The benefits of children having a family dog are huge. Owning a pet encourages compassion and respect and understanding for another being. It can also help improve social skills and teaches responsibility. However, this does not happen without adult help and supervision.
Dogs are great companions and children and dogs can grow up together to be the best of friends. However, children do not communicate in the same way as an adult and their behaviour can be very confusing and often scary for a canine. They often treat their pet dog as they would a playground friend and too many dog owners let their children play rough and tease. Whilst some dogs are very tolerant and appear to put up with anything, it is totally unfair on the dog to allow this treatment. Many videos are shared showing children wrestling with a dog, often creating the ‘alpha roll’. This is seen as being fun and humorous, but actually the dog is most likely not enjoying it and is put in the precarious position of “shall I flight or fight”. If the dog cannot actually get away, he could decide to fight back and that is when a dog may bite or show aggression. Encourage games with interactive toys. Most dogs love ball games.
Research tell us that people are more likely to be bitten by their own family dog than an unfamiliar dog and children are in the highest risk group. Children should be shown how to respect and interact safely with them.
Dogs cannot tell children when they want to be left alone, so it is best that close contact is always supervised by an adult. Dogs should be allowed to have their ‘own space’ to retreat to if they feel they have had enough. Often that will be their bed and children should be taught not to chase and continue playing if the dog has taken refuge away from the ‘action’!
It is best to keep your dog in another room when children have visiting noisy and rowdy friends
Children should never approach an unfamiliar dog unless you are sure it is a friendly.
· He is eating or has a tasty treat
· He has a toy he loves
· He is sleeping, feels unwell or is injured
· He is getting old and not so patient
· He is deaf or blind
4. Understand a dog’s body language
Dogs communicate through body language. Look out for stress signals such as yawning, lip-licking, whale eye, held-back ears, turning their head away, tucked in tail and body tension. If you notice any of these signs, calmly, without fuss, remove the dog from the situation. More aggressive gestures may occur if these signs are not noticed which include:
· baring of teeth
· narrowing of eyes
· hairs on back of neck are up (hackles)
· growling or snarling
5. Encourage children to get involved
Grooming and exercising your dog creates a strong bond. Older children should be encouraged to help with looking after the family dog. The whole family could go to training classes or agility sessions.
6. Bringing a new baby home
The excitement of a new arrival can be quite unsettling for a dog that has been the only other family member.
Introduce your dog to the new equipment that will be around e.g. cot and pram. There may be changes to his routine. Gradually introduce new walking times etc., before baby arrives. To get them used to the new sounds, play recordings of baby noises, especially crying.
When baby is home, do not exclude your dog. Allow them to see, hear and smell the new baby under close supervision, so they get to learn that the new smelling bundle is nothing to worry about! Sometimes the noises that new babies make and their wriggling actions, may remind some dogs of prey. It is absolutely vital that dogs are never left alone with babies, no matter how friendly you think they might be.
7. Make sure you understand what owning a dog means
Under the Animal Welfare Act, owners have a duty of care to ensure they are meeting the welfare needs of their dog. They should provide a happy and healthy lifestyle. If you are thinking of adding a dog to your family, research about the breed you are wanting to ensure it will be the right dog to fit in with your lifestyle.
Owning a dog is a full time commitment. Make sure you know what you are taking on.
About the Author: Paws Plus One is a Dog Behaviour Consultancy and online retailer all about dogs and the owner. We pride our self on providing quality dog products and useful information for dog owners.