Kids, Dogs, and Safety 

Contributed by Valerie Hansen,  (Please ask for permission before republishing.  Thank you!)

It seems like a lot at first, but it's the best insurance one can have in keeping everyone safe. If you find any of it appropriate for the web site, please, feel free to use it, change it - whatever.  Keep in mind, my two dogs (border collie/lab and border collie/malamute) are about 75 lbs. each.

I'd have to say as far as keeping dogs and kids together, there were a couple of articles I read that made all the sense in the world.

One said that it is not humane to assume that an animal knows how you want him to behave around the most precious thing in your life - your child.  Your dog does not understand how human children are supposed to be treated.  Putting that assumption on your animal is setting him up to fail, in an area where there really isn't room for failure.  No matter how loving and sweet and gentle, your dog is just that: a dog, not a childcare attendant. Dogs can be opportunistic, and often ruled by their instincts, not their knowledge of right and wrong, or recollection of house rules.  Because of the canine social structure, many dogs will automatically want to dominate children in order to be higher in rank in the family "pack".  It's simply doesn't make sense to have an animal remain obedient to, and chaperone the very child that he also wishes to dominate.

The article also said something to the effect of:  animals that are the most trusted "family" pets are the dogs most at risk of attacking children.  Often these dogs are entrusted with much more than they are capable of handling: constant harassment including pulling tails, stepping on paws, playing in food bowls, teasing with toys and treats etc. etc. - all of which are no-no's in canine etiquette. These trusted "gentle" dogs are set up to snap - and suddenly everyone wonders what happened.

One myth about dogs - is that some dogs are bred to be great with kids. The golden retriever and yellow Labrador for example have unfortunately been labeled as this.  I even had a friend of mine tell me that she trusted her four year old daughter with yellow dogs because they are known to be much gentler than black dogs!  There are no dog breeds that are "great with kids".  All dogs are animals.  All dogs are built for survival and self preservation.  All dogs are capable of biting when they are aggravated, assaulted or excited.  Dogs that are great with kids can be any canines that have been treated with the respect, time and training they deserve as intelligent and feeling beings.

That's not to say that all dogs are good candidates for being with families that have children.  Dogs with histories of  known dislike and/or bad/aggressive behavior around children should never be expected to change those personality traits, and should not be considered for placement in families with children. (If you want a trail horse, are you going to get a bucking bronco and hope it'll change?)

We  taught our son, Tyler, to respect our dogs as he'd respect any livestock.  Notice, I didn't say "pet"?  Our dogs are larger and heavier than he by about 40 lbs. each.  It would make no sense to try to convince our five year old that these dogs are big fluffy harmless stuffed animals.  They could kill him if they wanted to, just like a horse could kill me if it wanted to!  To promote Tyler's dominant position in our family pack, we've worked on the following : Tyler learned after a bit of practice to say in a loud and commanding voice, "NO!"  If I hear him call "NO!", it's also a command to me to pay attention to what the dogs are doing.  Other commands like "AWAY!" and "LEAVE IT!" have come in handy for Tyler too.

He also learned to not wave around toys and food in the air. To disassociate our son with food in the eyes of the dogs, (Sam in particular needed this because he originally saw Tyler as a rolling snack bar) we made a steadfast rule about food - Tyler is only allowed to eat food at the kitchen counter or dining room - never outside or wandering around.   It was a great rule for everyone- now the house is crumb and ant free!  It took a while to retrain Tyler, but after he was reprimanded a couple of times by me when his cookie was snatched out of his hand and he came crying to me, he picked up on the concept.  ("Why was the cookie outside in the first place Tyler? Where are you supposed to eat your snack?") He gives them treats but requires them to sit before receiving them, he feeds them dinner and again requires them to sit.  This enforces daily to the dogs that Tyler is in control, not the other way around.

Tyler is never allowed to sit or lie down on the ground when the doggies are around.  It is an act of submission in dog language, and the dogs seem to look for it.  Sometimes they think it's an invitation to roughhouse, which they are also not permitted to do with our son because he is only half their size. When he's outside on the play structure, the dogs are inside.

With regards to children and dogs, we take safety very seriously.  Tyler, is not allowed to just waltz outside and mingle with the dogs unless there is an adult around.  

House rule #1. Children that come to play are not allowed to play outside if the dogs are outside, and children must ask to go outside -no matter what.    Every child is told this - repeatedly.  The dogs come in with me while the kids are out on the play structure and when the kids come back in, the dogs go out.    Kids can do crummy things to animals just to see what will happen next.    Children that don't understand that big dogs can hurt them assume that dogs were created for them to play with as they'd play with a stuffed animal or other toy.  Pulling big fluffy tails and ears can mean a lightning fast warning attack. Unfortunately, I don't have enough liability insurance to cover what could happen when five year olds experiment with two 70lb.+ dogs, so I make it a "non issue".  It just plain doesn't happen - EVER.

Children other than our son are not permitted to "play" with our dogs unless the child's parent is literally right there with him or her.  Back to the livestock theory I hold about dogs and children; you wouldn't let a kid in the pen to run around with your cows or pigs, just to say "Hi", would you?  Of course not.  Can you say LIABILITY?  You'd allow them to view your animals from a healthy distance.  Usually, children don't pay any attention to animals unless the animals are paying attention to them.  If the kids are inside and the dogs are outside, then there is no conflict, right?  If children ask to pet my dogs, they are allowed to do so one dog and one child at a time (take turns) while I hold on to the collar or leash.  This keeps the dogs from getting excited and keeps my eyes on what the kids are doing.  Also, little kids rarely know how to pet an animal and often need some basic guidance.  One on one taking turns helps the kids learn.

Again, all this seems like a whole lot of rules and restrictions, but in reality, a lot of it is really just common sense.  Because of it, our house is a very peaceable kingdom!  Dogs can be dogs and kids can be safe and I think they are all thankful for it!



Page last updated on 05/06/07 09:12 AM