In the final part of our series on dogs and babies, we look at how to prepare the way for a lasting friendship between your dog and your toddlers.
Not all dogs instantly love children. From a pup perspective your little ’un may be more scary monster than new, best friend. Running, squeaking toddlers, smelling strongly of forbidden but delicious human grub, may also seem a novel, hunting- ready form of prey, ripe for chasing. Even well socialised pups, growing up surrounded by kids, may after one ill-judged encounter, develop a deep and lasting fear of them. Clumsy handling by a child, where the grip is too tight and the puppy is unceremoniously swooped up into the air, or where inquisitive little fingers accidently poke at eyes and ears, are often the reason why a hitherto friendly dog ‘suddenly bites for no reason’.
Pups need to learn how to behave around children:
- First, kiddies are not littermates and biting games are verboten
- Pups should not ‘jump up’ at humans or other dogs. If you have not taught your pup this golden rule, then get into training now.
- Razor sharp puppy teeth and claws can easily harm a toddler or frail adult; owners may find themselves on the receiving end of a criminal prosecution.
Kids need to learn that puppies and dogs are not cute toys, there is a right way to interact with a dog and other ways that may intimidate or frighten your pet, leading to a bite. Don’t put your dog in the position that it has to defend itself against unwanted attention. Follow these tips and educate yourself and your children about dog communication:
- Keep children away from the dog when he is eating and resting. Proof him against approaches to his bowl, chews and resting area. Read “The Perfect Puppy” by Gwen Bailey.
- Dogs may tolerate petting but they do not always enjoy it. Do not let children pull ears or give full body hugs.
- Toddlers approaching dogs at eye level may appear intimidating and challenging. Teach children to approach on a curve, without direct eye contact.
- Stand sideways to the dog and stroke the back, sides or chest.
- Many dogs dislike head touches, especially by people they do not know. The head is a doggy socially sensitive area, as is the neck, tail and paws. Repeated touching or pulling may result in a bite.
Dogs that roll over and show their tummies are not necessarily inviting a tummy rub, this may be a plea to back off.
- Dogs that turn their head away from you, lick their lips, sniff the ground, or shake off, may be showing they have had enough contact for now.
- Pups should be proofed to approaches from behind, grabbing and looming (see Gwen Bailey) but this should be reserved for emergencies.
- Do not let children pick up puppies. They often hurt or drop them without meaning to.
- Pups on the receiving end of bad handling can develop a lifelong fear of human hands and become the classic ‘snappy’ dog.
- Consider the sort of breed you want to share your home. Dogs with strong guarding and watch dog traits, so-called ‘one-person’ breeds, are possibly not right for a home with small kids.
- Finally, if your dog growls never chastise them. This is an early warning system saying your dog is worried about something. Without that growl your dog is more likely to bite without warning.
- If you hear growling, especially around children, investigate, take note and take action.
Leonie St Clair
This article first appeared in the July 2015 issue of SE22 magazine.