Dogs and Children

How many times have we seen Lassie save Timmy or some other child
from disaster? What about Rin Tin Tin and Rusty? Who could forget
Nana from Peter Pan? What about the flip side? How often do we hear
reports of the family pet mauling a young child? How many pets are
surrendered each year when a new baby arrives? How many pets are
given up because owners find they have little time for the child and
the dog? Dogs and kids can be the best or the worst match. What can
you do to help ensure the best with your dog and child?

Socializing and training beginning when the dog or puppy first joins
your house is a key element in how it will handle various
situations. Puppies should learn to accept people of all ages. A
trusting bond between dog and owner as well as one where the dog is
responsive to the owner is very important. Even if you do not have
or ever plan to have children, your dog should be used to them.
Children can be threatening to dogs. Children are at eye level, have
higher voices, faster motions, often forget to use gentle hands and
can be unpredictable. Make sure your dog is used to various actions
around him as well as sounds and smells. The more accepting your dog
is of new things and the more things he is used to, the better.

Children need to learn how to properly behave around dogs. Pulling
ears and tails, running like crazy, teasing, hitting, cornering the
dog, tormenting the dog when he is sleeping, etc., can lead to a nip
or worse. Granted, dogs should learn to tolerate all body parts
being touched, having food and toys taken from them and various
sounds, but even the best trained dog has his limits. Many dog bites
are not directly the fault of the dog but were instigated by a
child. Even the best trained dog if hurt or pushed enough could
bite. Dogs have bad days and if they are not feeling well, a pulled
ear that normally would be ignored could this time end in a bite.
Being with a dog is a privilege for a child. If he cannot behave, he
cannot play with the dog. Always supervise children and dogs when
they are together.

Children must learn never to go near any dog – even if it is known to
the child – without permission from the owner. A dog running loose
can act far differently than the same dog on lead with his owner.
Dogs roaming lose are a threat to safety. Any dog that is loose
should be reported to an adult. The child should never attempt to
catch the dog. Some animal rescue groups even teach classes on
safety around dogs. These are great to look into – even if you do
not have a dog!

Children should not torment dogs that are confined to the dogs’
property – this includes: running up and down fences getting dogs to
chase; poking sticks at or tossing things over the fence; barking at
or otherwise aggravating the dogs. Ideally, dogs should not be
outside if no responsible person is home to intervene should children
start to tease the pet. However, many dog owners leave their dogs
out when no one is home so parents must make sure their children are
behaved and know rules about dogs. A hand dangling over a fence to
tease a dog is a prime target for a bite. Children must learn that
dogs are feeling beings. To tease and/or hurt a dog can lead to a
serious problem. Again, never leave dogs and kids unsupervised – no
matter how trustworthy both are. Remember, dogs are dogs and kids
are kids. Neither thinks nor rationalizes like adults do (or adults
should, many children seem more adult than adults at times).

Now, what if you have a dog and are expecting a child? Ideally, you
should have begun to get your dog set for children long before your
pregnancy. Socializing with any situation your dog could encounter
at any time should start from day one. Your dog should meet and
learn how to behave around children of all ages. He should get used
to having his entire body touched and poked. Children will grab at
ears, tails, try to peek in mouths, etc. Your dog should learn to
give up any toys and food if a human puts a hand on it. Many
children get nipped when they go to remove a toy from Rover or go
near his food. I insist my dogs learn that humans can take food or
toys from then at any time. A solid basis in obedience training is a
MUST for any dog. This also helps you bond with your dog and develop
a hierarchy in your house. The dog is not the chief! That role is
for humans. Fido is a pack member ranking under humans.

When you find out you are pregnant, you should begin getting your dog
set for the new changes in the house. Granted, the concept of dog
training while going through morning sickness is not top on the list
of most expectant parents; however, it should be. If you know you
will have to change the dog’s schedule for eating, walks, etc., start
to do so long before the baby arrives. This way, the dog will not be
hit with several big changes at once. Begin working on brushing up
on basic commands – especially STAY and OFF. There is nothing worse
than having a dog jump on you when your balance is off due to a
growing belly or when holding a child. I also teach dogs to sit at
the top of stairs and then go down ahead of me. I do not want them
charging behind me and knocking me and/or the child over. Should you
have complications with pregnancy and be confined to bed, do the best
you can. Your spouse, family members, friends, etc., can all be of
assistance – or even hire a dog trainer to help you out if need be.

Get Scruffy used to the various sounds and smells (if possible) of a
child long before yours arrives. Tape record the myriad of sounds a
child makes and play them at different volumes in all rooms of the
house. If you have a friend with a toddler, ask if you can use the
opportunity to get your dog accustomed to the various odors and
motions of a child. (Though this socializing to children should have
been done when you first got your pet. However, if you suspect your
dog may act aggressively, consult with a behaviorist beforehand, this
will be discussed further later on). But if you can borrow clothes,
etc., for short periods, do so. Babies not only sound different, but
they can really smell neat!

If possible, set up the nursery a month or so before the baby is
due. This will give your dog time to adjust to the new room. The
rule in our house is if no adult is present, no pets in the room.
(In other words, when the child is napping, all critters are out).
Baby gates will be your best friends here. If your dog jumps over
the gates, consider installing a screen door so you can see and hear
the child easily but the pets cannot get into the nursery. I just
closed the door and used monitors so I could hear if my child woke.
Get your dog used to doing a down/stay in the room. I allowed my
dogs in while I nursed or changed my child. The rule was, the dogs
had to down and stay quietly for the privilege of being in the
nursery with us. Since I insisted they start doing this before our
child was born, it was easier to adjust after the birth. I would sit
in the rocking chair and have the dogs do down/stays next to it.
Anything you want your dog to do after the baby arrives, start
teaching beforehand. Trust me, there will be little time for this
after the birth!

Many new parents get concerned when the BIG DAY arrives. Well in
advance, decide who will be responsible of caring for your dogs while
the baby is being born. We had a friend lined up in case I went into
labor and it would be so long as the dogs could not wait for my
husband to return home. We also decided that he would not spend the
first night in the hospital with us. Instead, after our child was
born and we were all set, my husband would go home and tend to the
dogs. Our back up was our vet who would board the dogs if need be.
Luckily, my labor was five hours total. I left for the hospital at
3pm (the dogs were run, fed, pottied and brought back in first) and
my husband was home shortly after midnight to care for them. My
dogs were with me during the time I was in labor at home. My big guy
had already learned to let me lean on him so he was great helping me
get in and out of the bathroom and bed as each contraction hit. My
little guy stayed right by my side and endured hands grabbing his fur
suddenly. Their comfort allowed my husband to be able to pack the
car and make any necessary calls. However, not all labors will be
this fast and not all dogs this tolerant. Seeing you in pain can be
disturbing for dogs. You are acting odd and smell different.
Chances are your dog will be the last thing on your mind, but please
try to remember him.

In this day and age of “drive-thru” deliveries where the mother will
be lucky to spend a night in the hospital (two nights if you have a
great insurance plan), the old idea of bringing home a blanket the
baby was wrapped in so the dogs can spend a few days getting used to
the scent is difficult. My husband still did this – however, our
dogs ignored the blanket. They were more interested in looking for
me and then getting reassurance that all was OK. However, there are
things you can do to help the transition when baby comes home.

The day you are to go home, make sure the dogs get a real solid run
beforehand. The dogs should be really worn out. This will help
temper an over enthusiastic greeting. I also kept a couple treats
they normally do not get (“moo tubes”) packed away. When we got
home, the first thing I did was go inside and take the dogs out back
while my husband and mother brought the baby into the nursery. I
played about five minutes off fetch and then brought the dogs in and
gave them their treats. I went upstairs to the nursery. As each dog
finished, he came to find me. I sat on the floor and had each dog do
a down/stay. My husband was holding the baby. Each dog got to greet
the new addition gently. This way, the dogs were not hit with
everything at once and they had a transition between greeting me and
meeting the baby. As I took a nap, my husband took everyone out for
more playing. My mother was in town for the week and this gave me
time to work with the dogs and reinforce the prior training in
nursery rules while Mom helped with the house.

I like to make it a point to allow the dogs access to all aspect of
raising the child. They could be with me while I nursed as long as
they were quietly on a down/stay. They could watch diapers being
changed as long as they were calm and quiet. Same for when we were
all just hanging out on the bed napping. When my son napped, I would
spend alone time with the dogs before I napped. Making sure the dogs
get one-on-one time without the baby is very important. You want to
keep that bond with your dogs but also enforce that child will be
higher on the pack rank than the dog. Baby is not a bad thing but a
welcome addition and there will still be time for the dog. However,
safety is always first and no matter how well trained and socialized
your dog is, never leave him unattended with an infant or child.

As the baby grows, use the opportunity to teach the child “Gentle
Hands.” I started showing my son how to gently touch the dogs and
not to grab as soon as I could. Waiting until the child is a toddler
to try and start teaching Gentle Hands can be too late. Babies start
to grab and poke and even hit at a young age. They need the same
gentle love and guidance as you used when getting your dog set for
the new arrival. I found it is far easier to teach a child what you
expect from the beginning than it is to change the rules midstream!
At two, my son helps me feed the dogs, aids in bathing (his is Soap
Man!) and is learning how to gently brush them. He is a far cry from
a former neighbor’s toddler who would grab their dog so hard that the
dog would snap. No one taught either dog or child proper behavior.
This was a serious accident waiting to happen. Already, they had
gotten rid of one dog as opposed to training the dog and their

With work and luck, your dog and child will grow to be a wonderful
team, but not all parents are so lucky. Should you notice your dog
acting dominant, snapping at or even biting the child and the child
has done nothing to provoke it, seek professional help. Even if the
child did provoke it, the dog must learn that biting is not
acceptable and to walk away. Should there be ANY question in your
mind at all about your dog’s response to your child, seek
professional help immediately. If your dog is known to be aggressive
before you have children, seek help long before you have a child. An
ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Make certain you do
all you can long before pregnancy to prepare your dog for children –
is far easier than fixing a problem allowed to go on too long. Even
if you do not have children of your own, your dog must be accepting
of them. Insist that all children around your dog know the rules and
follow them. I have banned children from visiting my dogs since they
repeatedly refused to follow the rules. Children will be children
and forget, but rules must be followed or they will not have the
privilege of visiting my dogs. Safety for child and dog is always
first priority!

Dogs and kids can be the best or the worst matches. Timmy and Lassie
are not reality. However, there is no reason why your dog and you
child cannot coexists happily if you are a responsible dog owner and
parent. The worst thing for a dog is to be banished or ignored when
a child is born. Many dogs will die in shelters when a new baby
arrives. With planning and forethought on the part of dog owners,
this need not happen.

From Karen Peak of West Wind Dog Training,

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