A cosmetic surgeon once told me that he dreads Sunday night phone calls. They are, almost always, about kids who need their faces put back together after being bitten by a dog. He said it breaks his heart. It breaks my heart too, thinking of the hundreds of cases I saw where the owner said the dog “was great with the kids all weekend, I just don’t know what happened on Sunday night.” Of course, we most likely do know what happened–the dog finally was exhausted, lost patience, and the rest is medical history. It’s easy to blame the parents, but the fact is, are we, each one of us, doing what we can to keep kids and dogs safe from each other?
We have to start by acknowledging, that no matter how much we love dogs, they can be dangerous. Especially to kids whose faces are at tooth level. Kids can be dangerous to dogs too, but they don’t have Def Con 3 level weapons in their mouths.
Estimates of the number of bites to children in the U.S range all over the place, but most put the number somewhere around 2 million. About a quarter of those require medical care. According to a study published through NIH, most dog bites to children are to the face, and almost 90% of the recipients were familiar to the dog. What if we cut that in half? Possible?
If you work with canine behavior problems, you know how complicated working with families with dogs and young children can be. The kids love the dog. The dog loves the kids . . . until they act like kids. One spouse wants the dog gone; one wants the other spouse gone. Being a behavior consultant is not for the faint of heart, but it’s critical work, because so many bites are preventable.
What if we made 2023 the year of helping kids and dogs be safe with one another? We could start by listening to a podcast specifically for families with dogs and young children, or people who work with them, hosted by Justine Shuurmans, owner and founder of The Family Dog. Her guests were Jennifer Shyrock of Family Paws, and Helen St. Pierre, No Monkey Business. All three are moms themselves, are well-certified for the work, and specialize in working with families. It’s a quick listen, an excellent summary of what’s essential for safety, and a window to many of the excellent resources on their websites.
One of favorite points of the episode is that “obedience” has nothing to do with ensuring a dog is safe around children. Rather, ideally, what’s needed is a “well-balanced dog,” one who is at ease and relaxed. Whether the dog sits or stays on cue is irrelevant if three little boys are running around the island in the kitchen screaming loud enough to raise the dead. In my experience, these dogs are worth their weight in gold (because they are rare), and we need parents to understand that most dogs do not have the patience of a saint.
That’s why what’s next on my own list, and on just about everyone else’s, (including the experts above) is the importance of teaching parents to “read dog.” Trainers have made huge strides with this in the last 10 years, and so have some vet clinics, putting up posters of Red/Yellow/Green body language. There are a lot of resources designed to help people read body language. Here’s an interactive one from Jennifer Shyrock that I really like. Of course, there’s my seminar, Lost in Translation, that has photos and videos that are also helpful. There are tons more, (tell us your favorite), including the astounding recently released volume, Dogs in Translation, by Katja Krauss and Gabi Maue. At the hefty price of $79.99, this is not a book every dog owner is going to want, but I highly recommend it for canine professionals.
However, I think we can do so much more. Every “family dog training or obedience class” should, interactively, teach reading dog every single session. I used to ask participants to evaluate a dog’s expression after different types of reinforcement, or when greeting another dog. Every vet visit with young dogs should include a comment about what the dog’s body language is telling the vet or the vet tech.
Another critical point stressed in the podcast is the importance of not just “supervision,” but “adult, active, aware ” supervision. Tragedies can occur in a second, and if you’re not “eyes on,” and know what to watch for, then you’re not really supervising. All the moms on this podcast are well aware that no one can be that focused for long periods of time, so Jennifer’s advises us all to have a plan in place for when you need to check your phone, answer the door, or avoid burning the grilled cheese sandwiches. Or in her words, “Don’t take a chance, plan in advance.” Check out the websites listed above for ideas about management plans that make life safer and easier with dogs and kids.
There’s so much more, including Helen’s mention of the importance of teaching safety around dogs, just as parents teach their kids to take their hand crossing the street, or not to touch the burner on the stove. As soon as children can look around the room, it’s time to start teaching them safety around dogs. She loves some of Jennifer’s saying “Sit on the ground, not the hound,” and “One hand enough, two hands too much.”
I’ve written about this issue relatively recently (2021), in “Invites Decrease Bites,” but I will probably write about it every year, because it’s so very, very important. Dog-child related tragedies are not confined to fatalities, but include serious injuries, life-long fear of dogs, and broken hearts and family discord. Is there one thing you could do this week, just one, to make the lives of kids and dogs safer? If so, let us know, we’ll be inspired.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Warm, cold, icy, muddy, rainy, no-snowy. Absolutely typical weather. For March. At least every once in a while we get to see some sun.
The photo below is for those of you who looked for Skip in my last post in a tangle of trees; this time you won’t be able to miss him. I took the photo with my iPhone, in low light, and zoomed way, way in to make Skip easy to find, thus the lousy resolution. But at least you can’t miss him now.
We took down the Christmas tree on Saturday; I’ll miss its cheerful lights as I walk down the stairs in the morning. But now the sheep get to snack on it.
Below is Swift, appropriately named as an early adapter, checking it out while the other sheep keep their eye on Skip, who is lying outside the pen to our left.
Skip had just worked them pretty hard up the hill, and brought them down to check out the tree. Even though it was under freezing, he was still grateful for a remaining patch of snow. He adores the cold, adores it; not surprising since he has a coat like a polar bear. It’s a shame about his heart, he’d be a fantastic sled dog otherwise–fast, powerful, loves to run. But then, one would need snow . . .
Swift decided to scent mark the tree before she started to eat it. I don’t see the sheep do that very often, not sure why she felt a need to mark the tree. She could just be rubbing her head, but it looked more purposeful than that.
It’s not very pretty outside here now. Brown, brown, brown, and grey, grey, grey. Some snow sure would be nice. But the landscape outside makes these tulips below, from White Flower Farm, extra special. Lots more flowers to come in this pot, and check out that Amaryllis at the bottom left! It’s got two separate buds coming, and each one usually has four flowers. Can’t wait.
Here’s to flowers, and color, and the knowledge that spring is coming. Just 59 days. (Although, uh, not usually very colorful on March 20th around here, but given the weather, who knows anymore?)
Stay safe out there, and add, if you can, to this conversation about keeping dogs and kids safe, this year, and all the years to come.
Alice R. says
I do so agree that we need to find a way to educate parents and families about dog safety for both the dog’s sake as well as the children’s. We also need to find a way to insert dog behavior knowledge into vet and vet tech courses before we can fairly expect them to interpret that. Vets and vet techs continually mistake my dog’s jumping around furiously tail wagging actions for happiness. I have to remind them each time that it is his nervous behavior so that we need to slow down and move carefully. I don’t think he will bite, but who knows? He will always be a dog.
God bless Skip and his love of the cold. It 28 and windy for my dog walks these days, and it takes all my grit to go.
I remember many years ago telling my sister that I would not trust my tiny, friendly dog alone with a small child. She was horrified – surely a “good” dog should never even think of biting a child! I knew that my dog had only occasional contact with children, found them disconcerting and would protect herself if she felt threatened and cornered.
One thing that really concerns me is how many people punish their dogs for growling. So many signals have been ignored by then, and now this final warning is being forced out of the dog’s repertoire. Much better, of course, to intervene long before grumbling starts, but better to heed the warning than leave the dog with no option but to snap.
Sophy has her own way of making her feelings known. She taught me early on that puppies need regular naps, preferably in a pen so they can’t hassle the grown ups, and would tell me with a glance at Freddy and a stare at me when she thought it was time for Freddy Beddy. After an hour or so around the newly crawling human baby in our extended family she hopped up on the sofa beside me, glanced at the baby, stared at me, and made it very clear it was time to Freddy Beddy this one too!
Tel Aviv's feral cats says
Love these photos. Sheep, colorful flowers, country life.
Dogs hurt kids on occasions, but humans do it much more often. You hear about kids being abused by adults much more than your hear about kids being bitten by dogs.
Dogs can also bite if kids touch their food or pull their tail. I once heard a woman telling someone that her three year old abused her poodle, and the poodle finally bit him, and then the poodle cried because he loves the kid so much.
Where I live, many dogs run around unsupervised. Although most dogs won’t attack humans, a small percentage will. And people let dogs who attack humans without provocation run around loose. They can also get hit by cars as well as attack people.
Sarah Patzer says
I cringe at many pictures on the internet where people are misinterpreting dog behavior around kids to be loving when the the dog is really showing possessiveness. The pictures are usually captioned something like “First night with the dog and look how much they love each other.”
Charlotte Kasner says
Perhaps if we can succeed in doing this we can prevent situations such as the one that has just occurred in the UK. We had 9 canine-related fatalities last year; that is the most since records were started here in 2013 and much higher than recent years.
Last week, a dog walker was killed whilst walking 8 dogs. It seems that some of the dogs got into a ruck and she got completely entailed in the leads. Whilst we’ll never really know what happened, my guess is that re-directed aggression resulted in her being bitten in a major artery.
The predictable hoo-ha has begun, all of which treats the dogs as the problem. Yes, we need more regulation and professionalisation, but the fact is that we have more than 50 statutes on the books dealing with dogs but no resources to educate people or police them. People break the law and put themselves and their dogs in danger on a daily basis but there are no consequences until a tragedy occurs.
The number of dogs per person in the UK is about half of that in the US (about 26% of people own at least one dog), but in some areas, ownership is very dense. Only 12% of people take their dog to training, some of which with be using aversives and most of which will not address canine emotional signals. Many will not go beyond half a dozen puppy classes.
We have a very long way to go in changing peoples’ perceptions about dogs and, until we do that, these incidents will keep on happening with the dogs suffering ultimately too.
This is a very gloomy start to the year; one can only do so much with the clients that one has, slowly and surely spreading the word.
Thank you for all the resources you included. I’m in my 50’s and am a lifelong dog owner. I’ve only been focused on this for the past year. Unlike any other dog I’ve owned or known, our rescue Great Pyrenees doesn’t signal distress before he acts, or at least his signals are invisible to me. I’ll take all of the help I can get.
Your flowers are a lovely reminder of the beauty we have to look forward to.
Lovely pictures! You always manage to find beauty in ordinary places. My dad’s dog once bit my nephew in the face. No adult was supervising the kids and dog together, of course. My nephew is fine, and didn’t even scar from the encounter. But I wholeheartedly agree that dogs should have a break from kids when they need it. They must always be supervised when together with kids. Do you have to go to the bathroom? Put the dog in a crate or find a way to separate them before you do your thing. As children, we were taught to respect dogs. No petting without approval from the owner, don’t get near the food bowl, don’t hit, tug, poke or kick the dog. No running around the dog. We were highly controlled in some ways, compared to kids today. Of course we also had a lot more freedom to run around the neighborhood unsupervised, but that’s a digression. I hope every adult with access to a kid or a dog will take more caution and respect both vulnerable entities.
Teddy Gingerich says
We absolutely need to be educating parents about not only canine signals, but what is appropriate. The number of horrific posts by clueless parents in the era of social media is scary. Big dog with child sitting on it like a pony, “Adorable! See how much they love each other!” Post from parents of the “perfect” dog: “She’s so patient with the children. They pull her tail and yank on her ears and she never makes a sound. What a great dog!”
And of course, teaching kids how to (or whether to) approach an unknown dog. Many years ago, while walking my Lily, an AmStaff who loves people (not other dogs), we passed a house where two girls around 8 or so were playing out front. One of them got up and ran down the driveway at us, arms outstretched to grab the pretty doggie. Lily is a great dog, but even now at age 11, she jumps. I stepped in front of her and used the mom voice, telling the kid to never run at a strange dog; you don’t know what they’ll do, or even if they like people. This naturally got the spoiled child response: she ran inside screaming for her mom. “Mean lady yelled at me!” Of course I didn’t yell, but around my neighborhood, there are a lot of kids who have never heard the word “no.” So let’s ensure kids get the teaching they should; that too will prevent a lot of issues.
Years ago I had an employee who told me how wonderful her OES was with her infant son. I warned her to never leave the child alone with the dog… that once the little guy became mobile, and started pulling the dog’s coat or poking him in the eye, tragedy could result. She didn’t listen, insisting her sweet dog would never harm her son. Clearly the dog loved the child. You can guess what happened. Fortunately, it was a minor injury. She wished she had listened to me. I can’t tell you how many times I have told clients to be ever vigilant, to closely monitor ALL interactions between their dogs and children, and to teach their kids the proper way to interact with dogs. Thanks for this post. We definitely need more education in this area. As a previous poster said: “He will always be a dog.”
Margaret Tucker says
Baby gates work for dogs and children, with some supervision of course.
Yay, Margaret,I too am a huge fan of baby gates! For so many purposes….
About 30 years ago, I was visiting some friends in Spain. They had a house with an outdoor garden and grill. While they were preparing dinner, they decided to give their Great Pyrenees Mountain dog dinner. They placed his dish on the ground, and while he was eating, my friend’s 5-year old boy, walked up to the dog and pulled his feeding dish away from them. The dog lunged, grabbing the child’s face, inflicting major damage and bleeding. We were all hysterical. The dog’s owner removed his pants belt and proceeded to savagely beat the animal senseless. I will never, ever forget the scene. The blood, chaos, and panic trying to get the child to medical help is a moment that has never left my conscience to this day. The horror of watching the poor dog punished, the fear of the injury to the child was almost too much.
Fortunately, the little boy recovered, but now as a man wears a lifelong scar on his face from the bite. To this day, I never let a child under the age of 15 approach our Shiba Inu. I do not know what she would do. She seems to not warn with a growl (we don’t know where that came from as we always “encouraged” growling as a warning), so we always err on the side of caution. Truly, a heartbreaking topic that needs ongoing training and discussion. Thank you so much for the light you bring to the problem.
Maureen C Finn says
Another huge baby gate fan here! When I call adoption applicants for our rescue, I try to remember to always ask about this, especially if there are other pets in the home. Crates are important, of course, but a baby gate is worth its weight in gold. I don’t have kids, but the baby gate is always handy for the dogs. For those with open floor plans, an ex-pen is a good substitute. I just got my first ex pen this year (after 40+ years with multiple dogs/cats), for use in keeping my dog quiet/confined after knee surgery and am wondering how I got along without one for so many years!
Great post! I don’t have kids, but my housekeeper has one toddler and one preteen, and they bought a german shepherd dog who is now almost a year old. I worry that the toddler will get bit. The family is lovely and kind, but doesn’t seem to have any awareness (at least modern awareness) of how to read dog language. I gave them a book on it, but the parents don’t read English. Can you please point me to resources on this in Spanish? I would love to share it! Thank you!
Whenever someone I know brings home a dog, I’ve begun gifting the book, Doggie Language: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend, by Lili Chin. It’s hard to break through our cultural fog of the unrealistic expectations we have of dogs. What a burden those expectations are for our dogs! I’m so grateful for the incredible educational information that is now easily available, and I hope it becomes more of a norm for pet guardians to seek out that information.
Glenda Herrin says
SUCH an important topic, and your suggestions and observations are spot on. What do we do, however, when parents refuse to parent??!!! Or hire us to do it for them?! I explain what to watch for, how and when to intervene, TONS of body language, to include kid-oriented pictoral handouts, and when Little Johnny goes over and yanks the dog’s tail, mom and dad just roll their eyes. Or don’t even notice it.
It’s unbelievable how many parents hire me for a consultation and ask me to “tell Little Johnny to stop hitting the dog, jumping on the dog, bothering the dog when she’s eating” and so on. “Listen to the trainer, she said you have to do this/not do that.” How do *I* outrank *them*??!!
When our parents told us to leave our Irish Setter alone while she’s eating, GUESS what we did. (Could be the result of a strict British mother and career USAF father, but we knew OUR boundaries as well as the dog knew hers).
Jennifer Shryock says
Thank you for sharing our podcast. I believe strongly that empowering people through education and increased awareness is so important. It offers people the ability to make safer choices and decisions when engaging with our canine friends. This is so important as often expectations of our dogs are unfair. An increase in knowledge can invite a more likely opportunity for setting realistic and safer expectations that help to build respectful interactions and bonds. The more resources the better! Thank you!
We crate our dogs when they grandkids visit, our kids says it’s ok the dogs are “good” but honestly I know I can’t supervise and read my dogs when the children are around, safer for all this way
This topic is near and dear to me. I was attacked by our family dog decades ago while sleeping- I was in college, not a child. Fortunately his bite just missed my tear ducts and critical parts of my face, requiring stitches by a plastic surgeon but cosmetic vs impacting my vision etc thankfully. The thought was he reacted when I moved while sleeping and disturbed him although our vet felt he should have gone for my leg or arm and not my face, since he was at the bottom of my bed. He had given warning previously when he was sleeping in a chair and my niece startled him – he bit her on the nose, requiring stitches performed by a plastic surgeon. With the second bite, since I was sound asleep, our vet recommended euthanasia. It was heartbreaking for all of us.
Looking back, knowing what I know now, we should not have allowed our family dog access to furniture because he would growl at times when we sat near him or asked him to get down – he gave us many warnings we just didn’t understand and take appropriate training steps or environment management steps to prevent the outcome we had.
I think education and awareness go a long way to ensuring the safety of our pets and children. As a parent our dogs were not allowed to sleep with our children, and we taught our kids and their friends to call the dogs to them vs approach a sleeping or resting dog. I have crated dogs depending on what was going on at our home to keep everyone comfortable and safe.
Diana, what a heartbreaking scene to live in you mind forever. I’m so sorry. I’ll add that some breeds seem less inclined to warn than others, Shiba’s and Akita’s for one, but I’m sure there are others. That said, kudos for you for always erring on the side of caution: Whether your dog warns or not, always the best plan.
One thing that is often missed is picking the right puppy/dog for a family with children. When I worked at a shelter, the advice was that when assessing a family with children, the dog should prefer to be with the children rather than the parents. When I fostered a pregnant dog, and placed the pups, I had two families with one with 3 children under 10, one with 4 children under 10 (!!!) looking to adopt an 8 week old pup (my admiration goes out to those mums – what a job!). I had two pups left. The first family came over, and I let the two pups out to play with the 3 children. After a run around the yard, one of the pups came near and played with the children, the other stayed away. That family took home a pup, the other family was told there was no pup suitable, and I placed the other pup with a couple with a grown up daughter. I would have considered teenagers, but none applied. All the pups in the litter had been exposed to children from babies to young teens from 4 to 6 weeks old as part of their socialisation, Angel (it was a Christmas litter), just wasn’t interested.
Nicola, brilliant! Good on you to believe what the pups told you. If only more breeders would do so well!
Nannette Morgan says
Thank you for this great post, especially Jen Shryock’s interactive guide! I didn’t know she had done this. Now I can direct my clients to it. I have handouts on canine body language (ASPCA pictorials) plus a list of Canine Stress Signals. These go to every client I meet with whether they have children or not and despite being long time dog owners. I tell them it’s helps to know this not only for your own dog but when you encounter other dogs out in public.
I visited family at Christmas and watched my young nephew practicing his wrestling moves on the dogs from pile driving , wrestling, to dragging them around by their back legs. The dogs yelped frequently. I spoke with his mother and was told that I worry too much. Supposedly they like it and are wonderfully tolerant. I do agree on them being tolerant because none of my dogs, even ones raised around young children, would tolerate that. I certainly wouldn’t ask them too either. I’m afraid bite incidents will continue to increase as long as humans continue to think dogs should tolerate poor behavior instead of teaching manners around dogs.
Judith Becker says
My dogs never see children and might not think they are even human! (Sometimes I have my doubts.) Both are small enough that if we’re in the park and a kid’s too pushy I can just pick them up. Oddly enough,kids gommed onto our late goldendoodle more than the little guys. In our suburb kids are taught to ask before they pet; Kira once had no fewer than four little girls all petting her properly at once!
I remember being told as a small child not to bother the dog when he was eating and to generally respect his space. The occasional nip was assumed to be the fault of the kid and wasn’t a capital offense for the dog.
I think some of the hugging is from parents wanting a cute picture. Put away the camera and teach the kids right!
Oh! Your snowy pictures cool me down just by looking at them. At present we are doing a lot more swimming than walking in Australia.
I am constantly amazed at the number of parents who let their small children run up to a strange dog. I understand my toy poodle is small, fluffy and cute looking but he could easily do damage. I have noticed in the last few years more parents correcting their children and the children asking my permission to pat Kona – perhaps a sign that education programs are working? If the parent doesn’t intervene, I do, and use it as a “teaching moment”.
At home Kona has his man cave (covered crate) that all visiting children know is his personal space and they may not enter – not even a finger. I too, religiously follow this rule so Kona knows if he really doesn’t want to do something or interact with someone he can retreat there. A portable crate comes with us when travelling.
I am 63 years old. My aunt had a dog but no children. She brought Chipper just about every where with her. He was a lovely medium sized dog, and as children we were all thrilled and excited when she came to visit. Chipper never bit anyone! And she had loads of company. But in those days times were different, at least at our home. When my aunt came into the house Chipper was on a leash and stayed on the leash by her chair at all times. Of course 8 to 10 hands coming at Chipper to pet him unnerved him and you could hear a low growl, immediately followed by “you kids leave Chipper alone and go outside and play”. And we did. As adults my siblings and I still laugh that the dog got to stay inside while the kids had to you outside! No one expected this dog who came from a childless home and who had no escape route on the leash to tolerate a pack of well meaning and excited children with 10 crazy hands attempting the welcome him. We were taught respect through this correction for the dog, which we could translate later to people and property as well. I was allowed to walk Chipper when I got older. And I could pet Chipper all the time one on one with supervision. But no one, and I mean no one expected this dog or us children to know limits, this we were taught. I have a new dog, she was not treated well prior to my fostering and adoption, we are in obedience training now, unlike my last dog, I will NOT leave her alone with any children who come to visit, She will be crated during that time. I do not have children and am still learning this dog, and I do not know how the children are with dogs. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure or and abundance of caution is a good thing most times! Thanks for this insightful post.
Rebecca Rice says
I’d like people’s thoughts on the concept of “magnetizing” kids to dogs. That is, teaching babies (inadvertently) that dogs are for touching, which leads to kids that just can’t keep their hands off dogs. Which is ok with patient dogs and kids that are petting, but also leads to kids hitting, poking, etc., as well. This blog describes it in much more detail: https://babysafedogtraining.com/mamas-dont-let-your-babies-get-magnetized-to-dogs/
It’s an interesting read, and a very different approach to raising dogs with children than most families take. I would probably struggle with it, myself, since I find I have to exercise serious self-control to ask before petting other people’s dogs, respect the owner’s answer, etc. It’s HARD to resist petting cute and cuddly dogs! I assume that these families would involve the kids in dog training, etc., as they get older in order to foster the relationship between them. But I can see how this technique could lead to kids that are more respectful of dogs in general.
Yes, I watch “cute kid and videos” with bated breath, waiting for disaster to strike.
Red Dog was a 1-year old stray when she came into our lives. We spent a lot of time exposing her to different situations and different people, especially children. Perhaps that helped avoid disaster at least once.
My wife was walking our dogs at the park and met a mother and small child. Mother asked permission to pet the dog, and the child and dog interacted nicely.
Until mother told child it was time to leave. The child started screaming and put Red Dog in a headlock.
My wife reassured Red Dog while the mother attempted to pry her kid’s arms from Red Dog’s neck. Apparently Red Dog’s expression was, “I don’t like this but I trust you” (or something like that). After what seemed like a very long time, child and dog were separated with no harm to either.
Whenever we are out for a walk and random children ask to pet the dog, I always tell them how much Red Dog likes being scratched on her shoulder, and demonstrate how to do so (“show and tell”). Perhaps knowing how to pet a dog safely will keep some child from being bitten. I hope so, anyway.
In Hawaii, dogs were breed to hunt wild pigs and goats. They were merely tools and the concept of a ‘pet dog’ had to jump a huge cultural divide. The laws have evolved slowly but (to the best of my knowledge) there remains a two bite rule. The first offense typically results in the court mandating the dog complete and pass an obedience course. Phone conversations and letters to lawyers and probation officers never seemed to move the needle. They couldn’t understand why a ‘dangerous dog assessment’ was unrelated to obedience. Passing the class didn’t have anything to do with it.
Bruce, holy moly,give Red Dog a medal!
We have a reactive cattledog mix and a very loud and active child. We had several instances of growling and stressed moaning from the cattledog when we first brought home our infant child, and we were very worried that we would have to re-home him, so we tried to figure out ways to prevent future issues.
While the child was still an infant, we put up an 18-inch-high child gate between the room where the dog crates are and the rest of the house. Whenever the child would cry or make baby-noises, our cattledog would look anxious, and we would sweetly and happily say, “Go to your bed!” and then we would treat him. Very quickly, he began to volunteer to go to his bed whenever something made him nervous. We treated intermittently, and by the time the child could crawl and then toddle, the dog consistently ran to his crate whenever the child came too close.
We progressed to having the child toss treats over the barrier into the dog’s “safe zone,” while we told him what a “good dog trainer” he was being. We also began to point out the dog’s stress signal (dropped ears, moaning, trotting quickly to the crate area) in hopes that our child would get better at reading dogs in general. Eventually the child could step over the gate, so we removed it, but maintained the rule that, except for tossed-in treats, no one and nothing but the dog went into the crate.
It hasn’t all gone perfectly. We have missed early signals or the dog has gotten overwhelmed quickly, and we’ve had a couple of instances of the dog feinting at the child with warning air snaps. Of course, these made our hearts stop!
We have held the course, though, and now that both dog and child are older, they both fully understand the strategy: when things get too exciting, the child should “be a good dog trainer” and consider the comfort level of the dog, and the dog should go to his crate in which he will be undisturbed and possibly given a treat.
We are still vigilant, and we still don’t leave them alone together in confined spaces (like the car), but so far, our prevention strategies have worked.
Barking Buddies says
As a parent and dog lover, I completely understand the importance of keeping both our kids and dogs safe. This post provides valuable insights and tips for creating a harmonious relationship between the two. It’s so important to educate both children and dogs on how to interact with each other in a positive and safe manner. Thank you for highlighting this important topic and helping us all keep our families safe and happy.
l. rifkin says
First, Thank you for all your dedication and creative energy over the years.
I’m a dog-trainer, for many years. Todays article is of particular importance to families with kids.
Perhaps the root of the teddy bear dog syndrome is anthropomorphic thinking — and more widely, human projection. With men, there is an added component that: I, man, must be/am, omnipotent, all seeing and can take on the dog when and if he dares to attack my child and in any case, since he too is my child, teddy bear, buddy and body guard, he will do as I do and I am DOMINANT.
Moms on the other hand may be more humble, but also busy bees around the home, not able to be attentive to every interaction between the dog and the toddler or 2 year old.
SO now what.
1. Teach/continue to raise consciousness around the premise of anthropomorphism — and how significant this is in misinterpreting body language and a dogs needs and limitations.
2. Ask for help from a qualified professional. At least 1 – 10 sessions to work with children and dogs together — for the child and for the parents. Do go this alone!
3. I so agree with your having a plan for when things get busy and the parent looses attention on the interaction.
Heres a couple of points:
a. We need an invention (more direct than a baby monitor) that alerts when the baby is in room with dog alone, closer than 1 foot of dog, 1 hand is on dog; face is near dogs head, or baby climbs on dog. A movement alert system. Baby is moving and dog is still. System can also have a small screen which marks distance, placement, engagement, AND level of arousal! (HEART RATE ETC.) It’s been shown that heart rate may indicate aggressive reaction. I believe Suzanne Hetts is examining that question.
Sensors can alert to each level of engagement in different tones and be more or less advanced but the main point is, we need an alerting sensor. When we invent this together I’d like some true acknowledgement, please (LOL).
Mothers do get busy. Fathers sometimes think they can manage all physical things. Let’s get humble. Let’s get real. Let’s keep the kids and the dogs and our families safe and attentive.
One of the great gifts of canine companionship is that the bond can keep us PRESENT AND THEREFORE MORE ALIVE!
Again, Madam, thank you so much for your unusual work — I wish to heck I could someday work with shepards in the field. It seems so performance oriented. Sound and movement, call and response! Working together, in partnership. Like actor-doers.
Mary Joy says
This post is incredibly helpful and informative. I can appreciate the attention to detail and facts you have provided! It’s so important that our kids and our pets stay safe and happy around one another, especially as they get older. As a parent of both a dog and three children, I know firsthand how important it is for them to understand how to interact with each other. The advice you give here on teaching kids what behavior is expected from them when interacting with animals is spot on.
Kid and dog awareness is an important topic that deserves more attention. Bookmarking this for future reference and to refer clients to.