Living with a pet can be beneficial to children. Pets can
enhance a childs self-esteem, teach them responsibility and help them to learn
empathy. However, children and dogs are not always going to automatically start off with a
wonderful relationship. Parents must be willing to teach the dog and the child acceptable
limits of behavior in order to make their interactions pleasant and safe.
|Selecting A Dog
What age is
best? Many people have a "warm fuzzy" image of a puppy and a child growing up
together. If you have a young child and are thinking of adopting a puppy (less than one
year old) there are a few things you need to consider.
- Time and energy: Puppies require a
lot of time, patience, training and supervision. They also require socialization in order
to become well-adjusted adult dogs. This means they need to be taken places and exposed to
new things and new people. If you have a young child who already requires a lot of care
and time, will you have enough time to care for a puppy, as well?
- Safety: Puppies, because theyre
babies, are somewhat fragile creatures. A puppy may become frightened, or even injured, by
a well-meaning, curious child who wants to constantly pick him up, hug him or explore his
body by pulling on his tail or ears.
- Rough play: Puppies have sharp teeth
and claws with which they may inadvertently injure a small child. Puppies also tend to
jump up on small children and knock them down. All interactions between your child and
puppy will need to be closely supervised in order to minimize the chances of either being
- Advantages of getting an adult dog: Adult
dogs require less time and attention once theyve adjusted to your family and
household routine, although youll still need to spend time helping your new dog with
the transition to his new home. You can better gauge how hardy and tolerant an adult dog
will be of childish enthusiasm and you can work with your local animal shelter to adopt a
dog with a history of getting along well with children. As a general rule, if your child
is under six years old, its best to adopt a dog thats over two years old.
Although puppies can be a lot of fun, and its exciting and rewarding to help them
grow into wonderful companions, they do require significantly more time to train and
supervise than an adult dog.
What Breed Is Best?
Although some general statements can be made about specific dog breeds, the
characteristics of an individual dog are just as important as a dogs breed.
- Size: Small breeds of dogs, such as
toy or miniature poodles, chihuahuas or cocker spaniels, may not be good choices for a
young child. These small breed dogs are more easily injured than larger dogs and may be
more easily frightened by a lot of activity, loud noises and by being picked up and
fondled frequently. Frightened dogs tend to snap or bite in order to protect themselves.
Larger dogs may be better able to tolerate the activity, noise and rough play that is an
inevitable part of living with children.
- Breed type: Some of the sporting
breeds, such as labradors and golden retrievers, make good pets for families with
children. Breeds that have been selected for protective behavior, such as chows and
rottweilers, may not be as good for families with children. Its sometimes difficult
for this type of dog to comfortably tolerate the many comings and goings of children and
their friends, who may be perceived as territorial intruders. Herding breeds are inclined
to "herd" children, chasing and nipping at their heels.
Who Will Care For The Dog?
Its unrealistic to expect a child, regardless of age, to have sole responsibility
for caring for a dog. Not only do dogs need basic things like food, water and shelter,
they also need to be played with, exercised and trained on a consistent basis. Teaching a
dog the rules of the house and helping him become a good companion is too overwhelming a
task for a young child. While responsible teenagers may be up to the task, they may not be
willing to spend an adequate amount of time with the dog, as their desire to be with their
friends usually takes over at this age. If youre adopting a dog "for the
kids," you must be prepared and willing to be the dog's primary caretaker.
Starting Off Right
Following are some guidelines to help you start off on the right foot. Remember, small
children should never be left alone with a dog or puppy without adult supervision.
- It's safest for both your child and puppy if
your child is sitting down whenever he wants to hold the puppy. Puppies are squirmy and
wiggly and may easily fall out of a young child's arms and be injured. If held insecurely,
a puppy may become frightened and snap or scratch in response. After your child is
sitting, you can place the puppy in his arms.
- Have your child offer the puppy a chew toy
while he pets the puppy. When puppies are teething, they tend to chew on everything,
including hands and arms, so having a chew toy handy will divert the puppys teeth
away from your child. An added benefit is that the puppy will come to associate pleasant
consequences (getting a treat) with being held by your child.
- For larger dogs, have your child sit in your
lap and let the dog approach both of you. This way you can control your child and not
allow him to get "carried away" with pats that are too rough. You are also there
to teach your new dog to treat your child gently.*
Petting and giving affection: Children
often want to hug dogs around the neck. Your dog may view this as a threatening gesture,
rather than an affectionate one, and may react with a growl, snap or bite. You should
teach your child to pet your dog from underneath the dogs chin, rather than hugging
him or reaching over his head. You should also teach your child to avoid staring at, or
looking directly into, your dogs eyes.
Giving Treats: Children tend to become
somewhat fearful and anxious when a dog tries to take a treat from their hand. This causes
them to jerk their hand away at the last second. The dog may then jump up or lunge to get
the treat which may result in the child being knocked down. Have your child place the
treat in an open palm, rather than holding it in his fingers. You may want to place a hand
underneath your child's hand to help guide him.
Supervising Play: Children move with
quick, jerky movements, have high-pitched voices and often run, rather than walk. All of
these behaviors somewhat resemble the behavior of prey animals. Almost all of a dogs
play behaviors are based on predatory behavior. Consequently, your dog may respond to your
childs behavior by chasing him, nipping at his heels, jumping up at him or even
trying to knock him down.At first, your child may need to play quietly around your new dog
until he becomes more comfortable and calm and your child has gained more control over the
dog. Your dog must also learn that certain behaviors on his part are unacceptable, but he
must also be taught what behaviors are the right ones. the page: "Dealing with Normal Puppy
Behavior: Nipping and Rough Play" outlines procedures for discouraging rough play
and encouraging appropriate play. However, most children under the age of ten are not
capable of carrying out these procedures, so its helpful to teach your dog a
"leave it" command that you can use when play gets too rough. Taking an
obedience class together is a good way to teach your dog to respond to commands.An
approach that is not helpful is to punish your dog for his behavior. If he learns that
being around children always results in "bad things" happening to him, he may
become defensive in their presence.
Possessions: Your dog wont
know the difference between his toys and your childs toys until you teach him.
- Your child must take responsibility for
keeping his playthings out of your dogs reach.
- If, and only if, you catch your dog chewing
on something he shouldn't, interrupt the behavior with a loud noise, then give him an
acceptable chew toy and praise him lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.
- Don't give your dog objects to play with
such as old socks, old shoes or old children's toys that closely resemble items that are
off-limits. They can't tell the difference!
- Dogs can be possessive about their food,
toys and space. Although its normal for a dog to growl or snap to protect these
items, its not acceptable. At the same time, children need to learn to respect their
dog as a living creature who is not to be teased or purposefully hurt and who needs time
to himself .
If your dog is growling or snapping at your child for any reason, the situation needs
IMMEDIATE attention. Punishing your dog is likely to make matters worse. Please show compassion with the dog and call a