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Raising Kids and Dogs

Here's how to teach your dog and your children to treat each other with love and consideration.

Even the gentlest,goofiest dog has hislimits.
  • Provide proper supervision. Children and dogs are unpredictable; for total bite protection, some experts advise not leaving children under age 10 alone with a dog. Be particularly careful when your children have guests over -- visiting children may not know how to behave around dogs. Even the gentlest dog is capable of biting when provoked.
  • Create pleasant associations with your kids and your dog. If you are chastising your dog every time your child is around, or vice versa, neither will have warm feelings for the other.
  • Reward your dog's good behavior with praise or treats. Praise your children, too, when they treat the dog well.
  • Encourage your child's participation in caring for your dog. Both dog and child will gain confidence and trust in each other.
  • Show your kids how to handle your dog with love. Demonstrate how to pet your dog, to scratch her chin or belly or find the "right spot" (you'll know you've found it when your dog's hind leg thumps appreciatively). Remind children that a dog is a living creature with feelings, not a toy -- ears, eyes, and tails are not to be pinched, pulled, or poked.
  • Explain to your children that because dogs cannot talk, they communicate through barking, posture, and facial expressions. Kids need to be sensitive to your dog's behavior and to respect her boundaries. Even dogs do not want to play all the time.
  • Give your child an age-appropriate explanation of how dogs think, particularly in terms of "pack" mentality. Especially with bigger dogs, certain postures or ways the child could play might encourage your dog to think he ranks higher in the pack than your child does; this can lead to aggressive behavior by the dog. For example, your dog should never be allowed to "mount" your child's leg (many people discourage this behavior anyway, but it's especially important for family members). Books on dog behavior can give you additional insight about teaching your dog "the family hierarchy."
  • Teach children not to disturb a dog when he or she is resting.
  • Tell your children to notify you immediately if your dog growls at them. Growling is a defensive response and can easily lead to biting. If it continues, consult a professional and address the problem immediately.
  • Give your dog enough companionship and attention. Dogs are pack animals, and the family becomes their pack. A dog doesn't need constant stimulation, but he does crave your company, and if your dog feels neglected, he might feel jealous of affection lavished on a child. Include your dog in as many family activities as you can.
  • Do not force a child to care for a dog -- you will have a resentful child and a neglected animal.
  • Provide a place for your dog to retreat to when he has had enough attention. This could be a crate or a fenced-off area.
  • Food is the cause of many a canine indiscretion. Do not let your dog become too proprietary about his food bowl -- handle the bowl occasionally during his meals. Do not let your dog take food from the table. If you feed your dog table scraps, put them into his dish at his usual mealtime or after yours. If you give your dog treats, show your children how to do so safely: the dog should be taught to sit and wait to receive a treat, so the child doesn't get accidentally nipped or knocked over by an excited pet.
  • Train your dog to relinquish an object on command. When you say "Drop it," your dog should release the contraband. Supply a treat or an appropriate dog toy to compensate for the loss of the treasure. (Since many dog toys resemble children's toys, this could be a very handy command. Some people choose not to offer their dogs stuffed toys, to avoid confusion with their children's toys.)
  • Do not hit, kick, choke, shake, or squeeze your dog as a means of discipline. If necessary, work with a trainer or attend a training class to teach your dog how to behave properly with positive reinforcement. The most important consideration, according to Duane Schnittker, DVM, of the Brentwood Veterinary Hospital in Brentwood, California, is "consistency in behavior training and command. Most bad habits that pets have, people teach them. When people get a pet, the whole family should go to behavior training. The best way to enjoy your pet is to teach your pet proper etiquette."
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