Tips for Children Meeting Dogs
Safety, of course, is imperative in any child-animal interaction. The first step to ensuring safety is to choose a pet that is appropriate for your family and your child. Educate yourself, if you do not already know, about any safety issues with regard to this pet. Horses, parrots, dogs, cats, all have unique safety issues.
- Begin at home. If your family has a dog, best practices begin at home with the family dog. Tell your child: “Never tease the dog. Do not try to pet the dog while it is eating. Do not drop it, hit it, pull its fur, or jab your fingers in its face. If you don’t like being treated a certain way, you can be sure a dog wouldn’t like it either. Treat our dog the way you like to be treated, and it will be your friend for a long, long time.”
- Not all dogs are nice. Next, teach your child that not all dogs are like your family’s dog (or a neighbor’s dog, a dog your child may already know that is friendly). Explain that just as all people are “not nice” some dogs have “bad behavior” too. I would go further and explain that “some dogs have germs in their mouth that, if the dog bit you, could make you very sick. So you never want to do anything that would make a dog think it needs to bite you to protect itself.”
- Ask permission. Teach your child that if she sees someone walking a dog, she must first ask the owner for permission before getting close to the dog or trying to touch it. Your child should be given the words to use: “Does your dog like children?” “May I pet your dog?” “Is your dog friendly?” If you do this yourself when out with your child, then he or she will learn proper “pet etiquette.”
- Stand up and stand still. Tell your child: “Do not run up to a dog. Keep your hands at your sides, and let the dog (who will hopefully be on a leash) come up to you and sniff your legs.” It seems natural to want to get on the dog’s level by stooping down or sitting on the floor. But personally, I would not want my child face-level with a dog that hasn’t proven itself trustworthy around children. Children should be taught to remain standing, stay still, and let the dog investigate by sniffing, and then the child should wait for the dog’s owner to initiate petting. It seems to be human nature to want to reach one’s hand toward a dog, but some dogs might find this threatening.
- Watch the dog’s tail. “If his tail is standing straight up, or if you notice his ears are back or the fur on the top of his back is standing up, then you know he is not yet sure if YOU are friendly and you should not try to pet him.” Remember, ask the owner “Is it safe to pet your dog?”
- Keep away from a stray. Instruct your child never to approach or try to pet a stray dog. Words to use: “If you see a dog that is not on a leash or not with a person, do not run toward it or try to pet it. The dog could have bad germs or bad behavior that would harm you.”
- It is behind a fence for a reason. Teach your children never to put their fingers or hands inside of a fence where a dog is guarding someone’s property. Explain that some people have dogs to do a job, protect the yard, and that these dogs may not behave the same as your family pet. Never try to make friends with a dog guarding property or its food.
- Let the dog know in dog language, that you do not want to fight with it. If a dog seems to be mean, do not look it straight in the eyes, it may think you are challenging or “testing” it. Various child safety websites recommend that children be told to back away from the dog slowly; “do not run because this might make it want to chase you.” Remember, the best way to avoid getting into a fight with a dog is to never approach a stray dog and always ask the owner’s permission before making friends with the dog.
Teaching Your Child How to Handle Pets
Many children, especially very young ones, do not realize that pets are living animals and not toys. Failing to teach a child how to handle pets properly can result in suffering on the part of the pet and, in some cases, injury to the child.
To prevent children and animals from getting hurt, it is wise to teach children how to properly handle pets. When introducing a pet for the very first time in a household that has young children, parental supervision is very important. Supervision is a must until parents can be certain that a child is able to handle and interact with the pet in a responsible and humane manner. Initial supervision also allows the parent to make sure that the pet is safe for the child. This is especially true with children under five years of age.
Children must be taught how to show affection towards pets. Most children tend to "pat" animals rather than "pet" them, and this could prove too rough for some pets. They must be taught to be gentle and not to push, prod, poke, or tease pets in any way. They should also be shown the proper way to stroke a pet, as well as the correct way to pick up a pet.
Whenever possible, children should be involved in the care, feeding, grooming and training of the pet. Involving the children in the daily care of the pet instils a sense of responsibility in the child. It also teaches the child that the pet is dependent on him or her for good health. Parents can put up a list of daily pet chores that the children can check off once they have completed the assigned chore. At the same time, parents must make sure that these chores are being completed, since failure to do so can result in suffering on the part of the pet. The family veterinarian can be of considerable help in these efforts by discussing the importance of health care, grooming and proper feeding, with children.
Respect for a pet's privacy must also be instilled. Pets should have a "private area" such as a crate or a specific corner of the house to allow them to get away from kids from time to time. Children must be taught to respect this need for privacy and the existence of a private area.
Children should be made aware that quick and sudden movements or loud noises/yelling might startle or frighten animals. They must be taught that animals prefer to be handled in a gentle and quiet manner. Otherwise, pets may become frightened and reluctant to be approached or handled, or worse, may bite.
Before handling or petting an unfamiliar animal, children should be taught to first ask for permission from a parent. Not all animals are necessarily friendly and some may even perceive a child as a potential threat. In fact, animal bites most often involve children. In the case of dogs, children should be taught not to stare directly at a dog, as this may be perceived as a threat.
Pets have been shown time and again to be valuable tools in teaching children respect, empathy, responsibility and gentleness, traits which stand them in good stead throughout their lives. The bond between a child and a pet lasts a lifetime and enriches their lives as nothing else can.
Introducing Your Dog to the Baby
Introduction of a newborn to the family dogs is an important event. The acceptance of the new baby is best facilitated by a gentle, gradual, low-stress introduction. Don't feel like you have to accomplish this in one day. Start slowly when parents feel ready, and preferably with one dog at a time, especially if they are boisterous pets.
Make sure the dogs are healthy and up to date on vaccinations and deworming, and have had a physical examination and a stool sample performed to confirm that there are no internal or external parasites present before there is contact with the baby. It is not a sanitary practice to allow dogs to lick a baby's face or skin because the immune system of a baby is not fully developed. There is a normal bacterial population in the saliva of the dog that increases if there is dental disease, or the dog has free access to the outdoors, and therefore possible sources of spoiled food, etc. If a friendly lick occurs inadvertently, don't worry. Just wash the skin with soap and water.
Remember that the dogs will expect your continued attention to reassure them that they are still very important to you. During breaks such as naptime, take time to play with the dogs and groom them.
Start by allowing the dogs to smell the baby's things. Place items (such as receiving blankets) around the house before laundering them so that the dogs get to recognize the baby smell and have an opportunity to explore and sniff at their own pace. Praise them when they smell the item and do not growl. Then, when you allow the dog near Mom and baby, make sure two adults are present. This way, if there is any unusual reaction by the dog, the dog can be removed from the room by the second person without Mom having to try to juggle dog and baby. Reward a calm dog with a treat, or lots of praise/petting. Once they see that baby is not a threat to their social order, they go about their usual routine. If anything unusual happens on the first exposure such as unusual fear or hints of aggression, remove the dog and contact your veterinarian for further advice.
Prevent your dogs from entering the baby's room to help maintain cleanliness and quiet, and to prevent unusual circumstances. Even after you are sure they have accepted the baby, remember that dogs should never be left unattended with children, even for short periods of time.
Taking introductions slowly will allow you to introduce family dogs and babies safely. Dogs are generally very accommodating in adopting the baby as part of their expanding family