When a child gets snapped at (or bitten!) by the four-legged family member, it can send shockwaves through the house. Most owners are confused as to why their beloved dog would all of sudden turn aggressive towards a child. But it happens.
Indeed, children are on the receiving end of half the estimated 4.7 million dog bites a year and a third of these are delivered by the beloved family pet, according to the ASPCA. Problems usually stem from the dog or child not learning how to properly interact with each other, rather than any form of actual aggression. Perhaps the child was pulling the dog’s ears or playing too rough. Maybe the pooch was sleeping and the child startled her. Or the pup became territorial over a toy or food.
While extremely traumatizing, the good news is a lot of these bites (and situations) can be avoided by following a few simple do’s and don’ts for both kids and dogs.
Choose a family-friendly breed
While it’s true that just about any dog breed can be raised safely with a child, some are naturally more tolerant and affectionate towards children. Golden retrievers and labs are obvious choices, as they rarely have an aggressive bone in their body. They will love friends, family members and strangers alike.
Australian Shepherds are extremely loving and tolerant dogs, too. Not only are they very smart and easy to train, they will help keep the kids from straying because of their natural herding instincts.
Another breed some people may be surprised to learn is great around young kids is the English bulldog. They don’t get too big (usually maxing out around 60 pounds), are very tolerant of rough play and extremely gentle. Plus, they do a great job of guarding the house.
Take some time and do your research. Picking out a dog is a long-term decision and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Give your pooch a safe zone
Sometimes even dogs need some alone time where they can rest without being disturbed. So give your furry family member a place of her own and teach your child not to bother your pooch if she retreats to her comfort zone. Anything from a crate, a dog bed placed under a desk or even just a thick mat in the corner can be a comfort zone. Giving your pooch his or her own place can help stop a situation from escalating to the nipping stage.
Involve your child in training
If possible, include your small fry in dog walks and training sessions. This way they learn to control your pooch, too. It will also help to establish your child’s place as higher in the pack and, as an added benefit, it’s a great way for the two to bond.
Train your child
So it’s not just your four-legged child that needs training; your two-legged one does, too. As soon as your little one is old enough to understand, you want to him or her to know how to read a dog’s body language and the right way to play with a dog. These signs are warnings that your child should back off: growling, teeth raised, giving the side eyes, ears up and forward or “raising the hackles” (more here).
Also, show them how to react when your dog jumps or when to stop playing because the dog is tired or grumpy. For instance, if you pup is acting like a pogo stick, teach your child to turn away and ignore him so as not to reinforce the behavior — the worst thing to do is push him down or run away as it just makes him want to play more. If your pooch is acting like he just wants to relax rather then play, teach your child to give himm some time and space. By teaching your child boundaries, you can prevent a situation where your dog feels the need to lash out.
Bug your dog
Ok,so that may sound a little strange at first, but yes, you need to bother your dog. From the time she is a puppy, you want to do all kinds of annoying things to make her more tolerant, according to the ASPCA. Play with your pup’s feet, pull on her ears, even poke her gently in the ribs or grab her tail. It’s not mean, it’s called desensitizing. There is a high possibility your child will do one or all of these things to your furry family member at some point. Plus, she’ll be much better behaved during vet visits and grooming.
Get a dog that isn’t used to kiddos
We are all about adoption here but rescuing a dog that has an unknown kid record, may not be the best idea. When looking at adoptable dogs, make sure they are good with kids, come from a family with children or have been around little ones. If you can’t determine this from the foster or organization, you may want to look at another dog.
Have unsupervised play sessions
Don’t ever leave your young child unattended with a dog, even if it is your own furry family member. Kids are unpredictable (dogs can be too), and if your child accidentally does something that makes your pooch feel uncomfortable, you need to be there to control the situation. What might have been a simple case of you stepping in to correct your dog or your child, could easily turn into a nasty bite if you aren’t around.
Allow kids to grab at Fido’s food
Nobody likes someone bothering them when they are eating — and dogs are no exception. Teach your children not to stick their hands in your dog’s food or try and play with your pooch when she’s eating. Food guarding is actually the cause of 42 percent of dog bites on familiar children.
Your dog really shouldn’t be jumping on anybody, but especially young children. Most dogs have no idea how big they are, and they could easily knock a small child over — accidentally hurting them.
Expect the patience of a saint from your dog
It’s easy for doggies to get overwhelmed by children constantly poking and prodding them. Understand that your pooch will get annoyed or grumpy from time to time, so don’t expect too much from him — he has have limits, too. If your dog looks miserable, he probably is. Take cues from your pup’s body language and interfere before any situation gets out of hand.
If you’re looking for more dos and don’ts for dog and kid interactions, check out Dr. Sophia Yin’s blog. She has put together a number of great tips that compliment the information found in this article.
(In no way are these tips a substitute for professional advice you’d receive from a trainer or veterinarian. If your dog is having issues, please consult a professional)