a little about me. I am not an expert
anything. As a matter of fact, I abhor the label "expert." I am not
trainer of dogs or a master at dog philosophy. I am a dog owner and
have had dogs all my life. They have been and always will be my
"best friends" and companions. They lift my spirits when I am down
and brighten my day. They have taught me the true meaning of
acceptance and unconditional love and through them I have learned
that we are intimate with nature and not separate from nature. These
are wonderful lessons and gifts. We also have 5 children, all
and 9 wonderful grandchildren ranging from age 2 yrs to 15 yrs. So
my aim has always been to share the gifts the dogs give me with my
children and my grandkids.
Let me explain what has worked in my family.
First - the Dogs: One of the first things we do when we have gotten
a new dog or puppy into the household is to start touching it. I
we give the dogs morning massages, rub their ears, hold onto their
paws, and even give them tugs on their tails. They get their fur
brushed and periodic baths. In addition to getting cleaned and
massaged, etc., the purpose is to get the dogs used to being handled
a lot. When the grandkids eventually come over, they like to handle
and touch the dogs. If a puppy wants to bite he gets a gentle tweak
on the nose, but the main ingredient is lots of attention, all
Probably the most frequent incidents between dogs and children
involve food or a doggie treat or toy of some kind. When kids are
around it is not enough to think that you can prevent an incident by
feeding the dog in a separate room. There almost certainly will be a
time when they will be in the presence of a dog with food. To assume
otherwise is foolish. So, that being said, we handle the dogs’ food
some fashion. We make sure that any dogs that we have had accept
the fact that we will and do pick up their food dishes when eating.
This is usually before and after eating, while in their presence.
on a daily basis to get the dogs used to us being around their food.
We do not encourage the kids to do this! We also have made it a
practice to allow the dogs around the dinner table and feed them
food, usually small bits of meat, and veggies and fruit. This may be
considered a no-no, but I believe it teaches the dog to accept food
a slow and gentle fashion. The dogs do not beg but have been taught
to wait. When we first start a dog out, we keep only a small amount
of food exposed and if he lunges, he gets a tap on the nose with the
words "slow." I have also lined the dogs up side by side and
spoon-feed them ice cream for example. I say each of their names
and then give them a spoon. This has taught the dogs discipline
around food. Again, I do not do this in the presence of the
children but when they are not around. This training exercise is for
the dogs to learn this discipline around food.
Second - the Kids: The first thing I try to instill in the grandkids
respect the dogs. That is, it is okay to pet the dogs and to touch
dogs. It is not acceptable to hit them, pull on their fur or to harm
them in any way. They are taught that gentleness and kindness is the
key. The kids are encouraged to use the basic commands of "sit"
and "no!" when appropriate. We try to teach the grandkids to mention
the dog’s name before they approach them, especially if the dogs are
sleeping. They learn that they do not surprise a dog. The grandkids
are not allowed to tease the dog, either physically or with food and
are not encouraged to feed them. This is not counter to what I teach
the dogs. I realize there are times when a child will offer
up and I want the dog to be gentle if that happens, but it is not
encouraged. The adult dogs that we have, especially the Chessies
seem to know the limitations of the children and are remarkably
gentle around them. Food is always a draw though.
The next thing, especially for the older kids, is to respect the
the dogs - especially the Chessies, but even the Cocker and the Jack
Russell. Kids have to be taught to understand their limitations in
they can get the dog to do. This, of course, varies from child to
but my 60 lb. granddaughter likes to work with my 90 lb. Chessie. If
she is not in my presence, she is not allowed to put the leash on
dog and work with him. As she gets older, she will be allowed to
more and more but if the Chessie doesn't sit for her, she must
realize she doesn't have the strength to make him if he doesn't want
Third - The Parent or Grandparent: Okay, this is the last and most
important part of the equation. The dogs are mine. For dogs and
kids to gel requires a lot of work on our part. I love my dogs and I
my kids. You need to work on the first two parts... and more.
is all-important. I don't know how many times I have heard the
statement "If that dog bites, he's outta here" or "never, never
allow a dog to bite." Well, I think both of those attitudes are
self-defeating and unfair to the dog. Having those attitudes could
actually result in a child getting hurt. They tend to be macho
and do not acknowledge the fact that an incident can occur with any
dog, no matter how gentle he is. That is - there is ALWAYS the
possibility. Surprise! Protectiveness can trigger an incident where
dog is immediately sorry but...too late! In many cases if a child is
taught to respect a dog and if the owner is ever vigilant - this
can be prevented. So, in addition to some of the items above, here
are some more things I do or don't do.
I ALWAYS tell and work with the grandkids to keep their faces away
from the dog’s face. To allow it always leaves open the possibility
an incident even accidental. I don’t mean a dog reaching out and
licking a face. They can do that, but rather I don’t allow a child
their face in close in an intimidating fashion. I roughhouse with my
dogs from time to time. But never in the presence of the children
because they like to imitate us and to do so without know the
limitations is dangerous. While I feed the dogs from the table, I do
do so when the kids are around.
I know what I’ve written about above is not inclusive. Working with
dogs and with the kids is an everyday task that is incorporated into
my daily life.... so this article will never end! I do not claim
to be totally unique and that they will work in all situations. If
would be one statement that I could describe about my philosophy of
dogs and children is this: My children, now adults, were and are
part of my family. I treat them as such. The same is true of my
grandchildren. It does not take much imagination on my part to
extend that philosophy to my four dogs and three cats. They are not
merely pets - I don’t treat them as just animals. Rather, they are
part of my family and I treat them accordingly, philosophically, in
same way I treat my grandchildren. In this way we have all been able
to live in harmony thus far. The most important ingredient in all of
is the parent/grandparent, dog companion.... Me or You....
-- Wally Clay (July 1998)
"Shadow" and his best friend, Dillon. "Shadow" is from
Czech lines, Vonkatzenblut Shepherds, in Fort Myers, Florida.
Even a nice dog
may try to protect himself with a growl and a nip at certain times.
Biting is a dog’s natural way of protecting himself. Since dogs
sometimes see kids as equals they may try to send them a warning,
doggy-style, when things get tense. Here’s how to avoid
misunderstandings with your own or
anyone else’s dog.
*** Always ask a dog’s owner if you may pet the dog. However,
statistical evidence shows that the dog owner or guardian is just as
surprised when the dog bites. Children should avoid all contact
with all dogs that the parents are not very familiar with. However,
if they must touch the dog, they must know to ask.
There may be a very good reason why a dog should not be touched. He
may be “on duty” as a handicapped person’s assistance dog, or he may
be injured, ill, or afraid of children.
*** Approach a dog from the front or side.
Hold your hands low and speak softly. Surprising a dog from behind
or forcing him into a corner may cause him to snap in fear. Waving
hands in the air or screaming may overexcite him, causing him to
snap in fear or even in play.
*** Let a dog eat in peace.
If there’s one place a dog may get defensive, it’s at the food dish.
Your dog shouldn’t growl when you get near his dish, but you
shouldn’t interfere with his eating.
*** Watch out for special toys.
Some dogs have powerful feelings for their balls or chew toys. Never
take a bone or toy from a dog’s mouth unless you have trained him to
drop it and give it to you first.
· Children should avoid teasing, rough wrestling, or tug-of-war
Dogs may get too enthusiastic in these sorts of games and forget
you’re not a dog. Fetch, Frisbee, hide and seek, agility courses,
and Flyball are better outlets for your dog’s energy.
*** Respect a dog’s space.
Dogs naturally defend their territories. Sticking your hand inside a
strange dog’s pen or in a car window where a dog is sitting may put
him in a defensive situation and he might bite to protect his
*** Leave fighting dogs alone.
Do not try to break up a dogfight! Most fights end quickly, but it’s
a good idea to remain quiet and get an adult who can stop the fight.
Trying to separate or yelling at fighting dogs makes them more
excited, and they might turn on you.
*** Observe dog body language.
Dogs normally resort to biting only when they think you haven’t
listened to their warnings. Watch out for a dog who is barking,
growling, or showing his teeth. Beware if his ears are back, legs
stiff, tail up, or hair standing up on his back. Slowly walk away
and say “No” firmly, arms by your side. Do not scream, stare into
his eyes, or run away. If you run, he will chase you and may attack.
*** Tell your friends what you know.
When friends come to your house, introduce them to your dog and
explain the house rules. When you’re out, share your knowledge. The
more everyone knows about dogs, the better world it will be for dogs
and for people.
Thank you to
the "The Complete Dog Book For Kids"
- The Odds That a Bite
Victim Will Be a Child Are 3.2 to 1.
- Children; Especially Boys
Aged 5 to 9 Years, Having the Highest Incidence Rate
- Children seen in
emergency departments were more likely than older persons to be
bitten on the face, neck, and head.
- 77% of injuries to
children under 10 years old are facial.
- Severe injuries occur
almost exclusively in children less than 10 years of age.
- The majority of dog
attacks (61%) happen at home or in a familiar place. The vast
majority of biting dogs (77%) belong to the victim's family or a
- When a child less than 4
years old is the victim, the family dog was the attacker half
the time (47%), and the attack almost always happened in the
family home (90%).
Always remember, the BIGGEST CHILD/DOG PROBLEMS come from
LACK OF SUPERVISION.