Dogs and Children featured image

Top Dog Tips - Dogs and ChildrenHappy Sunday! I hope your week was more relaxing than mine. We've been busy here at Top Dog Tips putting out our regular columns and gearing up for some really exciting new additions as well. I hope you had time to check out my column from last week about being choosy about dog toys. It offered a lot of great material on selecting the right dog toy for your Fido and what safety concerns you should have when selecting toys for your pet.

This week's topic is a hot button issue for many pet parents and advocates for children's safety. Dogs and children can be a really great combination, and they also create some of the world's most adorable photographs. Not every dog is cut out to be around children though, and not every child should be allowed around dogs.

Supervision is certainly the number one thing to keep in mind when allowing dogs and children to play together. But what should you be looking for? And how do you know which dogs should not be allowed around children? Should you listen to the stereotypes or are there certain signs to watch for in individual dogs?

Dogs and Children

Before we get to any of that, I think the most important thing for all parents to remember is that children need to be educated about dogs, even if you don't own a pet. This article may use silly cartoons to demonstrate the points, but author Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, has written a very serious piece about how children should interact with dogs. As parents and caregivers it is our responsibility to teach our children the proper way to behave around animals.

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Even if you don't own a dog or your canine companion is extremely gentle and patient with children, you should still teach your child the appropriate way to behave around dogs. They will eventually meet other dogs that may not be so understanding, and think of your poor Fido's happiness too. Just because he deals with your child getting in his face, laying on him, and pulling his ears doesn't mean he enjoys it.

  • The fact is, a quick perusal of YouTube or a thorough investigation of a bite reveals that often the bite occurs because humans, especially children, are extremely rude. Parents may view their kid’s behaviors as cute and assume that because their dog is tolerating the behavior now, he will have an endless fuse and always put up with it, rather than eventually exploding. In other words, parents expect dogs to behave like saints, even when they are pestered to the point that would try the average human’s patience and cause her to blow up!

If you're unsure of what to teach your children, or how to go about it, do some research. A few hours on the internet will give you some great talking points and help you figure out how to handle the relationships of the dogs and children in your house. Colleen Pelar, CPDT-KA, CDBC (certified professional dog trainer), has spent the last 20 years helping parents navigate the challenges of living with kids and dogs.

Her website is an excellent resource, and she's written many books on the subject as well. The articles on her site talk about everything from dealing with a child who is afraid of dogs to rainy day activities for dogs and children. My personal favorite is this article about dog-bite prevention.

  • Each year nearly 2.8 million children are bitten by a dog. Most of these bites are not coming from some scary dog that got loose. Sensational stories make headlines, but most dog bites are more commonplace. Half come from the family’s own dog, and another 40 percent come from a friend or neighbor’s dog.As a dog trainer and a mother of three boys, I want families to love having a dog, but I am perpetually frustrated by the lack of knowledge most parents have about basic dog safety. They seem to be operating under the Disney-esque assumption that a good dog would never bite a child, and their dog is certainly a good dog.

If you think that supervision is the key to preventing dog bites, you're sadly mistaken. Most dog bites happen while a responsible adult is just a few feet away. Unfortunately, they didn't know what they should be looking for. They simply thought that watching the child to make sure he wasn't hurting the dog or pestering him was enough.

Robin Bennett, (CPDT-KA) also has a website dedicated to educating people about keeping dogs safe. In her article, she gives some excellent tips on what exactly you should be looking for when supervising dogs and children.

  • Watch for these three really easy-to-see stress signals in your dog.  All of them indicate you should intervene and separate the child and dog:
    • Yawning outside the context of waking up
    • Half-moon eye – this means you can see the whites on the outer edges of your dog’s eyes.
    • Lip licking outside the context of eating food.

UPDATE: Robin Bennett's website is no longer available. But I've found this podcast discussing her conclusion that Supervising Kids and Dogs Doesn't Work. Hear what Bennett has to say through this link.

It's not just about the children either. The ASPCA wrote this great article about teaching dogs how to behave around kids. If you're a dog owner, this is vital, even if you don't have children. Your dog is surely going to run into a child eventually whether it's at the dog park, while traveling, or while visiting friends or relatives.

  • It’s amazing, if you think about it, that dogs get along with children as well as they do. Many seem to understand that kids should be treated differently, with gentleness and tolerance. When interacting with children, these dogs patiently put up with all kinds of strange, unpredictable behavior and sometimes even painful handling. This ability to enjoy the company of kids, despite rough treatment, has made the dog a popular family pet. Most dogs end up bonding strongly with the children in their family, becoming both friend and protector, and the love between a child and a dog is a truly wonderful thing to behold.Some dogs, however, have trouble interacting with kids—and when a dog doesn’t get along with young family members, the consequences can be devastating. Although dog bite fatalities are extremely rare and most bites don’t result in injury or medical treatment, children are the victims of half of the estimated 4.7 million dog bites in the United States every year. One study estimates that about a third of these bites are delivered by the family dog. Dogs often bite children on the face or neck, and these bites sometimes result in permanent scarring or disfigurement. Irrevocable emotional damage is often done as well. Many parents consider any tooth-to-skin contact with a child a major breach of trust—perhaps even grounds for euthanasia—and some people develop lifelong phobias of dogs after being bitten during childhood.
Dogs and Children
Photo: Cathy Stanley-Erickson

Training your dog the right way is imperative when it comes to being around children. I was appalled when reading this article on Your Dog's Friend to find out that some dog owners try to condition their dogs to put up with the abuse of some small children. Getting your dog used to having his tail pulled is no way to ensure his quality of life. Training him to behave around children and teaching children how to behave around him is the only way to show your Fido the respect that he deserves.

  • Some parents have tried pulling tails, ears, and bumping into dogs to prepare them for children.  Not only is this unfair to your dog, it also doesn’t guarantee that your dog will tolerate children doing the same.  Your dog has a unique relationship with each person; so focus on building a good relationship between your dog and your child.  Teach your dog to associate your child with good things happening by giving your dog special treats when your infant or toddler is around.  Teach your school-age child how to gently offer a treat and make sure your children have activities of their own, even though your dog is in the same room.

Different situations require different types of training and teaching. Bringing a dog into a family with children is completely different than bring a child into a family that already has a dog. The Women's and Children's Health Network has a website dedicated to Child and Youth Health. This website has a very extensive page on dogs and children. The page gives great pointers about what to do in different situations and a ton of other beneficial information on keeping children and pets safe as well.

  • Having a new baby:
    • If you have a dog and then have a baby you may have a lot less time for the dog than before.
    • Make the changes to the dog's routine slowly, before the baby is born. Make sure that the dog has been around children and is safe with children.
    • Practise handling the dog in the way a child might, eg gently pull ears, tail or paws and reward the dog if it accepts this.
    • Teach it how to gently accept food from a hand.
    • If you reward the dog with food when the baby is near the dog is likely to feel positive about the baby. If you shout at the dog or lock it outside it is more likely to have negative feelings.
    • Bring some things home with the baby's smell on them before the baby comes home from hospital.
    • Always supervise the dog when it is near a baby or young child. Put a barrier across the door to the baby's room so the dog cannot go in when you are not there. 

Even professional dog trainer Cesar Milan weighs in on the topic of dogs and children on his site. He actually tells a great story about how he introduced his children to his canine pack in this blog.

  • When his sons were just one month old, Cesar took them to meet the dogs in his pack. “It’s a very primal thing… I wanted the dogs to be able to smell the placenta.”But not only did the dogs always recognize the scent of his sons, Andre and Calvin grew up as part of the pack’s world, and they were comfortable with the four-legged members of the family.“I would get criticized by people all the time who would say, ‘How dare you put your kids around vicious breeds?’ ” admits Cesar. “But because my boys had always been around dogs, they had learned to trust, and to trust their instincts. If a kid comes in nervous, a dog will pick up on it right away.”“Andre and Calvin are both very capable young guys. I bring unstable dogs into their lives so that we can help them. And they can see what the dog needs. Kids who learn to do this at an early age, it becomes a habit.”

The argument of breed does come into play, but it is highly debated. Some people believe that there are dog breeds that should never be allowed around children, and many people think that the breed of a dog isn't a factor, it's all in how you raise them. No matter which side of the fence you're on, it may behoove you to read a few articles about the dog breeds that typically behave best around children. selected their top 10 breeds for children. The article includes a few of the regular breeds like golden and Labrador retrievers, but it also includes a few breeds that I wasn't expecting to see.

  • If an owner can get past the drooling nature of this lovable breed, the Dogue de Bordeaux sports a calm temperament, is loyal to its pack and affectionate to a fault. Gentle with the children, this French Mastiff will also be protective of the family it loves.

The AKC also weighs in on their choices for the best dogs for families with children in this article. Again, many of the usual breeds pop up, but there are some unique breeds on this list as well. It gives you a link for each breed which will take you to a page with all the breed specific details

  • Dogs can be good for kids: they're not only a source of unconditional love, but can help teach responsibility and cooperation. When choosing a dog for your family,consider your lifestyle and the ages of your kids. Some breed have infinite patience, some can play endlessly and some are naturally protective of children. While most dogs thrive on training, you may have to do a bit of training with the kids as well, to teach them how to treat their new family companion.

This week I'll leave you with this hilarious blog on Author Allison Benedikt reveals her experience of having dogs and children in the same house. There are a few naughty words in this one, but if you can overlook them you'll certainly get a laugh.

  • A friend of mine once told me that before he had a kid, he would have run into a burning building to save his cats. Now that he has a kid, he would happily drown the cats in the bathtub if it would help his son take a longer nap. Here is how I feel about that statement: Velvel, avoid the bathroom.

    It’s not that I don’t love my dog. It’s just that I don’t love my dog. And I am not alone. A very nonscientific survey of almost everyone I know who had a dog and then had kids now wishes they had never got the dog. This is a near universal truth, even for parents with just one child, though I have more.

That's it for this week, but hopefully you'll continue to read some great dog-related material, and please feel free to share any of your great finds in the comments below. Enjoy your week!

Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.