Too Close Fur Comfort? How to keep child-dog interactions paws-itive
Take a minute to ask yourself if you agree or disagree with the following:
My dog just needs to learn to accept the kids taking or playing with his food while he eats – it’s part of learning to be a good family pet.
WRONG: This approach does not respect a dog’s natural instinct to protect precious resources such as food.
If my dog growls at me or the kids, this is very naughty and he needs to be told off immediately.
WRONG: Growling is the one of the signals dogs give us before they may decide to bite, so we should not teach dogs to stop growling as they may learn to bite without warning
When the neighbours’ dog yawns and licks his lips when we pat him, it shows that he is very relaxed and probably wants a treat.
WRONG: Yawning and licking lips can actually be a sign that a dog is very uncomfortable, stressed or anxious about the situation he is in.
It’s a scary fact that three quarters of dog bites to children come from a dog they know and love, including the family dog. Of these, most bites will affect children under four years old, and 50% of bites occur on the face or head. Dogs may have been man’s best friend for centuries, but they can still misunderstand our intentions and bite out of fear or when defending resources. Children are especially vulnerable as they are more unpredictable, louder, less coordinated and lower to the ground than (most) adults!
Many of us would agree that there is nothing more special than dogs and kids playing together. So to reduce the risk of bites to our kids, it’s important to try to understand the dog’s perspective during these interactions. For example, imagine a toddler who rushes over to cuddle a friend’s dog. The child might not be aware of the signs of the dog being unhappy about the close contact (e.g. stiff body, ears back, low tail, avoiding eye contact, licking lips). These signs might seem subtle, but in pooch language, the dog is being very clear that he wants the interaction to stop as soon as possible. If the interaction continues or intensifies, the dog may feel he has no choice but to react with aggressive (‘red zone’) behaviour.
As well as being aware of a dogs’ body language, we should also respect his space and things that the dog values, such as food. Dogs don’t necessarily understand that their food comes from a can or a bag and that we can buy more if it runs out. As a scavenging and pack animal, a dog’s instinct is to protect his food bowl (or bone, pig’s ear, Schmacko etc). So to avoid conflict, kids need to learn to give dogs space when they are eating. For young kids that can’t yet understand this, it makes sense to feed food in a crate or behind a child-proof gate. Dogs also value things such as their kennel, toys, dog-bed or water bowl so it’s best not to approach dogs around these objects unless the dog greets you with a wagging tail.
When it comes to children around dogs, some simple things to remember are:
- Respect a dogs space & resources
- Leave dogs alone if they are: sleeping, eating, in their kennel or tied up;
- Do not hug dogs, ride on dogs or pick them up
- Always ask permission to pat someone else’s dog
- Supervise dogs and children whenever they are together
- A responsible adult should always be watching whenever dogs and children are together.
- If an adult is not able to completely supervise (e.g. busy cooking), then child and dog should be kept separate e.g. behind child-proof gate
- Get to understand ‘dog body language’
- Learn the signs that dogs use to communicate that they are not keen on what is happening. Teach kids about these signs and what to do if they encounter them.
Go to: www.stopthe77.com for some awesome educational videos and quizzes to help teach the whole family about dog-child safety.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your dog's behaviour or would like to know more about child safety around your pets, please phone our friendly team.
Albion Park Veterinary Hospital 02 4256 3638
Gerringong Veterinary Clinic 02 4234 1317