Having a dog can help children learn responsibility, and empathy and are generally more active and get outdoors more! But the relationship between a dog and a child is not always without its challenges.
Here are some of the tips that I use with my own child, as well as when working with clients with children.
• Understanding dog body language is absolutely crucial when observing interactions between dogs and children. There are almost always signs which signal a dog is uncomfortable with an interaction before it escalates. Head turns, lip licking, yawning, rolling over - these can all be signs that a dog is uncomfortable.
• Listen to the dog! The dog should be allowed to give consent as to whether or not they are comfortable with interaction. If displaying any of the behaviour above or another body language which signals they are uncomfortable then listen to the dog and get the child to give them space.
• My general rule with my son and 99% of my clients with dogs and children is that they NEVER put their face near the dog's face. It's space invading, rude and does not set the dog up for success.
• Teach children not to pet strange dogs without permission. This is fairly common sense, however last week a child in a batman costume ran up and cuddled my dog's head and put his face in my dog's face. My dog is lovely with children, but this was still alarming for him and I had to tell the child to get off... children can and will do things they are not supposed to, but I was surprised there was little alarm or reaction from their parent.
• Never punish the growl. Again, I am not reinventing the wheel here, this has been said time and again - but punishing the growl truly can be like taking the batteries out of a smoke alarm. A warning is a gift sometimes. It is just communication.
• Get children to join in training! Some training is easy to modify for children. I normally don't encourage them to feed from their hands - as accidents can happen or children can be hesitant when feeding and this can sometimes encourage jump up - so I get them to drop the food on the floor as a reward, or do recall with peanut butter on a wooden spoon as a reward, or shoot the treat down an empty wrapping paper tube.
• Encourage children to get involved with mental stimulation such as scattering food around the garden or hiding food under cups for the dog. They can help shred some newspaper for a snuffle box or hide treats around the garden for a search.
• Don't let children sit on or ride dogs. Physical interaction should be kept calm.
• Active supervision is always necessary around dogs and children. Set everyone up to succeed and include your child and dog together in activities but they should always be supervised.
If you have any issues or questions then you can send me a message!