In Part 1, I discussed dog training tips for preparing your dog before you take your new baby home. Here in Part 2, I talk about how to continue to make a safe home for both your dog and child.
You have to remember, your job is to protect your dog as much as it is to protect your baby. And since your dog can’t tell you when it’s feeling uncomfortable, the signs are more subtle (or in a bad case, dangerous).
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates half of all children 12 years-of-age and under have been bitten by a dog. In many cases, teasing or an unintentional provocation, such as approaching a dog while it's eating or sleeping, can lead to a dog bite or even worse, an attack. The vast majority of dog bites are from a dog that the child is acquainted with - his or her own, a neighbor's, or a friend's dog.
Dogs instinctively have an invisible "fight or flight" boundary around themselves. The size of this boundary depends on his level of confidence and tolerance. A fearful dog will give itself a wider area than a more stable one. If a person approaches a dog in it’s safe space, the dog has two choices: 1) it can run away or 2) it can defend itself. If it feels that it can't run away, it will fight no matter how afraid it might be. What you need to be aware of are your dogs stress signals; signs that they are scared or feeling uncomfortable. Many of these “invisible” signals can be missed by parents, so take note and be aware!
- Licking Lips
- Turning away
- Quick and shallow panting
- Moon eye (showing white in eye, as if scared)
- Ears back
TIP: If your dog is showing these signals, ask the children to give the dog space.
Easier to detect “physical” signals:
- Showing teeth
Remember your dog is trying to communicate with you and the baby, and if you miss the invisible signals and they have to resort to the physical signals, then you aren’t doing your job.
Growling and Showing of Teeth
Many people will discipline a dog for growling or showing their teeth towards a child, but it’s important to note that these signals are important because they are used in place of a bite. They should actually not be discouraged, but used as a signal from your pet that it needs help. If your dog is showing either of these signs, you need to remove the dog from the situation and give them some space to relax away from the children.
Keep children and dogs in an open area where the dog has the option to move away if it feels uncomfortable. If a dog is relaxing near a couch or in a corner, make sure the children are kept away. Dogs that feel cornered are more likely to exhibit a fight response as they are unable to flee the situation should they need to.
TIP: Pick an area to baby gate off for your dog that allows them to still be able to see you. That way they still feel a part of the activity, but they don’t have to be right in the middle of it. It’s also important not to let your little one climb on the gate (or in the dog bed) and taunt the dog in any way.
General Body Language
Keep it loose. Dog that have a loose tail, back, eyes and mouth are exhibiting a more relaxed body posture. Dogs that have a tight mouth and stiff body posture are telling you and your children that they are uncomfortable and you must step in by calling the dog away or telling the children to give the dog space.
Do Unto Others
As cute as it is to see little William sitting on the dog like a pony, or pulling the dog’s tail or ears like a toy, these behaviors are not appropriate. Take a look at this picture, does the dog look like he’s having fun? If you wouldn’t do it to a person, you shouldn’t do it to the dog. If a child is doing any of these it is important to stop it immediately, and redirect the child’s attention to something else.
Children should be taught to play nicely with family pets, and if they aren’t old enough to learn that yet then it’s best to keep them apart. What if they learn those habits with your docile dog at home and then try that on the neighbors dog? Bite. And it won’t be the dog's fault.
Behavior for a Lifetime
Children should be taught how to behave around dogs, even if their own family does not own a dog. For example, a child should never approach a strange dog without asking the owner if it's OK to pat the dog. If the child sees a loose dog on the street, he should not approach it even if he knows the dog belongs to his friend. He should tell someone that he saw the dog, but should make no attempt to pat or grab it.
TIP: Once a child is given permission to approach a dog, she should present her closed fist for the dog to sniff. This protects the fingers in case the dog is frightened and tries to snap.
The sight of a child and a dog cuddling in bed or playing in the yard is a wonderful thing. The potential relationship between a child and a family dog is precious, and it needs to be nurtured and guided. Families can accomplish this by teaching the dog and the child to respect and cherish each other. If this can be done, fewer children will be bitten and fewer dogs will be euthanized for aggressive behavior.