Kids and dogs just go together – don’t they? Or, do they? Kids are drawn to dogs just like those little magnets that are so drawn to your refrigerator. Dogs seem to accumulate a lot of refrigerator magnets of the two-legged variety everywhere they go and the cuter the dog – the more kids. Some kids I know are so attracted to dogs they like to carry them around like babies, hug their neck a lot, keep them on their lap and sleep with them in their beds.
But unless you can teach your kids better kid/dog manners, and playtime activities with the family dog, what started out as a “fun thing to do” for the kids, can quickly turn into a parent’s and dog’s worse nightmare – a dog bite.
Typical Kid-Dog Interactions that may create problems
If your kids lie on the floor and make high-pitched sounds with their voices, they are likely to kick their dog into prey drive and what do dogs do in prey drive? They run, chase and bite – the kids.
When your kids have friends over for a fun afternoon after school, it just might make more sense to crate your pup or bring him into the house while the kids are running and playing in the back yard. Otherwise your pup may want to join in on the fun of running and chasing.
When your pup is stimulated with kid activity – and it usually includes lots of yelling and screaming, his natural instinct would be to get into the game with the kids and run, chase and bite what he catches – even if only intending to play like it would with its litter mates. Dogs use their mouths to grab like we use our hands with our opposing thumbs to do the same thing. The trouble here is these kids have very sensitive skin compared to a dog – and no fur coat to soften the bite.
A well-intended hug by your child can also cause your dog to get defensive and growl, snap or bite if he feels trapped by that hug. Now most dogs do learn to tolerate being constantly hugged by kids or other family members but it should be well noted that there may always be that first time that your dog growls, snaps or bites when you least expect it. Maybe you left your child in the same room with your dog for just a moment – or maybe your child has a friend that winds up on the receiving end of your family dog’s mouth.
Let’s take a look at what kids do to dogs and how it can affect the family dog’s behavior
Some dogs can take a while before a dog behavior problem surfaces or it could happen immediately.
Here’s a short list of how a dog – or your dog – might respond to things kids do to them when parents are not directly supervising their children.
Kid activity: Pulling ears, tail hair, sticking fingers in ears, eyes or hitting with hands or objects and scolding, punishing
Dog Response: Growling, snapping, biting or submissive wetting in some puppies
Kid activity: Teasing with toys, food; staring, wrestling to the point of anger or rage
Dog Response: Biting, viciousness
Kid activity: Screaming/running
Dog Response: Run, chase, jump and bite
Kid activity: Being unruly
Dog Response: Being unruly
Kid activity: Too much petting
Dog Response: Mounting, aggressiveness, males urinating in house, biting other children
Kid activity: Inter-child fighting
Dog Response: Aggressiveness, biting, over excitability
When parents become excessively emotional and/or physical in front of their children and dogs, both children and dogs tend to mimic their parents/owners.
Let me explain this to you.
If a dog owner gets angry and punishes a child often enough in front of the dog, the dog may start getting edgy when the child comes close to him – growling to keep the child away.
If an owner punishes the dog often enough in front of the child, the child may take on the role of the punisher and get into trouble when the dog defends himself – by growling to keep the child away.
Where to Begin
A dog is hard work, there’s no getting around it – pure breed or otherwise. With kids in the mix, it can drastically change the dynamics of a newly created hybrid pack of two-legged and four legged critters. Not to mention pushing a mom’s patience to the limit. At first it seems so right to want to over love and spoil your new puppy or dog -especially with kids.
Your dog is naturally hard-wired to run, chase, bite, chew, bark, jump, pee and poop. But now that your dog is living with you and your family, these behaviors don’t fit in. It’s important to communicate effectively with your dog so that your family’s life with your dog is more enjoyable. On what should you focus?
As you begin to think about the best way to integrate your new puppy or dog into your home (or begin to restructure your relationship with your existing dog), here are some starter points:
Give your dog rules and expectations – set boundaries
Get the kids involved in helping to give your dog more structure in the house so that dogs know what to expect and from whom – all supervised of course.
Teach your kids how to put your dog on an “earn-to-learn program”. That is, everything your dog gets in life from the family – food, treats, praise or life rewards such as a game of fetch, a walk, even an opportunity to come up on the couch (only if this is allowed by your family rules) and of course a chance to go outside to eliminate has to be earned by performing some obedience commands such as sit or down or both. This is the foundation of mutual respect between kids and dogs. I call this my Ground Rules for Great Dogs – where everything begins!
Kids are taught to say “Please!” for things they want so teach your kids how to obedience train your dog to “Sit!” on command as his way of saying “Please!” As a start, have the kids take turns making your dog sit for his food at meal times.
Supervise dog and kid activity and have fun training. Teach kids and dogs to respect each other’s boundaries so that it is a win-win situation!