Living with a pet can be beneficial to children. Pets can enhance
a child1s self-esteem, teach them responsibility and help them to
learn empathy. However, children and dogs are not always going to
automatically start off with a wonderful relationship. Parents must
be willing to teach the dog and the child acceptable limits of behavior
in order to make their interactions pleasant and safe.
Selecting A Dog
What age is best? Many people have a "warm fuzzy" image
of a puppy and a child growing up together. If you have a young child
and are thinking of adopting a puppy (less than one year old) there
are a few things you need to consider.
Time and energy: Puppies require a lot of time, patience, training
and supervision. They also require socialization in order to become
well-adjusted adult dogs. This means they need to be taken places
and exposed to new things and new people. If you have a young child
who already requires a lot of care and time, will you have enough
time to care for a puppy, as well?
- Safety: Puppies, because theyre babies, are somewhat fragile
creatures. A puppy may become frightened, or even injured, by a well-meaning,
curious child who wants to constantly pick him up, hug him or explore
his body by pulling on his tail or ears.
- Rough play: Puppies have sharp teeth and claws with which they may
inadvertently injure a small child. Puppies also tend to jump up on
small children and knock them down. All interactions between your child
and puppy will need to be closely supervised in order to minimize the
chances of either being injured.
- Advantages of getting an adult dog: Adult dogs require less time and
attention once theyve adjusted to your family and household routine,
although youll still need to spend time helping your new dog with
the transition to his new home. You can better gauge how hardy and tolerant
an adult dog will be of childish enthusiasm and you can work with your
local animal shelter to adopt a dog with a history of getting along
well with children. As a general rule, if your child is under six years
old, its best to adopt a dog thats over two years old. Although
puppies can be a lot of fun, and its exciting and rewarding to
help them grow into wonderful companions, they do require significantly
more time to train and supervise than an adult dog.
What Breed Is Best?
Although some general statements can be made about specific dog breeds,
the characteristics of an individual dog are just as important as a dogs
- Size: Small breeds of dogs, such as toy or miniature poodles, chihuahuas
or cocker spaniels, may not be good choices for a young child. These
small breed dogs are more easily injured than larger dogs and may be
more easily frightened by a lot of activity, loud noises and by being
picked up and fondled frequently. Frightened dogs tend to snap or bite
in order to protect themselves. Larger dogs may be better able to tolerate
the activity, noise and rough play that is an inevitable part of living
- Breed type: Some of the sporting breeds, such as labradors and golden
retrievers, make good pets for families with children. Breeds that have
been selected for protective behavior, such as chows and rottweilers,
may not be as good for families with children. Its sometimes difficult
for this type of dog to comfortably tolerate the many comings and goings
of children and their friends, who may be perceived as territorial intruders.
Herding breeds are inclined to "herd" children, chasing and
nipping at their heels.
Who Will Care For The Dog?
Its unrealistic to expect a child, regardless of age, to have
sole responsibility for caring for a dog. Not only do dogs need basic
things like food, water and shelter, they also need to be played with,
exercised and trained on a consistent basis. Teaching a dog the rules
of the house and helping him become a good companion is too overwhelming
a task for a young child. While responsible teenagers may be up to
the task, they may not be willing to spend an adequate amount of time
with the dog, as their desire to be with their friends usually takes
over at this age. If youre adopting a dog "for the kids,"
you must be prepared and willing to be the dog's primary caretaker.
Starting Off Right
Following are some guidelines to help you start off on the right foot. Remember,
small children should never be left alone with a dog or puppy without adult
- It's safest for both your child and puppy if your child is sitting
down whenever he wants to hold the puppy. Puppies are squirmy and wiggly
and may easily fall out of a young child's arms and be injured. If held
insecurely, a puppy may become frightened and snap or scratch in response.
After your child is sitting, you can place the puppy in his arms.
- Have your child offer the puppy a chew toy while he pets the puppy.
When puppies are teething, they tend to chew on everything, including
hands and arms, so having a chew toy handy will divert the puppys
teeth away from your child. An added benefit is that the puppy will
come to associate pleasant consequences (getting a treat) with being
held by your child.
- For larger dogs, have your child sit in your lap and let the dog approach
both of you. This way you can control your child and not allow him to
get "carried away" with pats that are too rough. You are also
there to teach your new dog to treat your child gently.
Petting and giving affection:
Children often want to hug dogs around the neck. Your dog may view
this as a threatening gesture, rather than an affectionate one, and
may react with a growl, snap or bite. You should teach your child
to pet your dog from underneath the dogs chin, rather than hugging
him or reaching over his head. You should also teach your child to
avoid staring at, or looking directly into, your dogs eyes.
Children tend to become somewhat fearful and anxious when a dog tries to
take a treat from their hand. This causes them to jerk their hand away at
the last second. The dog may then jump up or lunge to get the treat which
may result in the child being knocked down. Have your child place the treat
in an open palm, rather than holding it in his fingers. You may want to
place a hand underneath your child's hand to help guide him.
Children move with quick, jerky movements, have high-pitched voices and
often run, rather than walk. All of these behaviors somewhat resemble
the behavior of prey animals. Almost all of a dogs play behaviors
are based on predatory behavior. Consequently, your dog may respond to
your childs behavior by chasing him, nipping at his heels, jumping
up at him or even trying to knock him down.At first, your child may need
to play quietly around your new dog until he becomes more comfortable
and calm and your child has gained more control over the dog. Your dog
must also learn that certain behaviors on his part are unacceptable, but
he must also be taught what behaviors are the right ones. However, most
children under the age of ten are not capable of carrying out these procedures,
so its helpful to teach your dog a "leave it" command
that you can use when play gets too rough. Taking an obedience class together
is a good way to teach your dog to respond to commands.An approach that
is not helpful is to punish your dog for his behavior. If he learns that
being around children always results in "bad things" happening
to him, he may become defensive in their presence.
Your dog wont know the difference between his toys and your childs
toys until you teach him.
- Your child must take responsibility for keeping his playthings out
of your dogs reach.
- If, and only if, you catch your dog chewing on something he shouldn't,
interrupt the behavior with a loud noise, then give him an acceptable
chew toy and praise him lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.
- Don't give your dog objects to play with such as old socks, old shoes
or old children's toys that closely resemble items that are off-limits.
They can't tell the difference!
- Dogs can be possessive about their food, toys and space. Although
its normal for a dog to growl or snap to protect these items,
its not acceptable. At the same time, children need to learn to
respect their dog as a living creature who is not to be teased or purposefully
hurt and who needs time to himself.
Copyright 1999. Dumb Friends League. All rights reserved.