We've all seen the pictures posted on the internet and social media of cute little babies and young children propped up against or hugging and cuddling with Fido. Do they make you feel all warm and fuzzy?
Unfortunately, photos like that make me cringe. Hold on, before you want to label me as the fun police, let me remind everyone about a very sobering statistic.
The majority of dog bites that occur involving children under the age of 11 are not done by way of a stray, but by family dog or a dog the child knows.
In other words, most of these bites could have been prevented by employing some common sense and proactive interaction rules.
Supervise all interactions between dogs and young children. Yes, dogs are part of the family, but we must always remember that they are animals and should never be expected to think like humans. Dogs do not understand the concept that "kids will be kids" and may react to them in the same way they would react to an adult. Do not expect the dog to be "the adult" in the situation. And do not expect the children to be the dog's babysitter either. Neither is intellectually or cognitively up to that task!
Dogs are living, breathing beings, not toys and play things. This is definitely something that we have to teach babies and toddlers from the start. Show them the difference between their stuffed, inanimate toys and the dog. Explain that the dog can feel pain, fear and sadness, very similar to how they feel when something hurts, scares or makes them sad. The family pet can be a great way to teach children the meaning of empathy.
Teach children to respect a dog's space. Things that should never be allowed are: ear/tail/hair pulling, sitting on, attempting to ride, hitting/spanking, trying to dress, hovering over and yes, even hugging. Some dogs view hugging as a form of restraint, and restraint can cause a dog to become defensive and push it into a "flight or fight" mode.
Never pet a dog without first asking the owner's permission. The owner is the best source to let you know if the dog is up for visiting that day.
Teach children to avoid getting a dog too excited. Yelling, flailing arms and taunting a dog can escalate the situation quickly and be very stressful for a dog, especially if that dog is not used to being around that kind of chaotic environment. Keep things as calm and predictable as possible.
Just like the saying goes, "Let sleeping dogs lie." Make sure children understand that a dog that is sleeping should be left alone. Period. Also, if a dog is in his crate, do not taunt or stick fingers inside. It is not uncommon for dogs to become a little possessive and territorial about their own quiet space. Additionally, dogs can lash out when they are startled awake. Dogs deserve to be able to rest comfortably without fear of being bothered.
Keep play sessions short. Both kids and dogs can become irritable when they are overstimulated. So it's best to keep play sessions short, 15-20 minutes at a time, then let both get some rest and recovery. They can always play again later.
Let's keep both the dogs and children we love safe