Dogs offer many opportunities to enrich a child’s life. They can help to teach them about empathy and responsibility by caring for something other than themselves, and can even help to improve self-esteem by being a never judging friend. However, it is up to the parents to ensure that the relationship between a child and a dog is a positive and safe one.
If you are thinking about getting a new dog to join your family, there are many things to consider. Firstly the age of the pet. Puppies can be a wonderful addition, but remember puppies require extra time, patience, training and supervision. Puppies may be more easily injured than older dogs. Puppies also play rough, and will bite with their sharp little teeth, something that will require extra training and supervision on your part.
Older dogs do not require quite the same level of supervision and attention. With an older dog, you may also have the opportunity to find one that has previously lived and done well with children. The Calgary Humane Society recommends that if you have a child under the age of 6, to adopt a dog that is at least 2 years old.
Another choice is the breed you will bring home. Smaller breed dogs may not be able to handle as much noise and handling as a large breed dog. Protective breeds such as chow chows, may also not be an ideal fit with children. While herding breeds may instinctively chase and nip at children.
Regardless of the age or breed, all dogs need to be taught how to behave with children.
It is not a realistic expectation for a child to be the sole caregiver for a dog, so make sure you are ready and willing to be the caregiver.
Dogs and small children should never be left alone.
How to teach your child to interact with the dog:
- To hold a small dog, have your child sit, this will help prevent a fall if the dog tries to get away, and may help the dog feel safer.
- For a large dog, sit on the floor and have your child sit with you, the dog can then approach you.
Have your child offer a chew toy if the puppy begins nipping or biting, providing the dog something acceptable to chew on.
Children like to hug dogs around the neck, which may frighten dogs and cause a defensive reaction. Instead teach them to scratch the dog under the chin. Also teach them not to stare directly into the dogs eyes.
When giving treats, have your child place the treat in their open palm, this will help prevent nipping of the fingers.
Always supervise play! Children by nature play loudly, and run around quickly which can be very enticing to a dog to start a chase. Try to teach your child to play quietly around the dog, but also train your dog and have them master a strong “leave it” command, for times when the play gets too rough. Try not to punish your dog around the child, as it can lead to a negative association with your child, making the dog think that he is always punished around the child, which can lead to defensive behavior.
You must also teach your dog which toys are his, and put things he shouldn’t have out of his reach. When catching them chewing on something they shouldn’t be, interrupt with a loud sound, switch the item for an appropriate toy, and praise them when they take it. Dogs also need to learn it is not acceptable to guard their food, and children should also be taught to respect the dogs space.
If your dog is growling or nipping at your child, seek the help of a professional dog trainer right away.
The Calgary Humane Society Article “Children and Dogs: Important Information for Parents.” 2008. http://www.calgaryhumane.ca/document.doc?id=22. November 15, 2013.
For more articles on pet behavior from the Calgary Humane Society, visit: http://www.calgaryhumane.ca/behaviourresources