We yet again find ourselves seeing harrowing stories across social media surrounding children and dogs.
As much as we are seeing fingers being pointed and blame being placed across all parties, what we must not lose foresight of, is in how we can impact and help keep our children and dogs safe.
Two lives that have been entwined, to bring about memories and friendship through bonding and the act of growing up together. To end with the tragedy of two lives lost and many more lives forever changed through these tragic events.
It is understandable that parents are questioning their choices surrounding the safety of their children and a dog that they have bought into their household. Taking away all the finger pointing and without laying blame at anyone’s doorstep, it is important that we learn from such tragic events. So we can ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
I have fond memories of growing up with our family dog and I am thankful that I have given my children the joy of growing up with a dog too and all that it brings.
I want to assure you that children and dogs can live and be safe in the same household with management and education to all parties.
If we want to give our children the joy of growing up with and owning a dog then we need to ensure that safety for all is our priority.
We can do this with management, talking to and educating our children as well as training with the dog.
You need all three to set your child and dog up for success.
Let’s start with what management we should have in place.
Children and dogs should never be left unattended together without adult supervision. I currently have a 13 year old and an 8 year old child and we have a 6 month old dog currently in our household.
Now my 8 year old is by no means small and helpless, yet I still will not leave him alone unattended with our dog. Even if I just want to nip to the loo or to stick the kettle on and make a brew.
To manage this I have safety gates placed up around the home. These create what is often called gated communities.
It enables me to put a safe barrier between my children and my very bouncy, teething dog. I have one at the bottom of the stairs as well as one at the kitchen door.
I also have two crates in the home. One set up upstairs and one that is set up downstairs in our main living room. This gives me the added advantage of having other ways to separate the two if I needed to leave the room.
By having this type of management in place it also means I can allow visitors into the household, including other children and have the ability to keep the dog and them separate and safe if I needed to.
Next we want to look at setting our children up for success for being around dogs.
We want our children to be able to recognise what is and is not ok for a dog. We should be showing our children how to appropriately interact with a dog and setting them up with how to act should they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.
Here are 5 things that I recommend every parent teaches their child:
1 - Let sleeping dogs lie.
If a dog is asleep, we leave them be. It is never a child's place to wake a dog up and waking a dog up could result in a bite.
2 - Don’t scream or run in the presence of a dog.
This can cause a spike in arousal in a dog and can lead to a dog not thinking clearly or simply the dog becoming too exuberant for the child to handle. This type of play can quickly lead to injuries.
3 - If a dog has a hold of something, leave it be.
This may be a toy, treat or some random object, to not approach the dog or try to take it away. If the object is going to be removed, that is an adult task and should be done so correctly.
4 - To ask 'Can I pet your dog?'.
A child should always ask a dog's owner if it is ok to pet their dog and wait for the ok to be given before they proceed to do so.
5 - Let the dog eat in peace.
It takes just a few minutes for a dog to finish their meal, so give them space and allow them to do so.
Now there are some great games that we can teach our children to help build up the relationship between them and their dog, games that build on understanding and communication.
Here are my three favourite games to teach a child:
1 - The 3-second Hand Game.
This is a game where the child pets the dog appropriately, for 3 seconds then remove their hands completely from the dog.
This then gives the dog time to figure out what option to choose next and is a great time to teach your child some basic body language.
If the dog chooses to step away, that ends the game. The dog is clearly saying no more and removing themselves from the situation.
If the dog leans into the child, climbs on them, or starts nudging them, this is a clear invitation that the dog would like to continue with the contact.
Then you repeat the game!
2 - Arms Cross Like A Boss.
If a dog was getting too much for a child or the child simply didn’t want to engage anymore, we would teach the child to stand up straight and cross their arms (like a boss).
They are to ignore the dog and not talk to the dog, waiting for the dog to settle or an adult to come into view before moving off.
3 - Eyes down on the ground.
This is where a child simply removes eye contact from the dog, which can often be a sign of being a threat, and get the child to simply look down to the ground.
This can show the dog that the child is not a threat and can help calm a dog back down. I would often pair this game with Arms Cross Like A Boss.
Introduce these games away from a dog and make a game of it. Call the game names out and get your child to act them out. When in the presence of a dog, we can help the child practise these games by calling the name out and praising them afterwards.
Children inevitably like to get involved and we can help the child be involved with the dog and the dogs care safely and appropriately. By allowing the child to be involved, it can removes the need of a child seeking out other ways and things to do with the dog which may not be appropriate or safe.
Allow them to be involved with grooming. We can play the 3-second hand game here but whilst using a grooming brush instead.
We can get a child involved with helping with the daily feeding of the dog. I would have the dog outside of the kitchen with the safety gate shut and allow the child to get involved and help.
Once the food has been placed down, I would ask the child to step back whilst we let the dog in to eat. Whilst this is taking place, the adult and child can get behind the safety gate, allowing the child to watch what they have helped with.
Get the child involved in dog training. This will show them games and exercises that they can do with the dog that is appropriate and frankly, will make the child feel super proud of what they achieve with the dog. It is a great way to build a relationship between the child and the dog.
And last but not least we have training the dog.
If you are wanting or needing help with training your dog or are wanting advice on how to set your household up to be safe for children and dogs then it’s important that you seek the help from an ethical professional.
You can reach out for help via www.findadogtrainer.com
With our help, children can grow up safely with their family dogs.