Kids and K-9’s: Keep Them Safe!
By Dawn M. Olson, emBARK
Babies and puppies, kids and dogs – who doesn’t love them? Just the thought of babies and puppies together brings lovable cute pictures to mind. Facebook and Instagram are filled with images of kids and dogs interacting: babies laying on dogs, kids hugging dogs tightly, toddlers lifting the lip of a dog to look in its mouth, dogs and babies in costumes together, huge family photos with someone holding Fido – all normal, all adorable….right? They’re really cute, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind with human/animal interactions.
Humans are humans and dogs are dogs. We are not the same; we are two distinct species. Our methods of communication, coping strategies and genetic development are vastly different. As humans we have a lot of choices: what we do, what we eat, where we go, what we wear, who we socialize with. Dogs, on the other hand, generally have very few choices. Owners control what and when dogs eat, when they go outside, where to potty, whom they hang-out with--basically everything!
When children interact with a dog, sometimes the dog is forced to endure something they would not if given the choice. No one is saying to keep kids and dogs apart or to avoid those special photos, but your dog depends on you, his person, to keep him safe and comfortable. Below are some thoughts and ideas that can help keep kids, dogs, and everyone safe and happy.
Humans love to hug and kiss those we love, dogs don’t. Many dogs learn to tolerate physical affection (hugs and kisses) from their people but are not so thrilled when forced to tolerate it from someone else. Don’t let young children grab dogs for hugs and kisses. You may think your dog is enjoying it, but I promise you, at best they are tolerating it.
Dogs love their routines. When our gatherings disrupt their routine, they can become stressed and less tolerant of noise, big groups, a lot of additional petting. Do your best to keep your dog’s routine as close to normal as possible. Provide your dog with a safe, quiet spot to hang out if he needs it. Put a dog bed, toys, a long-lasting chew into a bedroom and keep it off limits for visitors.
Teach kids to “be a tree” when approached by a dog.
Many kids are unsure of dogs, maybe even fearful of dogs, if they learn to freeze (like a tree), dogs generally lose interest. On the other hand, if a child runs, screams, waves their arms, etc., they become very interesting to dogs and will often get chased or jumped on! Not a good experience for that child and the dog will likely get scolded for acting like a dog!
Check your home for “growl/grumble” zones. These are spaces in your home where the dog may be forced into close-proximity to a child and the dog feels trapped. Some areas to be aware of are coffee tables in front of couches where the dog may be squeezed into a small space with a young child, dogs laying under a table to avoid a crowd and a toddler crawls under the table too, doorways where both child and dog are trying to pass at the same time, and under beds.
Learn to speak dog! Dogs are always speaking, but we don’t always hear them because we are unaware. Dogs speak with their bodies: eyes, ears, tails, lips, posture. Little things we can easily overlook are often your dog’s cry for help: lip licks, yawns, big round eyes with lots of white showing, turning the head away, submissive low posture, ears held low or towards the back of the head, tail not moving or wagging low or stiff, and hair standing up over the shoulders and back. Once you master your dog’s body language you will be amazed how much they have been saying. Doggie Language: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend by Lili Chin is an excellent resource for you and for kids.
For more information on keeping kids and dogs safe, check-out the Family Paws website https://www.familypaws.com . This website has many resources and links to help you keep everyone safe and happy. They can also help you locate a trainer in your area for more support.
Give your dog choices and then respect their choice. If they are uncomfortable, give them the choice to bow-wow out of that photo!
Dawn M. Olson; Certified Professional Dog Trainer; Certified Fear Free Trainer; Licensed Family Paws Educator - emBARK