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Dog Tip: Child-Proofing a Dog

Dog Tip: Child-Proofing Dogs and Pet-Proofing Kids Teaching Pets and Young Children How To Get Along

Last week's tip dealt with acclimating a dog to a newborn baby. The following three articles convey important advice for parents of very young children -- and any dog owner whose dog may come in contact with little kids. ThereUs some advice about cats and kids too.

(1) From Home Vet at www.homevet.com/petcare/kidspets.html, courtesy of Dr. Jeff Feinman of Home Vet Natural Pet Care.

Training Your Pet to Tolerate Children

Problems between a pet and a child often begin at the toddler stage. When the baby learns to crawl and then to walk, it enters a new phase, and your pet's view of the child may change. A dog with a strong instinct to hunt small creatures may not immediately recognize this new, ground-level moving target as the same baby that days earlier was carried from place to place. Predatory behavior may be awakened in pet dogs that have never displayed any interest in hunting or any intolerance of your child.

Many dogs and cats fear small children. Rather than approaching a baby, they are more likely to run away from it. Parents should be watchful when the baby begins crawling and walking. Keep your dog by your side in a "sit/stay" position while the baby moves about. Reward its controlled response with caresses and calm words of praise.

A toddler is less likely to be intentionally injured by a cat (unless the cat is defending itself), perhaps because a domestic cat's predatory instincts are triggered by much smaller prey.

Even gentle cats and dogs can be provoked by toddlers and young children. When your baby becomes a toddler, take time to reassure your pet during supervised interaction. Remain watchful and teach your child to respect your pet. More often than not, you will need to protect your pet from your child.

Training Your Child to Be Pet-Wise

A child should be taught to interact appropriately with pets from the time he or she begins to crawl and walk. From the moment they begin to crawl, children investigate everything around them, including your pet. Your pet's toys, food or water bowl and a cat's litter box are fair targets.

To your pet's misfortune, young children have no perception of the pain they can inflict by biting, stepping or jumping on, kicking, squeezing, hitting, pinching, twisting or pulling various parts of your pet's body. A child may lift and toss a pet that is light enough, and not fast enough to avoid it. Many children delight in waking a sleeping pet by screaming in its ear or persistently chasing it, giving it no peace. Your children's friends should also be monitored when your pet is nearby.

Under adult supervision, children must be taught how to treat pets. Children must learn that pets are not toys and are living beings that feel pain. It is not enough to tell them what not to do. Children must be taught to substitute unacceptable behavior with acceptable behavior toward your pet.

Children must be shown which parts of a pet's body can be touched and how to gently pet them. Teach them not to disturb an animal while it is resting or sleeping, eating a meal, or playing with or chewing on a favorite toy or object. Teach your child not to pursue a pet that runs away from them. Teach them not to restrain a pet that is trying to break free. A child must be made to understand its own physical strength and the consequences of its behavior.

In some cases, role playing is helpful. A child can pretend to be a dog or cat while an adult mimics the child. If your child is uncooperative, it may be best to keep pet and child separated until the child demonstrates more maturity and self-control.

Every pet has limits to its own tolerance and even the kindest, most reliably patient animal has a breaking point. It is unfair to everyone to allow your child to continually harass a beloved pet.

(2) From the article Kids and Dogs, by Nancy Corliss of Southeastern Virginia GRREAT (www.adoptagolden.com/k9stuff/behavior/kids.htm):

Kids and dogs are like oil and water -- they don't mix naturally, but with supervision and guidance, they can make a real fine match! No dog is completely childproof. The following are some tips and guidance for helping kids and dogs get along:

Dogs are not Human Beings

Although Hollywood and television often portray dogs with human thoughts, values and even words, it is important to remember that your dog is a dog, not a person. Dogs have different needs than humans do. One important element in a dog's life is his need for a pack hierarchy. Your family is now your dog's pack and you (the adult family members) must be your dog's pack leader (the alpha). Without this leadership, your dog will assume leadership and not only become an obnoxious mutt, but will try to "run your children" which can (and often does) lead to disastrous results.

The first thing you must do to assume leadership with your dog is take your dog to obedience school. An ill behaved dog is a threat to your children. You cannot control your dog around your children if he doesn't know or won't obey basic obedience commands.

The next thing you must do is set some house rules (e.g. no begging, no jumping on people or furniture, no chewing, etc.). Include your children in setting these rules so that they know what is allowed of the dog and what is not. Consistency is very important. Everyone must agree and hold the dog to the same set of rules. Inconsistency (Mom says it's OK, Dad says it isn't) will confuse the dog and lead to behavior problems. Teach your dog the rules by firmly but gently disciplining him for breaking them and lovingly praising appropriate behavior.

Age Stages -- Do's and Don'ts

Dogs interact with children differently depending on the child's age. The following is a description of the different "age stages" and some do's an don'ts for each stage.

Under age 2:
Children under the age of two really aren't aware of the dog as a real presence. Although they may talk to the dog and call it by name, the dog doesn't really mean any more to it than a stuffed animal. At this age the dog considers the child a potential littermate. This can be an issue if the dog feels at all rejected because of the arrival of the child into the home.

Do's:
Supervision is mandatory whenever the child and dog are together. No dog can be trusted with an infant unsupervised. Playpens are a very useful tool to separate dog and infant.

Reward your dog with gentle praise or small treats for tolerating toddler play (patting, crawling around him, etc.)

As your child enters toddlerhood, begin teaching him appropriate ways of interacting with the dog (petting vs. hitting). Separate the child from the dog if play gets too rough or your dog seems ill at ease.

Don'ts:
Don't relegate your dog to the backyard. He is a family member and deserves and needs to be with you. Time in the backyard while your child is playing around the house is fine, but when the child is napping or you are free to supervise, bring the dog in.

Don't bar your dog from the nursery. Teach him to come in and hold a down-stay. Barring him from the nursery can create jealousies.

Ages 2-7:
At this age, children view the dog as a "funny thing" which competes for Mom's and Dad's attention. They also begin to see the dog as a friend. The dog still views the child as a littermate. You can expect a lot of ear pulling and tail yanking with children of this age. Your dog should be willing to tolerate a little of this, but don't expect him to become your child's punching bag.

Do's:
Monitor all interactions between the dog and child. Teach the child appropriate games such as "Fetch" and "Hide and Seek" that he can play with the dog to avoid physical contact and roughness.

Put the dog in a quiet place alone if there are kids over visiting. It is difficult to supervise, and lots of running and screaming can elicit instinctive aggressive displays from some dogs.

Don'ts:
Do NOT allow tug-of-war or wrestling games. This will encourage aggressive displays from your dog. Don't allow your children to be rough with the dog. Saying "NO" is not enough -- show your child how to pet gently and play "fetch" with the dog.

Ages 7-11:
This is the age when your children can begin to show leadership with your dog. This is a good time to have your children participate in the care of the dog (feeding, training). Children of this age make excellent trainers -- they are often more consistent and playful in their training than adults.

Do's:
Include your children in obedience training, feeding and walking of the dog. (Note: it can be dangerous to have children walk dogs outdoors without a responsible adult's assistance.) Assign dog chores to children based on interest and ability rather than age or gender. Supervise all activities with groups of children. Too much commotion can be overwhelming to most dogs.

Don'ts:
Don't expect your child to take full responsibility for the dog. A dog needs much more time and attention than a child can give. If you (the adult) don't want to accept responsibility, don't get a dog.

Age 11 and up:
At this age, children become more interested in their own activities than the dog. The adults in the family should be prepared to give the dog more attention when his favorite child pal starts spending more time with friends and social activities.

(3) Excerpts from "Childproofing Your Dog: A Complete Guide to Preparing Your Dog for the Children in Your Life" by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson (Warner Books...details at www.Greatpets.com).

Helping a Dog Accept Child-like Handling: Adults tend to interact with dogs the same way all the time. Only when we want to play with (or are angry at) the dog do we move more erratically. Enter a child who grabs, holds, tugs, pulls, pokes, and yanks. This type of handling should be discouraged and prevented, but it can happen. What's a dog to think? Is the child playing? Is the dog in trouble? Prepare him ahead of time.

How Does That Grab You?
As you pet your dog, gently grab some skin and wiggle it. Praise him, then release and praise some more. When he accepts this happily, grab more quickly and firmly but never harshly. This is not supposed to be painful. Give him a treat! Soon your dog will associate this type of grabbing with fun.

How About a Hug?
Hugging is not generally a good idea between child and dog but, just in case, prepare your dog. While your dog is relaxed, give a quick, gentle hug then release. Praise!

Always release before the dog gets frightened or uncomfortable. Work up to a ten- to twenty-second hug, always followed by lots of praise. Don't rush him. Make this fun. If he pulls away, then for three days give him attention ONLY when you are hugging him.

If at any time your dog growls, stiffens or lifts a lip, stop and find a qualified trainer or behaviorist to give you hands on guidance. Reminder: As with all of training like this, please do it out of sight of children. We do not want your children imitating you.

(Note: Teach children not to place their face at or below eye level of a dog...never to approach dogs when they are eating or playing with a toy...not to bother dogs when they're resting...and not to surprise, tease, jump on or wrestle with dogs.)

Acclimating Dogs to Children's Noises:
Children squeal, bellow, yell, bray, and giggle. Dogs can be confused by this, thinking all this noise means trouble. To change this, begin to get the dog used to various tones and volumes of voice. First, stop any yelling at the dog! Yelling creates a fear of loud voices, and loud sounds are a big part of childhood.

Here are a few suggestions for child-proofing a dog:

* Walk toward the dog, saying "Dog!", and then praise him quietly and warmly. Give a treat. Over a few weeks, work up to running up to him while saying "DOG!" loudly. Make it a game that always ends with warm praise, treats and petting. Do not use an angry voice. Make it a game, have fun. If the dog backs away, ducks away or in any way appears stressed, move more slowly, speak more softly, praise more enthusiastically and give him some especially delightful treats.

* Make some recordings of children making noise and play it daily when he is eating. This way he'll associate something pleasant (eating) with the sound of children.

* Whoop it up when you play with him. He will soon think loud sounds mean good things.

* Generally make more noise. Drop a pan, slam a door, toss a few magazines on the floor (not at the dog please). Children equal noise, so the more noise he hears now, the more accepting he'll be of it later.

If your dog seems frightened or confused by any of this, please find a qualified trainer or behaviorist to give you hands on help.

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For more Dog Tips and other information about pet care, adoption and the work PAW does, visit our website at: www.paw-rescue.org

Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc.
P.O. Box 1074
Greenbelt, MD 20768

Last Updated: June 23, 2013 (LET) PawSupport