Children and Dogs
Kids and dogs can make an excellent mix, as they aren’t just a source of happiness and enjoyment, but they have been shown to positively affect the immune system in young children, reduce the likelihood of them developing asthma and eczema, increase their emotional intelligence (EQ) as they learn to care for and love their pet, and become an excellent source of play and exercise. However, children aren’t as aware as adults, especially when it comes to picking up on distress signals displayed by dogs, and need to be taught how to and how not to interact with dogs.
It’s important to note that children and dogs communicate differently; children will communicate by yelling, shrieking, and running about, and dogs struggle to understand these signals. Moreover, children will often treat dogs like they would a friend and will display affection through hugging and cuddling, and often close facial contact. This behaviour, whilst is meant with good intentions, dogs often perceive as threatening and obtrusive and can lash out and become dangerous. That’s why it important to teach your child about what is and what isn’t ok to do with your pet, and whilst a child may get away with certain behaviours for a while, they can eventually lead to an explosion from your dog that can have horrible consequences. There are certain things your dog should always be allowed to do in peace, this including eating, sleeping, and going to the toilet. That means at no time should you or your child try and interfere with your dog during these activities – I’m sure you wouldn’t like someone touching you while you’re trying to eat, sleep, or use the bathroom, and your pets certainly don’t either. You should also create a safe space for your pet to retreat to if they ever need to get away; this is often their bed and should be a place where they can go undisturbed. A child should never use a dog’s crate or bed as a play area, and your dog should always feel comfortable in this space, and is preferable that this is a space your child can’t have access to.
Children should also be taught not to interfere with a dog’s toys, if they’re playing with a chew toy or tennis ball, it’s never advisable to suddenly take it away from them. Dog’s should however also be taught to give up their toys and not hoard them, and that doing so is a positive behaviour rewarded with treats. Children can be very active and bouncy, and this can quickly become overwhelming for a dog, that’s why it’s important to teach them it’s not ok to invade their personal space and keep an appropriate social distance. Children should always interact with your dog in a calm and friendly manner, patting them on acceptable areas such as on their back. Children should also be taught not to ever pull or tug on their dog or otherwise treat them as a toy, pulling their hair, tugging on their tail or ears, or attempting to ride them can quickly lead a dog to lash out and act aggressively. Moreover, it’s been showing that hugging your dog is unpleasant for them, and often creates anxiety, and whilst your dog should be taught that cuddling and physical affection is positive, you should also respect their boundaries by avoiding close hugging and picking them up. Additionally, when children become overwhelmed by an excited dog they often run away and attempt to get away from them, however dogs perceive this as an invitation to chase them and can make them even more distressed. Be sure to let you child know that your dog doesn’t want to hurt them, and to simply stay still when they’re becoming stressed.
Whilst all these warnings make it seem like kids can’t play with dogs at all, the reality is quite the opposite, because we as adults don’t interact with dogs like this, because we have learnt to play with them in an acceptable way. Kids should be taught where it’s okay to pat the dog, to be kind and courteous to them, and to play games and train them. Games such as fetch are a great way for your kids to build a relationship with their pet, and teaching them tricks or skills will help build a lifelong bond. All interactions however between kids and animals should be supervised as adults are better at interpreting the signs of distress from dogs and can act to remedy the situation before anyone gets hurt. Having a dog in the home is a learning curve and will take time for both the dog and the child to get used to each other. Teach both your kids and your dog to be polite to one another and create a positive environment within your home. As always, read wide and read often and learn as much as possible to be the best you can be.