Children & Dogs

Dogs, or any pet for that matter should bring you and your children enjoyment and companionship, not power. Children must be taught not to be overbearing. And not just with words, but by example.

When children learn how to interact respectfully with dogs and the dog is well-mannered they have the foundation for a great companionship.  It is almost a guarantee that if your kids are out of control, your dog will be out of control.

Good families often do not understand what it takes to raise a great dog, in terms of care, social development, and training. Families that neglect a dog’s needs for exercise, entertainment, and training often just relegate the dog to the backyard or a crate because inside the house it is just chaos when the dog is free. Sadly many dogs are treated like the vacuum or lawn mower. They are secured away until we want to use them. Children should learn that dogs are a companion and playmate, but not a play thing. Are we teaching our kids that dogs are to be used for our pleasure, or are we teaching them about relationships and responsibility, and the pleasure that comes from a great relationship with a dog?

Studies Show Pets Protect Children from Illnesses By W. Jean Dodds, DVM on January 21, 2019

Activities Children Can Do With Their Dogs

Many dogs love to play fetch. This is the first game every dog should be taught. John Rogerson the author of The Dog Vinci Code says that this is teaching the dog the concept of sharing something great with you. This in itself can prevent many problems from occurring. In John Rogerson’s excellent book, “The Dog Vinci Code” it explains how to teach a dog to share, and to play with their human family.  (Chapter 19 How to Get your Dog to Play)

For less active times of the day, children can sit and read to the dog. Both dogs and children can enjoy this activity. Mature children who follow the directions of an adult can participate in training the dog and teaching the dog tricks. Another fun activity for children and dogs can be hiding small treats and letting the dog find them. Dogs enjoy using their nose to find things.

Even dogs with great temperaments and patience, should always be supervised when children and dogs are together. You should supervise children and dogs like you would supervise children around a swimming pool. Even if children are mature and know how to swim you don’t leave them unattended. And if the child is a toddler you supervise closely and never divert your attention. Dogs should never be expected to be a nanny. Regardless of what interaction the child chooses to have with the dog, it is always best for an adult to help guide and teach the dog and child the proper guidelines for the interaction.

Children Need To Be Taught

Children need to be taught how to behave with dogs so the dog will learn to trust them.

Training a puppy or dog should be based on a positive foundation of building trust, respect, and desire. Trust: for a dog to trust, you first must be trustworthy. A child must not harass, scare, or overwhelm the dog. Respect: It is foolish to believe a dog will respect a child who is out of control and inconsistent in their interactions with the dog. Children should not be bossy and attempt to rule over the dog in order to gain respect. It won’t work! Adults must teach children how to earn a dog’s respect. This can be done by teaching the child how to control play with the dog and not letting play get out of hand. Children can also learn how to control treats for the dog and give the dog a treat appropriately. Desire: is best achieved by being fair with the dog and being fun to be around. Just don’t confuse fun with being out of control.

All training should be a positive experience for the dog, not punishing.[1] See “Training Your Dog”. Adults and children who are harsh in their attempts to train a puppy often just create conflict and are likely to be viewed with mistrust by the dog. Children are much more likely to be bitten when there is a confrontation with the dog because the dog feels the need to defend themselves.[2]

Competitor, lunatic, or friend? 

Even after a puppy is finished teething it is normal behavior for a dog to explore its world with it mouth and it is not uncommon for the dog to pick up shoes, toys, tissues, television remotes, etc… This behavior may be exploratory, or it may be a way the dog has learned to get attention and to get someone to play with them. Often times they have learned once they grab a sock or another item, the game is on!

If the dog grabs something that is not dangerous to them, or of any importance to the humans, there is nothing wrong with letting them have it. Way too many people have started a conflict with their dog over a tissue. Was a conflict really necessary? Most times it can be handled without creating a battle. Would you enjoy hanging around people when all they seem to do is take from you? Neither does your dog!

How a dog views children or adults for that matter is dependent on their respective actions. How someone responds to the dog putting or having something in its mouth will help determine whether they are viewed as a competitor, lunatic, or friend.

Competitor: A child can be viewed as a competitor by approaching the dog while it is at its food bowl, and/or the child is scolding the dog while attempting to take a sock, shoe, tissue, or toy away from the dog once the dog has possession. Often dogs believe that children are competing for almost everything they have since they are constantly trying to take things away. The message the dog takes away is that the children do not like to share, and/or they cannot be trusted. 

Lunatic: Children commonly run after dogs screaming with excitement and many dogs view this behavior as bizarre, and the reckless act of a lunatic. An unsure dog or dog with a softer temperament can feel threatened by this behavior.

Friend: A friend will express interest in what the dog has in a pleasant tone of voice that is inviting. That may be enough for the dog to bring his find to share with his friend. If he willingly brings it, that should be greeted with lots of praise and petting the dog enjoys.

If the dog is not interested in sharing, the child should not attempt to take the item from the dog. That is the supervising adult’s duty if the item is something the dog should not have.

Rules for Children

  • Introductions should be low key, not overly excited. You are welcoming home a family member; don’t create a celebrity!

  • Kids must be taught to approach dogs calmly. No running or yelling.

  • Do not approach a dog that you are not comfortable with. Doing so when you are unsure can cause some dogs to react fearfully.

  • Don’t surprise the dog from behind.

  • Stand upright, don’t lean over the dog.

  • Don’t stare directly in the dog’s eyes.

  • Don’t pat the dog on the head.

  • Don’t pull and don’t poke the dog.  

  • Don’t hug the dog’s neck (most do not like hugs and it can be a threatening gesture in the dog’s eyes)

  • Children should not pick up a puppy.  

  • Never invade a dog’s personal space.

  • Don’t approach the dog while it’s

    • Sleeping

    • Eating

    • Or if it has already moved away from you

  • Do not take anything from the dog.

  • Do not play keep away games with the dog.

  • No chasing the dog.

  • No roughhousing with the dog.

There is no recommended age when it is appropriate for children and dogs to be together. Children vary significantly in their levels of maturity, so establishing an age is arbitrary. It cannot be stressed enough; dogs should never be left unattended with a new born baby. The cries from a baby can over-arouse a dog and/or possibly trigger the dog’s prey drive.[3]

Some dogs like children, some tolerant, and others want nothing to do with them. How dogs respond to children will be influenced by their breed, early socialization, and life experiences.  If the dog will live with children look for a dog that likes children, a dog should not have to tolerant them. 

Young children don’t have the ability to make a distinction between appropriate and provoking behavior when interacting with dogs. Dogs should not have to tolerate constant touching, handling, restraining, or abuse by children. Hugging often times is annoying for dogs, and can be viewed as a threatening gesture. Dogs will not enjoy everything the child wants to do or play. It is no different with the child’s friends. They will not want to play or do the same things as the child all the time. While it is polite to ask, it is not polite to pester, whether you are a dog or child.

Children often treat all dogs as if they were the same. They may be able to approach and pet their own dog or their family or friends dog while it eating or chewing on a special toy, but they must be taught that is unacceptable behavior for them to do it with any other dog. Thousands of children are bitten by dogs each year, and the majority of children are bitten by dogs they know! Most of these bites are preventable.

Breeds

Some breeds of dogs have a reputation for being good with children. Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Brittany, Havanese, Bichon Frise, to name a few. [4]  Dogs from the sporting breed group like the Retriever’s generally rate low on aggression and reactivity and make good family pets. This group of dogs is generally less physically sensitive which can make them more patient around small children, but that is never a valid reason to leave a child unsupervised around the dog.[5] Even tolerant dogs have limits with children. Dogs should never be expected to tolerate harassment or abuse. What is considered harassment or abuse is not determined by the child, but rather the dog! Dogs from the sporting breed group were breed to work with humans, so they do not want to be left alone all day. They are high-energy and need lots of physical activity. If left under exercised, unsupervised and untrained these dogs can be prone to knocking children down just due to their size and energy.

If you will have guests or your children will have friends to the house you may want to avoid dogs that are “wary of strangers”, “distrustful of strangers”, or “fearless and with well-developed protective instinct” noted in the breed profile.

Breed profiles are generalizations about a group and averages; they are not always true of individuals and should only be used as an initial guide.

Please read the “How To Choose A Dog”.

“It is a surprising fact that even the most aggressive dog-fighting dog can remain gentle and friendly with the members of its human family, and it was found that a number of these ex-fighters made excellent companions.”   

DOGS The Ultimate Dictionary of Over 1,000 Dog Breeds    by Desmond Morris

Dogs with a more independent personality may not tolerate a lot of handling, and dogs that are high-energy, nervous, and touch-sensitive are not a good match for younger children.

Puppies & Dogs

When you or your child first meet a puppy or dog, it is important that the dog learn that you are friendly and safe to be around. You only get one chance at a first impression. Dogs must learn that when children are around nothing bad happens.

Mistakes to Avoid!

Never punish a dog for growling at a child. If the dog is punished for growling and it stops, you may not get a warning the next time the dog wants more space between them and the child thereby greatly increasing the chances of a bite occurring.  The growl may be how the dog communicates it is feeling uncomfortable and would like more distance between them and the child. If you punish the dog for growling, you may be creating the very problem that you were trying to prevent.

Children enjoy giving a dog a treat, but they must be taught how to give a treat safely to a dog. Many times children unwittingly teach the dog to snap at them or to jump on them.

Often people interpret a dog’s jumping and mouthing a child or adult, an act of dominance by the dog. This is very rarely the case. Dogs are opportunistic by nature, and just do what works for them. They learned from past experience that this is a successful way to gain attention. Jumping and mouthing is usually no more than the dog wanting you or the child to give them your full attention.  It is very similar to a parent arriving home and having their excited 4-year old child who is happy to see their parent, grabbing and pulling on them for attention. Dogs that lack training and proper etiquette (not to mention hands) use their mouths for much the same purpose. Both are trying to get what they want, (your attention) not to rule over you.

[1] The Dog Vinci Code  - John Rogerson

[2] Bailey, Gwen; The perfect puppy: how to raise a well-behaved dog; Octopus Publishing Group; London,

England (2009) it is also called “The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. Adult Trade Publishing; Pleasantville, NY

[3] The Dog Vinci Code – John Rogerson

[4] Choosing the right dog for you – Gwen Bailey

[5] Faculty of The Cummings School Of Veterinary Medicine At Tufts University, edited by Nicholas Dodman with Lawrence Lindner: Puppy’s First Steps The Whole Dog Approach to Raising a Happy Healthy Well-behaved Puppy; Houghton Miffin Company; New York, NY (2007)