Advice and Tips

Children and Dogs at home

Kids and dogs seem to be natural pals ...

... but the introduction of a new baby into a family with a pet dog will takes some preparation and planning. Many dog owners, especially those who do not yet have children, dote on their pets and lavish them with a lot of attention. While this is terrific, there is no doubt that with the new baby will come household changes, so smart parents-to-be make the effort to prepare their best furry buddy for the needed adjustments

Although there are occasional stories in the newspapers about dogs attacking babies, generally this is quite rare and most pet owners don't have problems. However, thinking about how your dog may react and minimising the disruption can really help.

To reduce the upset, making changes to your usual routine before the new baby arrives can be beneficial. For example:

•Cut down the number of walks you have each day, as you'll probably have to do so when the new baby has arrived.

•Watch out for any behaviour or habits that could cause difficulties, like frequently jumping up or pulling on the lead. If you do notice such habits, slowly work on them, using treats as rewards.

•Teach your dog to be quiet around the house and get him used to sitting still and staying still. When you're dealing with a baby, this will be very useful.

•Have a dummy run and see how your dog might react to a baby. It sounds mad, but wrap a doll in a blanket, nurse it and give it attention.

•Encourage your dog not to go upstairs, especially if your nursery will be there.

Planning Ahead

It is important for dogs to understand and obey their owners, so dogs who have completed at least basic obedience training are apt to make the easiest adjustment to the addition of a new family member. While good family pets needn't have the skills to win ribbons or impress show judges, it is important that they can follow simple commands such as "sit" and "stay." Once they have these behaviours down pat, expectant parents should participate in "practice sessions" with their dog to get the canine used to the presence of a baby. While it may feel a bit silly, many parents find that purchasing a baby doll and then interacting with it as they would with their baby - rocking, cradling, swaddling, talking - whilst asking the dog to remain in a sitting position can help the dog to practice and master good behaviours before the arrival of the new baby. After laying the "baby" down, parents should reward the dog's obedience with affectionate interaction and a small treat.

Households of adults are very different from those that include babies and children. Babies make noises and movements that dogs don't always understand, but by introducing them gradually, dogs can learn to accept new babies with less anxiety. If they feel that their dog is gentle natured and ready to be introduced to real babies, arranging visits with the small children of friends and family members can help with the transition. Short, well-controlled interactions can help dogs to get used to the sometimes loud and unpredictable nature of small children.

So you've finally succumbed to the constant pleas of "Mummy, can we have a dog?" Or you've decided that a family pet would be ideal to teach your children responsibility and compassion. But if you're thinking about adding a canine member to your family, which breed should you choose?

There is No Perfectly Safe Breed of Dog

Beware of relying too much on breed stereotypes. While there are general breed characteristics, it is all down to the individual dog and any breed of dog can be dangerous. A survey of dog bites in Britain showed that Golden Retrievers were actually the most common attackers, despite the media hype about "dangerous dog breeds". Thus, there are docile Rottweilers and aggressive Labradors; meanwhile toy breeds (eg. the Chihuahua) - often selected for children because of their small size - can be nervous and snappy whilst many of the giant breeds can be surprisingly gentle despite their huge size.

Always Supervise

The golden rule when dealing with children and animals of any kind. Even the most placid and tolerant dog can become agitated by teasing or rough handling, whilst many puppies can be very clumsy and boisterous, unintentionally hurting a young child.

Know Your Children

Do you have quiet, gentle children or noisy, boisterous kids? Are they naughty toddlers or moody teenagers? Keeping in mind your children's daily routines will help you select a suitable canine playmate. An athletic sporting breed such as the German Short-Haired Pointer might be the ideal companion for an active teenager whilst a more placid breed, such as the Bassett Hound, might be more suitable for a shy bookworm.

Look for a Good Breeder

A breeder who tests for hereditary problems, only breeds from dogs with good temperaments and rears their puppies in a "home environment" where they are well-socialised, is worth their weight in gold and will save you a lot of trouble and heartache.

Choose the Right Puppy

Regardless of breed, there will be a range of personalities in each litter. For the average household, it is best to go with the “middle puppy” – ie not the one who charges forward first to great you (this will be the confident, dominant puppy who may be too much for a busy family with children to handle) nor the one hanging back or cowering in the corner (this puppy is too shy or nervous and again, might not deal well with a busy household). Pick the puppy that approaches you but does not climb too much all over you or try to mouth your hands and clothes too aggressively. It should not panic if there is an unexpected noise (eg. clapped hands) nor struggle too much if it is held and restrained. 

Having said all that, there are certain breeds with child-friendly reputations, so here are a few firm family favourites:

•Shih-Tzu- full of infectious, extrovert enthusiasm, these intelligent little dogs are fun companions although they can be independent and wilful too!

•Pug- friendly, affectionate character which may suffer in humidity and heat, due to their short faces. Despite their small size, they are not snappy or nervous like many toy breeds and are low maintenance (minimal grooming and exercise)

•Cavalier King Charles Spaniel- energetic playmate with loving nature who will adapt to any lifestyle but needs regular exercise and grooming of its long, silky coat. Heart disease is a problem in this breed.

•Border Terrier - a compact, robust, short-coated dog that's great for families with active children. Good watchdogs although terrier-characteristics have to be kept in check, such as digging!

•Beagle- happy, sociable, ideal family dogs although not the easiest to train as, being a scent hound, they become obsessed once they pick up a scent trail and will ignore all commands.

•Staffordshire Bull Terrier- a powerful, muscular dog which is nevertheless tolerant and affectionate with children and devoted to its family. Highly intelligent and fearless, it can be slightly combative with other dogs if not well-socialised from young.

•Cocker Spaniel- sensitive, affectionate and intelligent little dog which requires some grooming and a fair amount of exercise. They have keen hunting instincts and can be strong-willed.

•Labrador/Golden Retriever- good-natured and eager to please, the Lab's love of water can be a nuisance as it will find any puddle available; they both also enjoy retrieving and carrying things around. Labs are energetic and require a lot of exercise but also adore food. The Golden has a longer coat which needs more grooming.

* NOTE: Many of the giant breeds, such as the Newfoundland, St Bernard and Great Dane are renowned for their placid natures and gentle tolerance of children - however, they have a lengthy period as huge, clumsy, boisterous puppies and as such, are generally unsuitable for households with young children.

 Statistics show that most serious dog bites involve children under 5 years of age and dogs that are actually known to them - such as the family pet or a neighbour's dog. In the majority of these cases, the tragedy could have been avoided if some precautions had been followed.

The key to any child-dog interaction is SUPERVISION, SUPERVISION, SUPERVISION. No matter how friendly or trustworthy you think the dog is or how well the dog and child know each other, never leave them alone, particularly if the child is very young. Toddlers are in the highest risk group - curious, excitable and mobile but too young to understand signs of potential danger (eg, growling) or to follow rules. Even if they are trying to behave well, they may accidentally hurt or frighten the dog. If a child is unable to interact gently with a dog, then it is best to separate them and remove the dog to a safe place.

Dog-proofing Your Kids

•Teach children to have respect for all other living creatures and in particular, to be gentle and respectful around dogs.

•Show them how to stroke a dog gently on the head or chest and remind them not to pull the dog's tail or ears, poke it in the eye or tease it in any other way.

•Teach them not to run or scream around dogs - these behaviours can trigger the prey drive in many dogs and incite them to chase and "hunt". Terriers, in particular, can get very excited by high squeaky noises.

•Tell them not to stare a dog in the eye - this is very challenging in canine body language and can make the dog feel threatened enough to attack.

•Children should not hug a strange dog. If it is the family dog, it may have learnt to tolerate being hugged gently by the children but in general, dogs find hugging a very threatening behaviour.

•Teach children to leave dogs alone when they are sleeping or eating, and also if they are tied up. A dog that is restrained may feel that it cannot escape and therefore has to bite to defend itself if it feels threatened.

•Make sure children always ask for permission before approaching a strange dog or trying f they are allowed to meet a dog, tell them to hold their hands out for the dog to sniff first and to keep all movements slow and gentle.

•Teach children to recognise the danger signals - such as growling, stiffening of the body, raising of the hackles, staring eyes, cringing away in fear, tail between the legs - and to act promptly when they see them by leaving the dog alone.

Kid-proofing Your Dog

•Always buy from a reputable breeder who cares about goof reliable temperament. While most dogs will not attack unless provoked, bad genetics can sometimes produce nervous or dominant individuals who have a lower threshold of tolerance and are quick to use aggression to deal with a situation

•Socialise your dog from early puppyhood with as many children as possible – take him to the local playground or school ( if they will allow it) and let him get used to children running, screaming and playing around with him. This is especially important if you have no children of your own and no close friends or relatives with young children to socialize your puppy with.

•Teach your dog to behave well when around children – eg walking politely past children waiting for the school bus or sitting quietly while watching children run and play in a playground. Do not allow it to jump up, lunge, bark or get excited in any other way.

•Remember to a dogs eye, children behave very differently from adults – they move in sudden, unpredictable ways and make high pitched noises which can be very disturbing for some dogs.

•Teach you doge basic obedience. A well trained dog who knows his place within the pack is less likely to use dominating behavior on others. Beware though that even a well trained dog may not regard children as figures of authority – mostly they see them as littermates or puppies that may need to be put in their place by a ‘nip’. Also even the best trained dog in the world can bite out of fear. However, a dog with good training will be easier to control around children and this will make the interaction more successful.

•Give your dog a safe place, such as a bed or crate, to retreat to rather than use aggression to deal with a bad situation.

Children and dogs can be a wonderful combination and with care and common sense, you can ensure a safe and happy relationship between them. Remember, however, that any dog – regardless of breed, age or type – can bit if they feel threatened and no matter how friendly they normally are, they can never be completely predictable around children. Dogs are animals and will always respond instinctively first, no matter how much training and socialization has been given. However very few dogs bite without provocation and almost all will give plenty of warning first so preventing children from teasing dogs and teaching them to recognize the warning signs will go a long way to preventing a tragic accident.

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