The Safety Zone: Kids and Dogs
The relationship between a child and a dog can be a lifelong positive experience, highlighted by love, respect and companionship. Parents have to realize only they can make it all happen. Children and dogs must learn from the adults around them.
Cesar Millan, the famous dog whisperer said “Many dogs grow up without rules or boundaries. They need exercise, discipline and affection in that order.” When you are introducing a dog into your family’s environment, these lessons need to be taught to both the child and the dog.
A parent/dog owner has a responsibility to keep their child safe from the dog and the dog safe from the child. Both are capable of doing great harm. With patience and a plan, boundaries can be established for the benefit of all.
PICK YOUR SPOT
Every parent has child proofed their house. Cabinets should be locked, rooms cleared of dangerous objects and stairs and some rooms restricted. Kids need a safe environment to roam and explore.
Dog proofing is a slightly different affair. With canines it is beneficial to provide them with their own space first. Have a suitable dog crate, bed or restricted area in your home just for them. It is their inbreed nature to want a den. They need a quiet place to call their own.
This is where the first lesson in child/dog relations will take place. When the dog is in its crate, bed or room it needs to be left alone. Don’t touch.
A dog needs somewhere to feel safe and secure. Every owner needs to respect that. Every child needs to learn it.
SMALL FIRST POSITIVE STEPS
Spend time near the dog. Make every effort to introduce the dog slowly to the baby, toddler or small child. Maintain a low key and talk to both in a calming voice.
Be sure to listen to both the baby and the dog. Reassure the baby and speak in soft tones. Read the dog’s body language for fear or anxiety. A dog’s closed mouth or backing up are valid indications of a stress. Judge how sensitive your dog is to loud and or sudden noises.
It is important to know how a dog might react when the new sounds of an infant come into their lives. Be sure to know what your dog will do when you put your child into a baby swing. Some animals chase anything that moves. Others are spooked by the bells, whistles, sounds or music baby toys emit.
Introduce these baby items to your dog before the baby comes. Put a doll in the baby swing and have your dog get used to the sight and sound. Reinforce positive behaviors with treats and praise. Know your pet and modify any negative situations, so every encounter between the child and the dog will be rewarding.
No matter how outstanding the bonding seems between your baby and your dog, never leave them alone. Supervise, instruct and work smart to improve every situation. If things start to get tense, intervene and take your dog back to its crate or bed. Everyone needs to step back and a visit to their safe place.
THE TERRIBLE TWOS, THREES THROUGH TEENS
Toddlers can be notorious. It is not a coincidence that the word terrible is associated with the ages two and three. When a dog is added to their world, the learning curve can be rough but also offers wonderful rewards.
The key concept a toddler must develop is empathy. Without recognizing that the dog is another living thing, a child’s uncontrolled behavior is perceived as an attack. Until that level of maturity is reached, the child and the dog should be kept apart, with safe zones for the dog behind baby gates, dog playpens and in comfortable dog crates.
Have supervised visits with the dog and teach the two to play games together.
Have special treats the dog loves and have only your child give them to it. This will become a unique reward the dog will get when behaving properly. The parent/owner should be there to praise both or to deescalate a situation gone bad.
TAKING YOUR ACT ON THE ROAD
A family dog fills a special place in the home. It needs to interact with all members of the household. As your child gets older, have them involved in the training of the dog.
Teach the dog to follow your child throughout the house. Offer the dog treats every three or four feet or when they navigate around obstacles. This will get both of them comfortable and learn to share their environment. Eventually the treats can be replaced with praise and emotional rewards.
When you take your dog for a walk, have the child come along. Controlling a dog while on a leash is a learned skill. Both the dog and the person holding the leash need to know their roles. No pulling, jumping, bullying or running is allowed, by the dog or the child. Teach by example.
Parents are the ultimate role model. Turn your home into a safe zone where your dog and your children can reap the emotional rewards of loving a pet.
“People say I train dogs, but in many ways I train people.” – by Cesar Millan