Teaching Your Dog How to Behave Around Children Presented by the ASPCA

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1 Teaching Your Dog How to Behave Around Children Presented by the ASPCA It s amazing, if you think about it, that dogs get along with children as well as they do. Many seem to understand that kids should be treated differently, with gentleness and tolerance. When interacting with children, these dogs patiently put up with all kinds of strange, unpredictable behavior and sometimes even painful handling. This ability to enjoy the company of kids, despite rough treatment, has made the dog a popular family pet. Most dogs end up bonding strongly with the children in their family, becoming both friend and protector, and the love between a child and a dog is a truly wonderful thing to behold. Some dogs, however, have trouble interacting with kids and when a dog doesn t get along with young family members, the consequences can be devastating. Although dog bite fatalities are extremely rare and most bites don t result in injury or medical treatment, children are the victims of half of the estimated 4.7 million dog bites in the United States every year. One study estimates that about a third of these bites are delivered by the family dog. Dogs often bite children on the face or neck, and these bites sometimes result in permanent scarring or disfigurement. Irrevocable emotional damage is often done as well. Many parents consider any tooth-to-skin contact with a child a major breach of trust perhaps even grounds for euthanasia and some people develop lifelong phobias of dogs after being bitten during childhood. The experience of living with a family dog shouldn t be traumatic for children. Likewise, living with children shouldn t be traumatic for a dog. Fostering good relationships benefits everyone in the family, canine and human alike. With proper guidance and supervision, you can help your dog and your kids develop safe, fulfilling friendships. Managing Interactions Between Dogs and Kids What Can Go Wrong? Even if you ve got the friendliest dog on the planet, a dangerous situation can develop in mere seconds. Although they mean no harm, children can do a number of things to trigger aggression in dogs: Startling or hurting a dog. A child can easily stumble onto a sleeping dog, yank a dog s tail or poke a pencil into a dog s ear. If a dog is startled or in pain, he may bite. Defensive aggression is a natural response in animals, and domestic pets are no exception. Very young children are most at

2 risk. They can t understand that their actions might hurt a dog, and they aren t capable of defending themselves if they re attacked. Getting too close to resources Many dogs don t like to share their toys or food, and they may become aggressive if a child comes too close while they re chewing on a bone, playing with a toy or eating a meal. It s hard for young children to understand that it s not a good idea to approach or reach toward a dog when he has something he values. Playing inappropriately Some children find a dog s aggressive behavior amusing. When they discover that certain actions can make a dog growl, lift his lip or snap, they repeat those actions. If repeatedly provoked, a dog may eventually feel the need to escalate his message by biting. Triggering a predatory response Some children don t find a dog s aggressive behavior amusing at all. Instead, they re terrified by it. Frightened or injured children often run away or shriek behaviors that can trigger predatory behavior or aggression in some dogs. Supervise to Prevent Problems The best way to avoid potentially dangerous situations is to supervise all interactions between your dog and your kids even if your dog is friendly and gentle. Remember, it takes only a few seconds for things to go awry. Monitor both your children s and your dog s behavior when they re together and watch for signs of trouble. If you supervise diligently, you can step in when necessary and prevent bad experiences. Learn to Read Your Dog Some signs of trouble are obvious. If a dog shows his teeth or growls at a child, he s clearly feeling uncomfortable and aggressive. But it s unwise to wait until you see these dramatic behaviors. It s much safer to learn to recognize your dog s early, subtle warnings. The first sign that a dog is getting uncomfortable is often a freeze, a momentary pause in what he s doing. The freeze is sometimes accompanied by a hard stare or hard eye. When a dog is giving a hard eye, you can often see the whites of his eyes. If these warnings don t successfully deter a child, a dog may move on to the more noticeable warnings, like showing teeth, snarling and growling. If the child doesn t understand the dog s warnings or finds them amusing and continues to annoy the dog, he may move on to the next level of warning, usually a snap. (Many people assume that a snap isn t a warning at all that the dog tried unsuccessfully to bite. But dogs have wonderful control of their mouths, and they move a lot faster than we do. If a dog means to bite, he generally will.) If the snap doesn t work to repel the child, the dog may deliver an actual bite. Some dogs inhibit their bites and don t injure the targets of their aggression. Others deliver harder bites, like the ones they d likely deliver to puppies in need of some discipline. Unfortunately, a bite that would just pinch a furry puppy s rolls of fat may cause serious damage if it lands on the face of a tiny child. When You Can t Supervise When you re not able to supervise the interaction between your dog and your children, it s best to confine your dog to a safe area away from the kids. If you teach your dog to be comfortable in a crate,

3 in an exercise pen or behind a baby gate, you can easily put him there when necessary. A crate can also provide a safe place for your dog to sleep, eat or chew on things without worrying about a child bothering him. Make sure that your child can t access your dog s confinement area. Some children get bitten when they reach through crate bars to touch or taunt a dog who wants to be left alone. When your child is very young, physically prevent her from wandering into your dog s confinement area. When she s old enough to understand the rule, teach her that the area is off limits to her. Train Your Kids Training your dog is only half of your job! In addition to teaching your dog how to behave around kids, you need to teach your kids how to behave around dogs. Children need to understand that not all dogs love them. Teach your kids to always ask pet parents for permission before approaching any animal. Have mock greetings at home so that your children can practice what they ll do when they want to pet a dog they don t know. In addition to learning that they should never touch strange animals without permission, kids must understand that they should never reach through fences or car windows to pet dogs who are unattended even if they know the confined dogs. Teach your children how to handle dogs gently. Show your children what polite petting looks like, and have them practice with a stuffed animal. Discourage unpleasant treatment, like poking, pinching, slapping, hugging and pulling on fur, tails or ears. Teach your children what to do when they encounter unfriendly dogs. Obedience Training Your dog can t harass children if he s in a sit-stay, lying quietly on his bed or obeying a Leave it cue (command). A group obedience class is a great place to teach your dog these basics. If he can learn listen to you in a classroom full of other dogs, he can also learn listen to you when children are running around.

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