If you have children, a pet can be a wonderful addition to your home. However, there are some considerations that need to be kept in mind. Just like in everything else, your pet will need structural guidance in this endeavor to help make the beautiful relationship develop safely. Establish ground rules with your kids first. We have more in-depth recommendations also, if you want – just let us know!
A few basic guidelines are:
• Teach your kids that your pet’s kennel is NOT a play house. Keeping your pet’s kennel a safe place is critical. The children should not be able to go in and bother your pet or play in the kennel while he/she is in there. Your pet needs to know that this area remains a secure den…someplace safe to go if your pet wants to get away. (This works for when strangers come over as well!) If your kids DO go in there to “play” … give your pet LOTS of treats, praise, and make sure they know that the kid crawling in with them was the BEST thing that could have happened.
• Your pet’s food and water bowls should have the same rules attached. When your pet is eating, children should be kept busy elsewhere, not pestering the dog…having a child around only heightens the need for your new pet to “compete” for food…thus possibly creating a problem that doesn’t need to be there. If you are seeing growling or aggression issues when you or your kids simply walk by and do not tease, etc, then consult a professional immediately so these issues can be resolved. We don’t commonly reach into our pet’s food bowls (we should be able to and can teach our pets otherwise by dropping in treats, etc) but it’s not really a common occurrence. But if we are being giving the evil eye for even just walking by, then we WILL modify that issue immediately by making the food dish mean lots of good things when people come by, in the off chance we do have company over who go by the dish. It is important that they tolerate these actions and are not threatened by them. We can go over a more individualized program at our training session if you’d like. Teaching kids to walk by and TOSS or DROP TREATS into the dish can only help your pet see that kids approaching is a GOOD thing. Try this with YOU FIRST and then you can see if a child walking past and TOSSING a treat in from a safe distance is fine, then closer if there is no concern. If you are hesitant in ANY way, we can work on this during one of our sessions to ensure safe practices.
• I recommend teaching your pet to develop what we call “husbandry skills” (holding still for an examination, nail trims, pretending to apply eye and ear ointment, grooming/brushing, etc) and to tolerate minor “kid-proofing” exercises (skin-tugging, hugging, squeezing, loud screeching noises, etc) but until you are able to work on this (and even after such!), your child should respect your pet’s space. A lot of pets will tolerate younger children out of maternal instinct, but all dogs have their limits and why chance a parental response of pinning the naughty “pup” to the ground, like they WOULD do to their offspring if that “pup” is pushing the limit? Think about if you were being hit, kicked, had your hair pulled out, getting fingers in your eyes or ears, or having people by your butt…wouldn’t you most likely growl a warning too? We have to recognize and appreciate the fact that the dog is giving a warning and not just biting at this point! Some dogs may just bite - and a lot LEARN to do so, when punished for growling - and that is very bad! So use some common sense, please, and keep the kids respectful of the pet’s personal space…they couldn’t get away with that in school, right?
***Dr. Sophia Yin has some excellent handouts available for review at: http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/kids-and-dogs-how-kids-should-and-should-not-interact-with-dogs
Owners must understand that growling and “discipline” occurs between adult dogs and puppies…these same “disciplinary actions” are necessary sometimes, in our dogs’ opinion. This is why we need to ALWAYS Yes! and pay for tolerance of the kids’ roughness! ALWAYS Yes! and pay BIG when your dog DOESN’T react or walks AWAY from the situation! Let your dog know what an EXCELLENT pet they are for just lying there and tolerating such weird actions, like tugging or harsh petting or walking away to find something else to do. Parental supervision at all times is a must when children (especially small ones) are in the family.
Instead of allowing a child to steal the pet’s toys or bones, teach the child to get a piece of boiled chicken (or equivalent of something REALLY TASTY) toss the treat AWAY from the item so that the dog gets up and goes to get it, then they can toss a second treat as they are picking up the bone/item. Eventually, we would like them to be able to go up with a treat and trade the pet for a more desired item, but start safely.
CAUTION: You should always do this exercise first to see what the pet does and ALWAYS watch the interactions between child and dog.
Stop immediately and consult a professional if any growling or aggressive signs are shown.
For a good handout on how to read some signs of fear and aggression, visit: http://info.drsophiayin.com/free-poster-on-body-language-in-dogs/
For more ideas and to setup a Kid-Proofing gameplan, we can discuss this more at one of our sessions if you’d like. Please let us know in advance and we can bring some really further materials to help your child and canine companion develop a healthy bond.
The Take Home Message with Kids: We all-too-commonly ignore all of the good things that our pets do…whether with kids or in “obedience” in general…
Your pet is just laying there while the toddler stomps by? You SHOULD BE saying, “What a good dog you are! Super, here’s a treat!” (or toy, or the ability to go outside, etc)
Your pet naps nearby while your baby is gurgling and making little “alien” noises? “Wow, what a super dog I have! Good job….you keep that up…” and pet affectionately.
Our pets only do what we reinforce them to do (whether by Actively or Passively reinforcing it!) and so we need to be REWARDING them (cookies are great, but some dogs just need verbal and physical praise for these things if they are already calm.) for doing what we WANT them to do…but pay BIG for things that were a little more stressful, but handled correctly.
The average number of successful repetitions that it takes for a dog to truly understand one behavior is CORRECT and it becomes a habit, is 3000!
Well, these basic, daily repetitions add up fast! So praise your pet for TOLERATING things!
The baby/toddler/young child really should = treats, toys, and other wonderful things. Once your pet catches on that the baby screaming means to go get you and they get a treat, you’ll see them actively TRYING to get your attention versus trying to correct the baby! And THAT’S what we want…we want our pets to know that YOU will take care of the baby; they don’t have to. YOU will keep them safe from the baby’s hair pulling and if for some reason the baby pulls their hair, they’re going to get paid HUGE by getting pieces of rotisserie chicken or some other bonus!
There are a lot of other ways to help the relationship between your pet and a new addition even more satisfying, so please ask!
When trying to develop lifelong, good, habits…you CANNOT Yes! Or treat them enough! We can always FADE from treats after creating happy attitudes…but we cannot always modify a fearful or aggressive reaction after it occurs…or it may take longer to do so than to just have simply created a good response from the get-go. From prenatal preparations to introduction of newborns to training programs with toddlers to teenagers...we can help!
Call us today to get started!
CVT & Owner of Awesome Paws Academy