There are currently numerous photos and videos floating around various social media platforms depicting our children’s ‘fantastic’ relationship with our pets.
Captions such as “Fido is great with children, they can climb and jump on him and even grab his tail and he just won’t react” are posted next to photos off very uncomfortable and stressed looking animals. It is amazing what interactions some adults allow without stopping to consider their dog; pulling of ears and tails, hitting, kicking, grabbing, pinching, pushing and screaming at. All of these actions are slowly going to make your dog wary of children, and one day he may just have enough and that is going to result in a bite. These bites are usually the ones that ‘happen out of nowhere.’
Now this is not the case for all animal-child relationships before I spark a debate. The point I am making is why do parents and adults allow their children to behave in such a way towards their and other peoples pets.
I wince when I see a child run up to a dog, grab them and move just inches away from their face. Dog bites happen! In America more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs a year and 800,000 Americans will receive medical attention for a dog bite. Worryingly half of those bites needing medical care will be children, most commonly interacting with familiar dogs on a day to day basis. This tells us that we should be educating our children about basic animal behaviour and welfare to try and prevent as many bites as possible.
We constantly set boundaries for our pets; no hovering inches from our plates when we are eating, no jumping up on people and no rough mouthy behaviour especially with the children because it hurts.
Why Do We Not Set the Same Boundaries for Our Children When It Comes to Our Animals?
Examples could include:
No approaching the dog when it is asleep or eating.
No grabbing, pinching or pulling a dog.
No sitting or standing on the dog.
No petting any strange dogs without first asking permission.
These rules may sound obvious to some and over the top to others but they all are things that could prevent a dog bite. Yes, your dog may be fine with your child taking his food at first but one day he might not be or your child may then assume that they can take food off any dog and that one may not react so nicely.
We should encourage a good relationship between our pets and our children.
Allow the child to help with the feeding routine and you could come up with some games that they could play together; hiding toys for the dog to find or playing fetch. Tug of war can be played BUT this should be decided on an individual basis, if the dog snatches or is physically too big and could pull the child over it may be best to play something else.
Children can also help with training. Allowing them to come up with new tricks and to help teach them encourages a positive relationship to be built up with the child in question. Also by creating associations between children and positive reinforcers such as food your dog is less likely to associate children with fear or discomfort. Just as we should create positive interactions between our pets and children we should also allow both of them time apart too. Our dogs should have a place where they can take themselves off to where they are not going to be disturbed by anyone.
Lastly I think that children and adults alike should all have some understanding of dog behaviour, however basic. We should all be able to recognise when our dogs have had enough and when a dog is feeling uncomfortable. I’ve included the following picture to help demonstrate some behaviours a dog exhibits when feeling slightly stressed. This also helps to demonstrate how a picture such as the one below could be seen as cute to people that have no previous behaviour knowledge.
We, as dog owners should not only take it upon ourselves to learn not just about caring for our dogs but the behaviour of them too. This means learning to recognise the above behaviours but to also teach them to our children too and hopefully prevent as many dog bites as possible.