A question that we are often asked by people joining the club, and especially our puppy classes, is: "May I bring my children along?" Of course our answer is "Yes", even if children running around the training area may be a nuisance to some dog owners. It is extremely important that dogs and children learn to get along right from the beginning. It is just a pity that there is not always "children readily available to 'upset' a class." At home it might be easier for a parent to teach the child the correct behaviour while the child is in the presence of a dog, rather that waiting for the dog to get used to children in a class-setup. Here are a couple of pointers for parents:
First (and foremost) never leave children (especially toddlers) and dogs (regardless of the breed or size) unsupervised. Small children cannot understand that a dog might be interested in the same toy, they slap the dog for taking their toy; the dog retaliates by nipping the child and who is eventually the bad guy in the story? The dog is put to sleep because of showing aggression towards the child. Parental supervision of the dog-child interaction is an absolute necessity. Even more so if a strange dog (when you are visiting friends) is involved.
Teach the children that the dog is entitled to his safe space and when the dog is in this area, the child is not allowed to bother the dog. This safe space can be an outside kennel, under the coffee table in the lounge, behind the sofa or in a specific corner of a room. Here the dog can spend some peaceful moments or sleep a while, without being bothered. Remember the old saying: "Let sleeping dogs lie." Dogs, like children, are entitled to some "time out".
Take into consideration the breed characteristics of a dog. Some dog breeds are more child-friendly and tolerant than other breeds. (Compare a Golden Retriever to a Chihuahua - size doesn't count) Some breeds, such as herding dogs, might attempt to herd children when the kids are running and playing. Herding is often done by either nipping at the child's heels or bumping the child in a specific direction. These actions often result in the child falling and injuring himself, and again; guess who gets blamed? This dog was only doing what it was bred for, and had the parents done all the
necessary research before obtaining that specific breed and had there been proper supervision, such accidents should not occur. Always know what your choice of dog breed was initially intended for - herding, guarding, hunting, etc.
All dogs have predatory instinct / prey drive. Prey drive was inherited by dogs from their earlier wolf ancestors. They had to hunt to get food to stay alive. This instinct is still present in all domestic dogs - in some breeds it is only much stronger than in other breeds. These dogs chase cars, joggers, cyclists, small animals and children. Anything that moves is a potential target - the victim is stalked, chased and "caught". Important in such a case is: teach your child not to run away from any dog under any circumstances. Anything moving will set the prey drive into action. Teach your child to stand still. By standing completely still, you take the "fun" out of hunting and the dog will lose interest. No human, let alone a child, will ever outrun a dog!!!
Coupled with this - teach your child never to scream or make erratic movements (such as throwing a tantrum) when coming face to face with an unfriendly or hyper excitable dog. A high pitched scream and odd movements might be interpreted by the dog as being similar to the noises and movements made by prey when it is caught. This can also set the prey drive in motion and result in the child getting bitten.
Teach your child not to mess with a bitch with puppies. Puppies are so cute and cuddly and very hard to resist. But every bitch has a strong maternal instinct and the only way she can defend her offspring, is by being aggressive. Respect that - or otherwise don't breed with the bitch. Once again, parents should also supervise a child's interaction with puppies when the bitch is around. Like a human mom, the bitch will defend her litter, and the only way she can do it, is by biting.
Don't mess with the dog's food. Teach children not to bother the dog when it is eating. This again is an instinct inherited from their earlier ancestors - food is the key to survival, if you take it away, you are messing with the dog's survival instinct and the dog may feel threatened. On the other hand, it is also important that you are able to take food from the dog (especially if you catch the dog in the act of picking something up that you suspect might be poisoned). So start desensitizing the dog right from puppy hood that