Kids and Dogs: Creating a Great Mix
For many children, the family dog is their best friend—a companion who not only provides unconditional love, but who also teaches them about friendship, responsibility, loyalty, and empathy. The key to creating true family pets who are gentle, loyal, and loving to both animals and people—is to treat the animal as a beloved family member from Day 1, and to provide the training and care he deserves. Sounds easy enough, right? Actually, it takes a great deal of commitment, not just from adults, but from the whole family, kids especially.
Most children have a natural adoration of animals. From a child’s perspective, puppies are living, breathing, fluffy toys, and they love to spend time with them, petting them and talking to them. In fact, an April 2010 National Geographic survey found that 77% of them have a pet at home with dogs holding the top honors. The benefits of pet ownership, with regard to children, are well proven. Studies have shown that children who grow up around animals develop into more confident, socially adept individuals. Animals can help to teach children valuable social skills during a critical time in their psychological development. Children treat pets as their friends, and in the absence of verbal communication, they learn to use body language to understand each other. If a child learns to understand the body language of their pet, they will naturally extend that knowledge to have a better understanding of human body language in other situations later in life. Bottom line is this: aside from the obvious safety reasons, kind kids grow up to be kind adults, so we need to teach our children about the importance of treating animals considerately, respectfully and, of course, safely.
So how do you do this?
Begin with the basics. The goal here is not to frighten children, but rather to teach them consideration for dogs' feelings in certain situations. For example, ask questions like, "How do you think Fido feels when you pull on his tail?" This approach will tap into children's instinctual sense of empathy in a way that's easy for them to grasp at a young age.
Unfortunately, many children grow up believing that all dogs are gentle and friendly like their pets, putting them at higher risk for a dog attack, simply because they weren’t taught the basic dog safety rules.
According to the national ASPCA, children should be learn the following ‘rules’:
1. I will not stare into a dog's eyes.
2. I will not tease dogs behind fences.
3. I will not go near dogs chained up in yards.
4. I will not touch a dog I see loose (off-leash) outside.
5. If I see a loose dog, I will tell an adult immediately.
6. I will not run and scream if a loose dog comes near me.
7. I will stand very still (like a tree), and will be very quiet if a dog comes near me.
8. I will not touch or play with a dog while he or she is eating.
9. I will not touch a dog when he or she is sleeping.
10. I will only pet a dog if I have received permission from the dog's owner.
11. Then I will ask permission of the dog by letting him sniff my hand.
Adult supervision of child-dog interactions is very important. Parents should never leave young children completely alone with unfamiliar dogs. Children should be taught from Day 1 that dogs have private space and that they need private time. They should learn to leave dogs alone when they are sleeping in their beds, and when they are eating, both meals and treats.
Now as we all know, there’s so much more that goes into interacting with a family pet than basic safety. Especially now that the kids are back to school, it’s important for both them and your dog to keep that connection strong. Encourage your child to spend extra time with Fido in the afternoons and evenings. Allow him to help with Fido’s care, like preparing meals or going for walks. Every now and then, add in some fun activities like making homemade dog treats or a craft project.
Dogs and children can mix well together, but it’s up to adults to make sure that they do: when problems happen, there’s no doubt where the finger of blame is pointing. So do your part, not only to protect your family, but to make Fido’s role in it shine!
Erin Thomas is the owner of Summerville’s Lowcountry Pet Sitters, the area’s leading in-your-home pet care service. For more information, please visit www.LCPetSitters.com or call 843-327-7487.