Children and dogs are a natural,
but because of a child's small size and unpredictable behavior there are
several things every pet owner or parent should know about children and
dogs. This article will help parents decide which dog is best for small
children, as well as how to introduce a new dog to a family with
children. The article will also discuss special health risks and common
behavior problems, which can occur between dogs and children.
As a veterinarian and a parent of
two small boys that share our home with a dog and two cats, I deal with
the issues of children and pets on a regular basis. Children and dogs
can be the best of friends if you follow a few of these simple
guidelines and precautions.
Choosing the right dog at the right time
Not every dog is right for
children and not every child is right for a dog. The vast majority of
dog/child problems I encounter involve children under six years of age.
If your children are under six you should invest a great deal of time
and thought before choosing a new dog. Large dogs that have been bred as
guard dogs or have a history of being aggressive or biting should be
avoided. Large, high-energy dogs that can knock children over or dogs
that bark excessively would not be good choices, as well.
Parents with small children are
usually very busy; they often do not have the free time or desire to
spend hours grooming or walking a high maintenance dog. Initially,
puppies require almost as much time as a child does, so ask yourself if
you are ready to bring a new puppy into a home that is already too busy.
As a veterinarian, many of the problems I encounter occur because a dog
was purchased because the dog would be 'good for the kids' or the
children begged for one, but the parent did not really want a dog. If
the parents are not one hundred percent committed to caring for and
training the dog, then I usually discourage them from acquiring a dog,
otherwise it is not fair to the people or the dog.
the time children are seven or older some of them are ready to start to
develop a rewarding relationship with a dog. If you want to see true
happiness just look at the face of an 8-year-old when they hold their
new lab puppy in their arms for the first time. Dogs can help teach a
child responsibility, patience, empathy, and compassion, but remember,
no young child is capable of properly training or completely caring for
a dog, so the parent must always ultimately take full responsibility for
Bringing a dog into a family with children
After you have decided that a new dog
or puppy is right for your family and have one picked out, take some
time to get your house puppy-proofed and acquire the necessary puppy
items before bringing your puppy home.
When you bring the puppy home make
sure it has several days to adjust before it is played with too much.
Make up a set of house rules for the children concerning the new dog and
post it on the refrigerator. Decide where the dog will sleep. I
personally recommend that a dog sleeps on his own bed and not in the bed
with children, as I have dealt with numerous behavioral and medical
problems resulting from this practice.
Remember that your children will
have to be trained on how to treat the dog, so plan on spending lots of
time training the dog and the children. This pet will be with you for a
long time so spend the time now to avoid unwanted behavior in the
future. Educate yourself. Buy and read training books and consider
enrolling your puppy in an obedience class. Well-trained dogs are a joy
to be around and are a requirement if children are involved.
Bringing a new child into a family with pets
A common worry of new parents is
how their dog will react when they bring a new baby into the house. Many
parents often worry about potential health risks for their children,
which we will discuss later in this article. Most dogs do fine when a
baby is brought into the house. They are going to be curious and may
feel neglected, but these feelings will soon pass. If the parents will
take extra time out of each day both before and after the baby is born
to play with, exercise, and groom the dog, the transition should go
A newborn baby interacts very
little with a dog, so most problems in the household start when the baby
turns into a toddler and starts invading the dog's space. A toddler is
not able to understand rules and should not be expected to 'leave the
dog alone.' This is the time when the dog will be happier if he has his
own space. Our dog spends a lot more of her time outside now that our
children are both over two years old, and will probably do so until the
youngest is at least four. Everyone, including the dog, is happier with
this arrangement. Remember that when the baby comes home everyone will
have less free time, except the dog. So make extra time for the dog and
he should be fine.
The relationship between dogs and children
Dogs have a unique relationship
with people. As the understanding of the 'pack' mentality becomes more
prevalent, it becomes easier to see why dogs act the way they do.
Understanding and altering dog behavior revolves around understanding
dog behavior and the importance of dominance and submission in the dog
psyche. It is important to remember that in the dog's mind the family is
a pack unit and everyone in that family has a certain 'position' in the
pack. In most families, one or both of the parents are considered the
pack leaders and the dog is subordinate to them. Now depending on the
dog, this may be very obvious or it may not really matter much. But when
small children are involved, it has been my experience that dogs almost
always consider the children equal or lower in the pack hierarchy than
they are, and this is where the problem arises.
|Because the dog considers the
child a subordinate, it may refuse to obey the child's commands or
'accidentally' bump into the child and knock her down. It may escalate
to growling at the child when the child is near food or toys, or even
baring his teeth and biting when the child approaches or tries to play
with the dog. It is essential that the parent understands this
hierarchal relationship and takes precautions to prevent problems from
arising. Such behaviors are an indication that professional help, such
as your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist, are needed.
Why dogs bite children, and how to prevent it
When dogs bite adults it is
usually out of fear and perhaps out of aggression. When dogs bite
children it may also be from fear or aggression, but I feel that many
times it is what I call 'warning bite.' The warning bite is usually to
the face or hand and while traumatic for the child, is often not serious
in a medical nature.
While I consider any dog bite
extremely serious it is important to distinguish between the nature of
the bite to prevent problems in the future. When a dominant dog is
unhappy with a subordinate dog he will use a series of body positions to
signal that he is unhappy and the subordinate dog better stop what he is
doing. If the subordinate dog still does not stop, then the dominant dog
will growl and possibly bare his teeth. If the subordinate dog still
refuses to obey, the dominant dog will snarl and quickly bite the
subordinate dog. The bite is not intended to injure the subordinate dog,
but is meant as a stern warning and punishment. This is very similar to
what happens to children when they are bitten.
Unfortunately, children are not
able to interpret the dog's language, nor is the dog capable of
communicating in any other way. Therefore, almost all dog bites are a
result of failure on the parents' part to recognize and prevent
potential problem situations. This does not, however, completely take
the blame away from the dog. Dogs are capable of learning to control
their behavior and not bite, and older children can learn to 'leave the
dog alone.' However, when a dog bite occurs, the blame should rest with
the adults for failing to prevent it and the child and dog should not be
punished for acting like children or dogs.
If a child is bitten
and the skin is broken, the wound should be thoroughly cleaned and
medical attention should be sought, if necessary. If there is any
question as to the rabies vaccination status of the dog, contact the
local county nurse for direction. The psychological effects of a dog
bite are often much worse than the physical effects. If a child is
afraid of dogs after the incident you need to address that problem as
well. Slowly introducing the child back to dogs while the child is in a
secure environment (being held) is one approach. However, do not
underestimate the potential for the child to develop a long-term fear;
seek professional help if your child is having trouble adjusting to
being around dogs again.
concerns for parents of children with dogs
Dogs and people live happily together
with a very small risk of infections being transmitted back and forth.
However, there are a few special considerations with children. Obviously
rabies and dog bites are concerns, and it goes without saying, that all
dogs should be vaccinated for rabies, especially dogs that are around
children. If you have a dog that does not have a valid rabies
certificate of vaccination and it bites a child, be prepared for the
very expensive health and legal consequences that will ensue. Your dog
should also be current on all recommended vaccines. Children can
contract roundworms or hookworms from dog feces, so make sure your puppy
and adult dog are de-wormed on a regular basis.
Fleas and ticks can travel from
dogs to children, so make sure your dog is protected with a flea and
tick preventative. The once-a-month topicals offer excellent protection
and are safe if used according to directions. On my own dog, I apply a
monthly topical agent at night, after the kids are in bed. I put ten to
twelve small 'stripes' down my dog's back to speed absorption, and I try
not to let the kids play with the dog the next day. Of course it is a
good idea to always have your children wash their hands after playing
with the dog.
Allergies affect many children, so
keeping the dog out of the children’s sleeping area is always a good
idea if your child is prone to allergies.
As a final note in the health
section, I want to remind parents that I personally recommend that a dog
and small child are never left alone unattended. Even the oldest,
sweetest most passive dog and the best-behaved child cannot completely
be trusted alone. I have witnessed first hand many instances where a
loving child or dog was injured when left unsupervised.
solutions for common dog – children problems
The following is a list of some
common dog – child problems that arise and a list of possible solutions.
The dog barks and wakes up the sleeping
child or baby.
||Use a bark training aid
or an electronic anti-barking collar.
Move the dog outside or to
the basement when the baby is sleeping.
Let the dog bark and the
baby will get used to it and sleep through it.
The dog runs into the child by
'accident' and knocks them down.
||Recognize when the
behavior usually happens (when the dog is excited about going
for a walk) and have the dog go into a down and stay position.
Put the dog outside when the
children are practicing their walking.
Teach the child to tell
the dog to sit when the dog is getting too excited.
The dog steals the child's food or begs
at the table.
|Move the dog out of the
kitchen during mealtime.
Have a bag of special treats
that are just for the dog and discourage feeding table food.
Work on obedience
The dog jumps up on children.
||Never allow jumping on
anyone for any reason, ever
Teach the child to raise
their knee and turn their hip toward the dog when they jump.
Initiate puppy training at
a very young age to prevent this behavior.
The dog growls or snaps at the children.
|Develop a zero tolerance
for dog aggression and institute strict obedience training for
child on their behavior.
Eliminate the source of
conflict; move the food bowl, remove the toy, install a doggie
door so the dog has a place where he can sleep or be left alone
child comes in contact with dog feces.
||Accompany the dog outside
and clean up after him immediately.
Have the dog's toilet area in
a different place than the play area.
Pay the child 25 cents as
a reward for each 'pile' they report for clean up.
There is no greater
relationship than that between a child and their dog. Follow some good
common sense precautions and choose the right dog at the right time for
your child. A child and a dog both require a huge investment of your
time. If you devote the time to both, your rewards will be far greater
than anything money could ever buy.