Kids & Dogs: NOT Okay?
"Kate! My wonderful dog just growled at my grandchild! What happened?" I wish I could say this rarely happens, but unfortunately, it's a fairly common question for me.
Kids and dogs go together like milk and cookies in most of our imaginations. Many of us with challenging childhoods were "saved" thanks to our beloved family dog (or cat, or horse...) and can't imagine a world where dogs and kids aren't thriving together. And, when a dog has been properly socialized around children as a puppy, this relationship creates not only a life-long love of dogs in the human being, but a respect for all animals as well. However, if a puppy or older rescue dog has not "grown up" with children, MOST of what young children do can be scary, threatening and/or overstimulating for the dog.
From the Canine Perspective
Dogs are pack animals like their ancestor, the wolf, and as such are "wired" to live in families. In the pack, every member has his/her roles and responsibilities and teach the pups how to behave in all situations. Because they are family-oriented, dogs want to get along, work things out, and co-create harmony for the good of the pack. In our multi-species households, that desire extends to getting along with us.
They are also predators which means that running, screaming, whining, crying children can trigger discomfort resulting in behaviors ranging from avoidance, to "correction," in the form of a defensive or offensive growl or lunge, or "herding behavior" in a herding breed. This often consists of barking or heel nipping to get that "unruly lamb" in line.
It is critical that any adult who adopts a puppy socialize the dog with children. In addition, it is equally important to teach children how to respect ALL dogs, and learn how dogs communicate with body language.
My favorite book on canine physical communication is, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas. This little book has fantastic photos illustrating the calming signals as well as body language indicating fear, aggression, defensiveness and an invitation to play that dogs use all the time with one another and with us. You'll learn how dogs indicate worry and discomfort as well as see examples of how a dog looks and signals that he's happy and comfortable with what's going on around him.
Remember that rewarding a dog who is learning about children for the first time is the way to go. (Affection, praise, treats...) Never force a dog to be petted by a child. The dog and the child will sense that's something is wrong and it will not bode well for either of them going forward.
Recently Dr. Becker shared two resources from Europe for teachers and parents that give some excellent info on how to introduce children to dogs, as well a dog care and a bit on body language. Check these out and see if they are helpful -- especially those of you who might be home-schooling the kids or babysitting the "grands" this fall. There are some excellent lessons and activities you can do with the kids and the dog! Dogs & Young Children Living in Harmony, and Fascinating Dogs.
If you have a rescue or young dog who is uncomfortable with kids and you can't figure out why and/or want to know exactly what she needs to make progress, please book an animal communication session with me. In addition to the resources above, I have many other tools in my tool box to support your dog as well as make the training go more quickly and smoothly for everyone. Click here or here.
With the right understanding, socialization, and training, dogs and kids will learn to love one another and EACH life will be deeply enriched!
With Love, Your Voice of Animals,