Who doesn’t dream of it? A dog and a child together in your family. The child shares all his secrets with the dog and they go out together endlessly. The two find a lifelong friendship. Who doesn’t find these photos of a cute dog sleeping in a child’s bed irresistibly cute? This ideal image is often the goal of most parents. But the child-dog relationship turns out to be a bit more complicated than that. In my canine behavioral therapy practice, I receive countless files on my desk from dogs that apparently “unexpectedly” bit the child or from parents who always have to yell “no” because the child runs after the dog all day. Proof that a child-dog relationship doesn’t always go smoothly. So how do you ensure that the child-dog relationship runs smoothly? These 8 golden rules are essential.
Rule 1: Learn your dog’s body language “I’ve had enough”
A bite rarely happens “unexpectedly”. Often the dog has already given many discreet signals that he no longer likes it. Make sure that not only you, but also your child, know these signals.
Rule 2: To have is to keep, to obtain is art
Teach the child and the dog never to take anything from each other, even if the dog has your child’s favorite toy in its mouth. This not only requires a healthy dose of obedience training with the dog (i.e. learning a “loose” non-confrontational command), but also a healthy dose of repetition with the children:” You NEVER take anything out of the dog’s mouth. If he stole something, you ask mom or dad to get it back.
Rule #3: Safe Harbor
Agree with your children on the places where they must leave the dog alone at all times (for example, its crate, the basket). UN tips: ask them to make their own cardboard sign with the inscription “no entry” and to mark the no-entry zone by a visual means, such as a red line on the ground around the refuge.
Rule n°4: Who is the patron?
transferred to children never disciplining the dog themselves. This is the role of mums and dads. Stop interactions immediately if a child forces the dog to do something (e.g. get dressed)
Rule n° 5: free choice
Give the dog the choice to easily walk away when he’s had enough. This means that children should not corner the dog, chase it under the table and certainly not suspect it. Free choice also means that you should never force the dog to stay with the child longer than he wants (no, not even for a cute picture). Teach children to ask the dog first if he wants to.
To do this, use the convenient mnemonic device.
- Clap your legs or hands to call the dog to you. Doesn’t he come to you? So leave him alone.
- Pet the Dog 3 Seconds Pendant
- Stop after 3 seconds and observe the behavior of the dog. The dog is leaving? So he doesn’t want to be petted. Is he looking at you, approaching you, or pushing with his hip or paw? So he wants more!
Rule 6: Deposits
When the dog is in the room, there is no wild behavior or shouting. Children now live together with an animal and it requires some basic rules and common sense. Driving the animal mad is prohibited. The rule of calm also applies to the dog: around children, no wild behavior, so no jumping or running after them. There are many quiet games for children and dogs. Think in particular of search or recall games.
Rule #7: Monitoring is Necessary but Not Sufficient
Never leave a child alone with their dog if you don’t trust the child’s or the dog’s coping mechanism. Suppose the dog steals something from the child. How do you think your child will react? Will he scream? Will he scold the dog? Or will he keep calm and come get you? Suppose the child frightens the dog. Will he flee, or will he confront her? We cannot impose a specific age. A 14-year-old can sometimes not be left alone with the dog, while some 9-year-olds can handle it perfectly. It all depends on the character of the child and the dog. ¹Thanks to Cindy van Dorst from Dierbare Ontmoetingen for formulating this important concept.
Always supervisor, without exception! Not even “for a while”.
If you suspect that the child and/or dog cannot (yet) react adequately to difficult times, then you should monitor them. No exceptions. A moment. Are you going to the toilet? Then take the dog to the hallway and close the door to the living room (where the child is).
Did you know that most dog bites happen when the parent is within two meters of the dog? Being in the same room does not mean that everything is going well. Monitoring isn’t about watching the dog from your phone once in a while. This means watching so closely that you get ahead of difficult situations. If you don’t have the time or energy for this (and let’s be honest, who has this 24/7?), then child and dog should just be PHYSICALLY separated (think a baby gate).
Rule 8: Intervene effectively!
Parents often contact us because they do not know:
- When they should intervene
- How they should intervene
When to intervene:
- As soon as you see any sign of tension or stress in your dog
- When you notice avoidance behavior in your dog (for example, the dog tries to run away or looks away when the child wants to interact)
- When you see a difficult situation coming. What are these situations, then?
- Excitement increases.
There’s an object they both want to grab
The child cannot be kept away from a dog that eats or sleeps in short: anything that may lead to possession, pain, irritation or fear aggression
Comment to intervene:
At the right time ! Not after. With respect: ask the child why he did this (without judging)
Involve the child if possible: Ask the child to help you avoid these situations in the future. Ask the child for ideas about this.
Let the child make a craft to remind them of the deal you just made (e.g. the prohibition sign around the basket)
Give the child an alternative: If the child is dying to feed the dog, let him do it piece by piece, in a fetch game (for example, the child throws pieces in the garden when the dog is sitting).
If the child loves to play wild with the dog, buy a very large/long rope with which he can safely let off steam.
If the child is dying to brush his dog, ask him to show you how to do it with a stuffed dog, while you imitate him with the real dog. etc Consider a safe alternative to any unwanted interaction between your child and your dog. The examples I gave above are not safe for all child-dog pairs. Think of something that matches your dog and your child.