Today I saw something I just have to write about it. I came across a video on Facebook which I sat and watched open mouthed – hats off to the dog community that shared it, as it was done so to raise awareness about dogs and children in close confines. It made me Google “best dogs with children” and because I’m probably normal and don’t scroll past the first page (usually!) the main results showing all seem to highlight one breed or another, or 21 breed even, that are good with children. I wanted to start a discussion about this, about why I think it’s a narrow minded approach to bringing a dog into a family environment.
Different breeds – different strokes for different folks
There are numerous dog breeds that are talked about for their very different characteristics. Let’s look at a couple of examples and the words that spring to my mind – and yes, I am stereotyping, I admit it:
Placid, calm and prone to be greedy if food is readily available. A stalwart of the family home – whether in the town or country. Friendly towards other people and dogs and an good all-rounder of a dog.
The Springer Spaniel
Totally hyper, but in a nice way! requires lots and lots of exercise, but would still jump up and have more if it’s on offer. may appear a bit goofy on the outside, but pretty clever on the inside.
The perfect hand-bag accessory and model for numerous doggy fashions. Not inclined to want long walks, as their little legs just can’t keep up with their human counterparts for long stretches.
The German Shepherd
A favorite for many who own them, but still carry a preconception in others that they are a guard or working dog. Therefore, expect people to cross the street if they see you coming! Highly intelligent and requiring a lot of both exercise and mental stimulation, but very loyal and protective.
And the list goes on….so what is the point?
The point I want to make is all breed are known for having a set of characteristics which make them unique. However, while this might make them more suitable to being part of a family with children, there are no guarantees for your child’s safety. Yes, by choosing what you think is a suitable breed, you might minimize the risk to your children, but there are other things you should be thinking about too.
So what was this video?
Please take a look at this video, which is what I referred to in the opening paragraph: (and maybe it will be removed from Facebook, in which case please let me know in the comments section below this article)
What struck me first of all, is this dog has the patience of a saint. However, if you look closely he is clearly distressed and is not having a happy experience. The dog appears to consistently seek out the adults in the room for help to deal with the situation, but alas it’s not forthcoming.
It made me flip the coin and think “What are the best children with dogs?” Clearly not this child, but it’s probably not the child’s fault! It’s likely this child has learned this behavior, or even if it’s something new to try out, no-one is teaching the child that this is not how to behave around a dog.
Imagine if the child is at the park, the mother has her back turned, someone else’s dog is off the lead and approaches the child, so thinking it’s quite normal to pull it’s tail the child does so, and the dog takes exception and bites the child. Most dog owners know that in this situation, it’s probably the dog that gets the blame – but the root cause lies quite far from that particular dog. Even the dog that lives with this child might one day decide it’s had enough, and “snap” and if there’s no one else in the room, the child could suffer some serious injuries.
Dog training vs child training
Dog training is a very important part of having a dog, which I have covered in some of my previous articles. (My Dog Training Articles). But equally so, it is really important to teach any children in the house how to behave around a dog. From a dog’s point of view, they are an equal part of your family – yes there will be an alpha male, and perhaps female that have superiority over the dog, but in terms of the pack mentality it’s likely that any children are considered as equal by the dog.
Therefore, a dog is perhaps more likely to act out it’s natural behaviors around the children of the house, as opposed to the parents. This could be territorial behavior, like toy or bed ownership. For example, a dog may take exception to a child picking up a toy that i the dog’s mind they haven’t finished playing with. Or, a child may wander over to the dog’s bed and lie down on it, but in the dog’s mind that is his/her place. These are two things that could trigger a reaction in a dog – there are many more, but the general gist is that your child needs to respect the dog’s boundaries, just as much as you expect your dog to respect any boundaries around your child.
Some of the key things to think about are:
- Never let your child interfere with a dog’s food, while he/she is eating
- Be very careful about letting your child feed your dog treats – they might be more inclined to “grab” from a child, than they are from you.
- Don’t let a child try and remove a toy from your dog’s mouth – the dog might view this as an opportunity to “play fight”
- Don’t leave a young child and a dog unattended in a room
- Never leave a baby on the floor, or in a crib – anywhere a dog can easily get to
All of these apply especially at the early stages of either integrating a new dog into your family home, or bringing a new baby home to a dog. certainly until you are sure you can trust your dog around your children, and vice versa.
It’s different with puppies, as they are “children” themselves, so perhaps the main thing to watch is rambunctious activity and sharp puppy teeth!
The last thing I want to imply is that you should think twice before mixing dogs with younger children, as there are huge benefits to having pets in the home. One of the main ones being teaching responsibility – which I think goes for all human members of the family. It’s certainly up to parents to help their children learn and develop around any pets, ultimately resulting in suitable behavior around dogs and a good lifelong experience for everyone.
It’s better to be safe than sorry, until you are sure you can trust your dog around your children, and vice versa!
Please do leave your comments below – or if you have any of your own experiences or stories you would like to share.
Thanks for reading, Mara.