Children and Dogs

"She's going to bite you." "If you keep doing that he's going to bite you." How often have I heard these words and shuddered. I just finished reading about two dog attacks on children so I feel the need to discuss the whole children and dogs issue. Shooting (photographing) children and dogs is my specialty; there is nothing more adorable than the connection between a dog and a child. It is as pure and natural as it gets; and when I see a dog that loves their kid it makes me smile.

But not all dog/child interactions are great ones. Often a lack of supervision and guidance can cause some serious issues regarding child safety. Let me say here "DOGS AND CHILDREN SHOULD NEVER BE LEFT UNATTENDED." I am a Mother; and as a Mother my warning comes from the instinctive maternal hovering. Okay; so what does never leave your child alone with your dog really mean? It means that every interaction is supervised; yes every interaction. So if you have to run upstairs to get something, you either bring the dog or the child with you.

I remember two such cases that I was called on to help "fix." One of these visits was strictly to repair the child/dog issue; the other I was just there to work with a newly rescued dog in the family. The first case I sat watching the interactions; I like to see how life goes on in a family before I step in and offer solutions. As I sat watching a very large dog relax on the floor the baby crawled towards the dog. The dog remained calm until the baby laid a hand on him; immediately his ears went back and his face tensed. As I watched I assumed Mom was going to step in; nope. The baby crawled further onto the dog and the sound of a deep warning came from within the dog; I stood up and stepped in immediately moving the baby away. It amazes me when people don't see warnings; especially towards their children.

I sat down and laid it on the table for the couple; all while keeping a close eye on the baby and the dog. I don't pull any punches in situations like this; at a time when the possibility is a child being bitten is no time to be subtle. Often; the tears come when the realization hits a parent. It is so important for parents to understand the magnitude of a dog bite. If a child is bitten; it means that someone wasn't doing their job, bottom line.

The second case with a child and dog gone wrong was for a new member dog; a rescue dog that came from a rescue group that I think is appauling. Anyhow; they wanted the dog trained, it was a big dog; a "Gentle Giant" so to speak. I sat with Mom at the kitchen table discussing issues that she wanted covered when I heard the unmistakable warning growl. I turned to see the toddler crawling over top of this new "giant" dog. And the dog was growling; I jumped out of my seat and had the child back at the table in the blink of an eye. I'd scared the child but forced Mom to see how bad things can happen in an instant. She hadn't heard the growl.

Dogs are dogs; they are not humans and therefore do not act like humans. If they feel threatened they will protect themselves. There are huge variances in dogs; there are dogs that will allow a child to crawl all over them without batting a eye. Then there are dogs who love their kids; they just don't want them all over them and the dogs who want nothing to do with children. It is your job to know where your dog falls; and you must be in control of interactions always.

I was at a vets a while back and one of the assistants there was telling me how she didn't believe in this "supervision" thing with dogs and kids. She said that if she couldn't trust her dog to be alone with her child; she wouldn't have the dog. That's all well and good to say but bad things can happen in an instant and let's be honest; children don't always do the smartest things. A child can trustingly try to take a dogs toy away just to see what it is; or have a look at that big tongue hanging out or any number of strange things.

As a parent it is your job to protect your child and protect your dog. It is extremely important to let your dog know that you will protect them. This is the biggest and most common problem with dogs and children; allowing the dog to discipline the child. If you do not set boundaries and teach your child what is appropriate behavior and not appropriate behavior then your dog will be forced to teach your child. Having a dog teach a child is never an option you want. Dogs teach using dog methods, growling, nipping and if forced; biting. A dog wants to know that you are controlling that little crawling human.

Many dogs are fine with babies until they start to crawl around; all of a sudden they are something the dog has to live with. This is typically when I get the call. Dogs and children can live together quite happily; I've always had dogs and children together; but I also had a lot of baby gates in my house. Until your child is of age that you know sure that they are mature enough to understand how to treat a dog; what to do and not to do then it just isn't worth the risk, even with the best of dogs.

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