In American Kennel Clubs (AKC), Family Dog Magazine has a Kids Issue which comes out annually every November/December. AKC heard about Kids-n-K9s and that we are now a non profit organization trying to help reduce the number of dog bites to children. Stop, Look & Paws was recognized as a valuable tool for adults and children to learn together about dog body language. Click the link to view the entire magazine about dogs and kids. Enjoy!
Being a companion for a family is a sort of “second career” for dogs compared to what they may have been originally bred to do – herding, hunting, etc. Some breeds have had an easier time switching from working dog to companion animal. Other breeds may look for more work to fill their time!
If you don’t give your dog something to do (long walks, training, ball retrieving, swimming, chew toys) they will often come up with their own job. All they may need is a little encouragement to jump into a role, such as “protector”, but it may be challenging to control how serious they take this new position. The consequences can be detrimental to both the family members and the dog. For instance, if the dog decides that a growl or bark is not effective to remove or control an individual, they may go straight for the bite. Consequences for the owner of the dog can be serious, ranging from medical bills to pay to being sued. For the dog, consequences may be even more serious, as biting incidents can result in a dog being euthanized.
Dogs can naturally come by their “jobs” in the family by chance or when given some intended or unintended direction. An example is when a dog alerts you by barking when someone comes to the door or walks past your house. This is a very innate behavior for most dogs.
Sometimes people start their dog on a new behavior by accident. For example, let’s say you have a new tiny puppy and one day it growls and barks at someone. Everyone giggles and laughs because it looks so cute seeing this adorable puppy acting so tough.
Your unintended response of positive feedback communicates to the puppy that he did a great job. The consequence might be that as the dog matures, he won’t let people come near anyone in the family. It happens! A few examples of this can be when family or friends come to the house for a visit or celebration, such as for a birthday party or holiday, and the dog can not determine whether or not some of these individuals are friend or foe. I’ve known dog owners who could not leave their children with a friendly babysitter in the house without fear of a bite or nip to the sitter from the dog. Of course the dog is just trying to be protective and do their job. Even other children are not exempt from suspicion and can be subject to “corrections” from the dog. Dog owners can become hostage to their own dog and find themselves having to manage their situations by removing the dog to other rooms, crates or kennels, hoping nothing goes wrong when someone visits the home.
Further, if we see a questionable or negative behavior from our dog and don’t disallow it or give guidance, the dog will likely believe it’s an approved behavior. People often hope bad behaviors will just go away, but usually they don’t. In the case of allowing a dog to growl or exhibit some other display of protection towards a stranger who is approaching your child, you may think, “I like this!” However, when given the green light, dogs may have trouble discriminating between good and bad situations.
If you have given them the role to protect your child, whether intended or not, they will have to make decisions on their own. Unfortunately, they may not make good choices. For instance, an old lady with a walker or cane can look as menacing to a dog as an intruder with a weapon. Even after a dog is familiar with specific family or friends, each occasion can be a unique for the dog. For example, Uncle Bob, who the dog knows, comes for a visit with a new baseball bat and glove for his nephew or niece. In this case the dog may see the baseball bat as suspicious, and therefore jumps in to defend the family biting Uncle Bob in the process. Now Uncle Bob doesn’t want to visit unless the dog is contained. You may start to find that other people become reluctant to visit as well. And, now the dog will likely be put in another room or crated every time anyone visits. This will likely make the dog see all visitors as negative, and perpetuate the defensiveness of the dog.
My advice is, don’t go out of your way to encourage your dog to act protectively. If your dog has started this naturally, be sure you do some training with your dog so you can communicate effectively with them to help them understand their role when interacting with people. If you’re unable to provide this leadership with your dog, it’s important that you seek assistance from an experienced trainer who can help you.
Pediatric Safety is a site that is dedicated to helping parents with information to make safe and informed decisions when it comes to their children. I have written several articles and this article was the latest. To see more about this website go to this link.
There are many things to consider before you make a decision to take or not to take a young child to a dog park.
A friend called with a surprising story to share. She was at a local dog park with her small terrier, and not far away, there was a family with a lab mix. The family consisted of mom, dad and young daughter who was about 3 years old. A large dog ran by the family, and the young girl, somewhat surprised, grabbed onto her mother’s legs for comfort. Here’s the shocker…..
Her mother bent down to look into her child’s eyes and said, “Oh honey, you don’t have to be afraid of any dogs here because this is a dog park and all dogs at dog parks are friendly.”
Worst advice ever!
That’s because dogs at dog parks are not screened in any way.
• Dogs do not have to be safe with children to go to a dog park.
• Dogs do not have to be human or dog friendly, and some may in fact be bullies and jerks!
• Dogs are not required to have vaccinations to go to a dog park.
• Dogs that may be friendly, may still have terrible manners meaning that they could jump on anybody and anything, or use their mouth to grab, hold and pull… all with the intent to play.
Often times, going to a dog park is a dog’s only physical outlet to “let loose”. Rough play or rude behavior (towards dogs or humans) can be common. Couple that with an owner who is looking more at their phone or chatting with other dog owners, and things can go wrong in a nano second. Some owners are in denial about their dog’s inappropriate “play” and there’s not a lot you can do about that, other than recognizing potentially dangerous situations and leaving the park. Educate yourself about dog body language and good dog park etiquette to help be proactive and avoid bad situations.
Looking back on this dog park example, the child was shy, but another child may think it’s great fun to chase after dogs. Some dogs may be ok with this, but others may not. In fact, if they are running away and are nervous about being pursued by a child, they may turn and stop the child with a bite.
So if you want to give your child exposure to dogs, great, but find friends that have dogs that like children and are comfortable in their presence. See my blog on “When Things Are Going Well”, to understand body language that supports this.
In closing, always supervise your child and dog. By all means, if you see a child pursuing a dog that’s trying to get away, step in to intervene. Sometimes young children don’t know any better, and it’s our job to help keep both child and dog safe.
Now that you have successfully introduced the baby and dog, it is time to build a bond between the two!
Babies and Dogs
Creating a Safe and Harmonious Relationship
Building a Bond Between Baby and Dog
Now that you’ve reviewed Parts 1 through 3, let’s finish with how you can help create a beautiful bond between your baby and dog.
You will need to help your dog understand that this new little person, who is demanding all of your attention is actually going to stay and is part of the family or pack (as your dog sees it)!
Overall, be sure to do some of the activities your dog enjoys every day, and importantly, include the baby. For example, a dog walk with the baby stroller is an excellent activity. The dog sees everyone walking as a pack unit, with the baby in the lead. Plus, walking is very healthy for everyone!
If you play games like fetch, the baby can be present as you are playing with the dog. Also, if you play indoor scent games like searching for hidden dog treats, your baby can be present for this as well. Try to find as many things as possible that you can still do where your dog sees that the baby is included.
Of note, even practicing the basic commands your dog knows, followed by praise and a treat, while your baby is in your arms, makes the dog see the baby as part of the interaction and training. In the eyes of the dog, “Good things happen when the baby is present!”
Two final precautionary thoughts –
1. If you think your dog is showing signs of jealously, please contact a professional trainer to help you. It is usually a situation that can be helped by having the owner make changes in the way they are relating to the dog.
2. Most important, because things can happen in a split second, always supervise your dog and baby when they are together!
It is a wonderful experience for a child to grow up with a dog. Learning to have compassion and understanding of a different species starts with you, and how you model respect and kindness to your canine family member. Enjoy your new family!
Bringing the baby home is such an exciting time. Your dog will feel your excitement too! How do you make sure that the initial greeting to the baby goes smoothly?
Babies and Dogs
Creating a Safe and Harmonious Relationship
The Meet and Greet
Let’s talk about what to do when the baby and dog first meet. If you’ve done your homework from Parts 1 and 2, things should go smoothly!
When the baby arrives, use your commands from Part 2 to create space and boundaries. It’s smart to ask your dog to give you and the baby space/distance with either a verbal command or with a physical boundary like a baby gate. Starting with limits is a great way to begin.
Don’t feel bad, dogs have an amazing sense of smell and good hearing, so they will be able to smell and hear the new baby, even at a distance. This will help them to adjust, and you can observe how your dog reacts.
As I mentioned earlier, you do not want any surprises from your dog. Once you are comfortable with how your dog is reacting, you have the option of inviting them closer.
Dogs may perceive babies as very different compared to adults. Because each dog’s personality is unique, take the time to observe your dog. Does he look anxious, curious, happy or overly excited? Occasionally some dogs may get distressed or overly excited when they hear a baby cry, while others will completely ignore the sounds. If you see anxious or excited behavior, have your dog “Go to their spot” on a dog bed or in their crate. Taking away your dog’s choices and making a decision for him will actually help him relax. Now, he just has to focus on staying in his spot or crate.
Even though you have created some boundaries between the dog and the baby, you can still have your dog feel included. For instance, if the baby is on the floor on a baby blanket, the dog can still be present, lying next to the blanket. Be sure to use the “stay off” command, as mentioned in Part 2, so your dog respects the baby’s space. You want your dog to think that if they stay off the blanket, they will be included in the family fun.
The same advice applies if you are holding, dressing, nursing or feeding the baby – start with a boundary limit to see how it goes first. Have your dog a few feet away, and ultimately, he may be able to lie at your feet as you tend to the baby. Remember to quietly, verbally praise your dog if you see him doing a great job at being calm and relaxed.
How soon you make changes to the boundary distance really depends on your dog. This can happen in a day or two, or it can take longer. You are looking for your dog to be very calm, in control, and polite. You can invite the dog to come over for a sniff of the baby’s toes as a starting point for the first introduction. If the baby reaches to touch the dog, be sure you are touching your dog at the same time to calm them.
Continue to praise your dog if he makes great choices on his own, like lying quietly or maybe playing with one of his toys. Dogs, like humans, like their efforts to be rewarded. If you reinforce behaviors that you like, they will tend to repeat that behavior.
Once this initial stage of meeting is over, and you have set limits and rules for your dog, you are ready to move on to building the bond between your dog and your baby. That is the topic of my next post.
Life can get very busy especially when you have both children and dogs. Helping your dog to really learn and understand commands can help you tremendously. Once your dog knows the commands, you are half way there. Now, you need to know the best ways to use them in your daily life. Remember, if you don’t have the time for a group class, hire a private trainer or find a reputable Board and Train facility!
Babies and Dogs – Creating a Safe and Harmonious Relationship
Commands to Make Life Easier
Now that you’ve gotten your dog familiar with baby “gear” and basic house manners that we discussed in Part 1 of this blog, the next thing you want to do is sharpen up your basic commands. In this section we will outline which commands are most useful to incorporate into your daily life with your new baby.
Commands are “icing on the cake”, because if your dog has good manners as discussed in Part 1, then adding commands opens up communication. However, teaching commands isn’t a “magic fix” … just because your dog knows what a particular command means, doesn’t mean they will do what you ask. Follow through after you give a command is by far the most important part of the communication and that is all on you! Here are the commands to have your dog learn:
• Go to your spot & Stay in your spot
• Stay out
• Get back
• Sit & Down
• Leave it & Give it
Now let’s talk about how to use some of these commands and how they relate to your baby.
Sharpen up “come” command. The last thing you need when you are trying to do so many additional things in a busy household or rush off to an appointment is to have your dog ignoring you when you are calling them to come to you. This is a super important command to reward so be sure you praise/or treat your dog consistently each time they reach you.
Practice calling them to “come” every time you’re calling your dog for their meal. That is always positive for a dog!
A good solid “stay”, can be so valuable in many areas of your life with the dog especially when you are answering a door or carrying the baby from one room to the next. You don’t want a dog getting under foot.
Practice teaching your dog to go to their bed. This is the “go to your spot” and “stay in your spot” command. The goal is to have them stay until you return to release them. Practice in advance so you are prepared for when the baby first arrives. If you haven’t perfected the solid stay with distractions, putting them on leash, or tethering them to a solid object can help. If your dog is crate trained, using a crate is another good option to control your dog when people arrive at your home, or use a baby gate to control their access to rooms.
“Stay out” can be used at the door of the baby’s room. Your dog will be happy to watch things from the doorway. If in the future you decide your dog is calm enough to come in, you can always allow it later. If this is initially difficult to do, use a baby gate at the doorway. Your dog can see what is happening but stay at a distance.
If your dog decides not to “stay out”, you can use “get back” to help them stay out of baby’s room, and learn that it’s off limits. If they “get back” and then “stay out”, they won’t get into the diaper pail, which for one of my dogs is like going to a 5 Star restaurant! “Get back” is also good to use if your dog is crowding you and not giving you space when sitting with the baby. Then you can ask for a “down” next to you so they can be close, but not too demanding with your space.
“Wait” is just a good command to use to teach your dog they have to wait for things. It may be for dinner, leaving their crate, or going out the door for a walk. It helps to teach a dog how to have discipline. It can also help keep things calm, and calmness around a baby is a good thing!
“Sit or down” can be used to help make a dog calmer for petting, but this is only if they know how to hold this without you repeating yourself over and over again. You want to say it once; they sit and stay in place until released followed by lots of praise!! If your dog stands calmly to be petted, they don’t even need the sit. The most important thing is that they know how to stay calm in the presence of the baby.
“Leave it” can be used if you or the baby drops something. A quick sniff and investigation by your dog is OK. This also can be very useful if your dog likes to take toys or articles of clothing. You don’t want to create a game of “keep away”, but if it happens anyway, you’ll want to teach “give it”.
One way I use the “off” command is to have a designated baby blanket on the floor that dogs are not allowed on. This gives the baby a chance to have some tummy time, and allows the dog to be a part of it without being in the middle of it. Of course “off” is good for a dog that jumps on people or objects. Basically, the command means get your feet off of what they are touching.
If you don’t have these commands mastered, use your leash and collar to help show your dog. Dogs have unique personalities, including levels of excitement and curiosity. You will have to judge how much guidance or training you need to do with your dog. If you’re unsure, as many new parents/dog owners are, hire a professional to help you!
Your goal should be to maintain calmness and control with your dog. Remember this is all new to them, so it is important to teach them your expectations for their behavior. I like dogs to see what is happening with the baby, but initially keep at a distance until I can see how they are reacting, and they get more familiar and comfortable with the new baby.
That’s all for Part 2 of the blog post. Part 3 is all about “the meet and greet”. I will make suggestions for your dog getting close to the baby to be sure things are safe and pleasant.
What an ideal scene! The kids walking the dogs. There are several things to consider first!
First, how important is a walk for dogs…very!
One of the most normal activities for canines to do is walk with the pack. In nature, dogs would walk daily together with the pack, most likely looking for food. But, in the case of the modern day dog living with a family, searching for food isn’t usually the reason for the walk. (Although the way dogs try to scarf up anything they find along the way, you can see this may be hard wired in their brains.)
Walking does a number of important things for a dog.
No. 1 – drains energy
No. 2 – relieves boredom
No. 3 – builds a bond with you
No. 4 – exposes them to other dogs/people/things
So, yes, in my book walking is a great thing to do with your dog!
Now, back to the kids as the dog walkers…here are a few tips to help make it a dream.
The first thing to do is be sure your dog has leash manners with you before handing the leash over to your child. My neighbors, seen in the photo, were both 9 years old when they first asked to walk my dogs Hunter and Ruby. As calm they look in the photo, originally they were both horrible “pullers” on leash! In fact, Hunter, the retriever, had a history of pulling down his previous owner’s daughter and mother-in-law! At 5 years old he came to live with me and I began training him over the coming weeks and months. By the time the neighbor girls asked, Hunter was trained to walk politely.
You also need to learn if your dog reacts unpredictably to certain things so that a child won’t get caught in a bad situation. Some dogs get excited if they see another dog, others may bolt out if they see a cat or other animal. Sometimes an unexpected sound like a large vehicle may cause a dog to react. Depending on the dog, it could be as simple as a plastic bag blowing across the street. Know your dog! Back to the photo, the vizsla Ruby was afraid of at least 20 things when she was first re-homed to me (crunching leaves, plastic bags, feathers, crossing bridges, etc.). I spent time making her comfortable with these things before handing the leash to a child.
Third, consider using a double leash. In this case, both you and your child have separate leashes which are attached to your dog. You can be the “safety net” if something goes wrong during the walk.
If any of this makes you uncomfortable, just hire a good dog trainer or take a class. As a trainer, I love working with children and families. Be sure to find a good trainer or facility that will be happy to work with your entire family and your dog to create a positive bond between all family members. Just like any other profession, dog trainers are not all the same. Hunter’s previous owners told me other trainers had given up on him. Fortunately, I took no heed to this. Be sure to find a trainer that will work with you to help you succeed!
In this picture the dog is chewing on a bone. Is this dog safe to pet? You’d be surprised at how many kindergartners said “Yes!”.
I offer free dog body language presentations to lower elementary school classrooms in my town of Petaluma. Here I’m having fun with kindergartners at McNear School. I am showing them images of dogs and asking them to “vote” whether or not they think the dog in the picture is safe to pet or not safe to pet. Then we sort the pictures on a marker board into these two categories. To vote, the kids hold up either a green square of construction paper to indicate the the dog is safe to pet or they use their red square to indicate that the dog is not safe to pet. An important part of this activity, is that I ask them to share “why” they chose a certain answer. If you’re interested in having me visit your child’s classroom, or you’re a teacher and would like this presentation for your students, please contact me by email or phone! I’d love to visit! A bonus is that after each visit, I will donate one of my Stop, Look & Paws learning activities to the classroom!
Below is a short video clip from McNear School.
For a quiet activity for kids to do with the dog – try reading!
It is easy to get a dog excited and wound up, but it is more important to teach a dog how to stay calm. This is because most incidences of bites or scratches happen when dogs are in an excited state. Because they are pack animals dogs like to be with us no matter what activity we are doing.
Try this activity of having your child read to the family dog. This is something that is not only good for your child, but the dog will benefit from the close proximity and the calm state of mind from the child. You may have to start with the dog on a leash and sitting quietly next to your child as he/she reads a book. It is good to have times that the child and dog are close together but the direct focus is not on the dog. Soon they will both understand what is to be done during this activity and no leash will be needed.
If you are reading the book and your child is looking at pictures and listening to the story this is just as good. This is also a good time to teach your child how to calmly pet the dog as they both relax and listen to the story. Many people including adults pet a dog with fast hand movements. This will again, get at dog more excited. Try having your child slowly count as they pet the dog’s entire back. It might be fun to make a game out of counting slowly. Try this: “one good dog, two good dogs, three good dogs…” and so on. I bet they can get to “five good dogs”! See my next blog for more active games for children to play with dogs.
The best advice I can give to you is to teach your children to take a moment to identify how the dog is feeling by looking at the entire dog’s body language. My previous blog reviewed signs of a dog that is uncomfortable, or not happy. This blog will review body language that indicates a dog is comfortable and happy.
This is an example of a relaxed happy dog.
Here are some of the things you want to look for to indicate that things are going well:
1. Relaxed, loose body language – Overall the dog seems to be enjoying interacting with children and looks relaxed and happy. If lying down, he may have his head over his paw or have his paws crossed. The whole body may be wiggling with the tail. He may also be sitting in a relaxed manner with a happy expression on his face. Don’t confuse an excited dog with a happy dog. An overly-excited dog may jump up, or grab the child with their mouth in an attempt to play as they would with another dog.
2. Mouth may be open and you can see their tongue and it can look like they are smiling – Not a tightly closed mouth, snarling or growling. Also the tongue should not be hanging out, extended, as though they are hot, tired or stressed.
3. Eyes look soft, happy, relaxed, and peaceful or even can be squinted.
4. Ears are relaxed – Not tightly pinned down or very erect and rigid. They may be turned to the side, lowered, but relaxed.
5. Tail may be wagging softly, but also look at the base of the tail – It most likely will be level with the back or hanging in a relaxed way, If it is wagging, it will be wagging loosely and in a relaxed manner. The tail should not be erect from the base up over the body, or tucked between the back legs. As I’ve mentioned in my “Stop, Look and Paws” child/dog safety learning activity, a wagging tail itself is not always a sign that a dog is happy. It can mean they are excited and want to interact, but the interaction may not always be positive. You need to look at the whole body for overall body language.
Finally, remember not to focus only on the breed of the dog. All breeds are capable of being safe or not safe to pet. Also, don’t just look at the face or tail of dog. Help the children in your life to observe the entire body language of a dog to help them determine if it may be safe or not safe to pet!