Most dogs are extremely tolerant, but if a dog is pushed too far by unwanted attention from kids or feels that the child is threatening him is some way he may feel he has no choice but to growl or snap.
A dog who licks his chops, yawns, suddenly begins to scratch or bite at himself, turns his head away, gets up and leaves or looks at you or the child with a half moon of white showing in his eye is telling you that he is anxious, unhappy and has had enough. These signs will precede the more well-recognised signs of a dog who is warning by growling, snarling, barking or snapping. Teach kids to recognise the signs of a happy dog (panting and wagging his tail) compared to a dog who is anxious or busy with something else (mouth closed and the other signs listed previously). Teach them to interact only with happy dogs and to leave a dog alone who is busy with something else or is showing signs of anxiety.
Here are some other tips from Dog gone Safe to help parents and pet parents keep kids safe around dogs:
The three most important things to teach your kids
- Dogs don’t like hugs and kisses – Teach your kids not to hug or kiss a dog on the face. Hugging the family dog or face-to-face contact are common causes of bites to the face. Instead, teach kids to scratch the dog on the chest or the side of the neck.
- Be a tree if a strange dog approaches – Teach kids to stand still, like a tree. Trees are boring and the dog will eventually go away. This works for strange dogs and anytime the family dog gets too frisky or becomes aggressive.
- Never tease a dog – and never disturb a dog who’s sleeping, eating or protecting something.
The two most important things parents can do
- Supervise – Don’t assume your dog is good with kids. If a toddler must interact with your dog, you should have your hands on the dog too. Even if your dog is great with kids and has never bitten – why take a chance?
- Train the dog – Take your dog to obedience classes where positive-reinforcement is used. Never pin, shake, choke, hold the dog down or roll the dog over to teach him a lesson. Dogs treated this way are likely to turn their aggression on weaker family members. Involve older children in training the family dog while supervising. Don’t allow children to punish the dog. Condition the dog to enjoy the presence and actions of children using positive experiences.
The three most important things pet parents can do
- Spay or neuter your dog – Neutered pets are calm, healthier and less likely to be aggressive. Neutering prevents unwanted dogs who may end up in shelters or in less than ideal conditions where they may grow up to be poorly socialised or aggressive.
- Condition your dog for the world – Give your puppy lots of new positive experiences. Train using positive methods such as clicker training.
- Supervise your dog – Supervise your dog at all times around children. Do not allow children to hug and kiss the dog. If visiting children are bothering your dog, put the dog away or send the children home.
Safe games for kids and dogs
Showing your children how to interact safely, playfully and positively with your puppy or dog not only strengthens the bond between them, but also enhances the training process by teaching the dog to respond to commands. Here are some fun and simple training games your children and dog can enjoy together.
Hide and seek: This activity is a hit with both two- and four-footed family members. Have one child distract the dog, while the other hides and calls for him. At first, instruct your kids to hide in easy places so the dog can’t go wrong. When the hider is found, he gives the dog a treat. Once the dog gets the hang of the game, the hider can make it more challenging by going out of sight or into another room while the other child encourages the dog to “go find Jordan!” This game exercises the dog and is also mentally stimulating.
Fetch: This is another good game that gives the dog exercise and is fun for kids. It is important, however, that the dog is taught to give back the fetched object and to step back and wait for the next throw. If the dog tries to engage in a game of tug of war, or refuses to give up the object, the kids should end the game and ignore the dog for awhile. “Any game that pits the strength or speed of the dog against those of the child could lead to over-excitement and even a biting accident,” says canine behaviour consultant Teresa Lewin of Milton K9 Obedience in Milton. “Adult supervision and proper training are essential.”
Stay inside the rope: Clicker training is the best way for kids to get involved with training, and this game gives them a good opportunity to try it. Place a circle of rope on the floor and give each child a clicker and some small dog treats (the kids can make a clicking sound with their tongues if no clickers are available). Toss a treat into the centre of the circle to get started. When the dog has eaten the treat, click before she steps outside the rope and toss another treat into the circle. The goal is to click and reward as often as possible while the dog has all four paws inside the rope circle. Once the dog has the idea that the place to be is inside the rope, the children can start moving around the room, still clicking and tossing treats into the circle. Play this in various locations and eventually the dog will learn to go and lie within the rope. You can then take the rope into any situation where you need to establish a boundary for the dog.
Keep it positive: Variations on this method can be used to teach the dog to prefer a certain room in the house, lie on a mat or in a crate, shake a paw, jump over a stick or just about anything else you and your kids can think up. Just remember to teach your kids never to scold or use physical force. The word ‘No’ is never used, and there is no need to try to ‘dominate’ the dog. If the dog does the wrong thing, the kids ignore him; if he responds correctly, he receives a treat reward.
Dogs and kids can be great together. It is the parent’s and pet parent’s responsibility to ensure that the needs of both are met and that happy interactions are the norm between kids and dogs.
(Joan Orr and Teresa Lewin are co-founders of Doggone Safe, a non-profit organisation dedicated to dog bite prevention through education and dog bite victim support (www.doggonesafe.com). They are also the creators of the Doggone Crazy! board game, Clicker Puppy dog training DVD, the Be a Tree teacher kit and several online courses (www.doggonecrazy.ca)).