I came across this piece I wrote several years ago (and pre-four more grandchildren!), and it occurred to me that it might be of use to those of you who either have dogs and are expecting a baby or would like a dog but are worried about introducing it to your babies/children.
After reading the excellent article by Ryan O’Meara, http://www.ryanomeara.com/fatal-dog-attacks/, it occurs to me that there may well be owners of dogs living with children, who are now very worried about their manic, ill-mannered, but much loved, dogs.
So, based on my recent experiences of caring for my “from birth to now 3 years old” grandchild (only two days a week, but they ARE 11 hour days!!!), I thought it could be useful to give a few “do’s and don’ts”, which if nothing else, should keep both child and dog safe.
No substitute for learning exactly what makes your dog tick, you dog owners out there – but as a temporary measure.
My first problem was that as neither of my dogs had ever seen a baby, they had no idea of what to expect, so first things first.
I set up the baby monitor with the baby in a separate room. The weak, yet piercing cry of a new-born baby can sound a lot like a rabbit in distress to an uninitiated dog, and my dogs DO like rabbits……..
Sure enough, we had a lot of head-cocking excitement and running around to find the “rabbit” at first, but with no reaction from us, and no sign of a rabbit, they soon settled down and within a very short time stopped reacting at all to the sound. Now it was safe to bring in the baby.
With the baby in the room, I first imposed a 3 feet “no-go” zone around the baby, and then (when this had been observed and the dogs were calm and settled) allowed very respectful and supervised closer inspection.
The whole idea was to show the dogs that this baby was precious, under our protection, and should be treated with the utmost respect and gentleness by them. The message was taken in and clearly understood.
OK, these are well-balanced dogs. So what about the manic ones?
Firstly, if you cannot control their antics, then bring your dog in on a lead to see the new baby. If the dog cannot calm down, take it from the room, leave for a few seconds then try again. Keep up the “in and out” until he relaxes and does not react. This may well not happen for a few days. Until it does, keep the dog away from the baby, but interact with him as normal when the baby is elsewhere. Install baby gates for when you cannot be in the room with the baby, to keep dog and baby/toddler apart.
When the child is older, show your dog that you will keep HIM safe as well as the child. That means watching to make sure the child is not taking liberties, and if it is, tell the child in no uncertain terms that this is not acceptable behaviour, and make it stop immediately. If your dog knows that you will deal with the child – and quickly – he will look to you to rescue him, and not feel the need to protect himself because no-one else will.
Never allow a child to wander around with food in its hand. Bad enough with one dog, but if you have more than one, they will be competing to grab the morsel from the child, and (at best) the child may have its hand inadvertently bitten, or it could be much more seriously hurt if the dogs decide to fight for the food, and it gets caught in the crossfire.
It is not hard to instil into a child that it must sit down whenever it has food in its hand – or the food is taken away.
The child must learn respect and compassion for the dog, as well as the other way round. My granddaughter has learned (through a lot of trial and error) to be good with the dogs, but she has just turned 3 years old, and sometimes she tries to treat Dooley (the mothering loving kind of dog) like a toy. I keep an eye but do little unless I have to, (long gone the days of removing fingers from eyes, or grabbing handfuls of the ear!) because Dooley will start to paw when she becomes uncomfortable with the interaction.
My granddaughter used to cry when she got caught by a paw, and tell me “Dooley keeps kicking me!” She didn’t get any sympathy. I told her that Dooley only kicks her (!!) when she is getting worried, so if she is kicking then my grandchild must be doing something wrong – and as she knows how to treat Drifter and Dooley, she must know that. So, stop doing whatever it was that was causing Dooley to kick her! I also tell her that Drifter will not tolerate her messing around with him, so don’t, or he will get grumpy! She now has a healthy respect for Drifter – and a deep fascination – she considers him to be a challenge, but she is also very wary – and so she should be. Drifter is a very good dog, but he is no sweet and gentle Dooley!
So, mutual respect and consideration from child to dog, and from dog to child. When I hear the words “Oh, he’s a wonderful dog – the kids can do anything to him…”, MY hackles start to rise! I think “you are very lucky – which is more than can be said for your long-suffering pooch ”. Just because you CAN does not mean that you SHOULD.
But, to go back to my original point. How do you avoid giving up your dog – and keep your child safe?
Never leave a child and a dog alone together. No matter how bombproof the dog, there is always a breaking point – and you really don’t want the consequences of finding what that breaking point is. Children have no concept of inflicting pain – their toys don’t get hurt – isn’t a dog the same? They need constant teaching AND constant supervision.
Never mix children, food, and dogs. If your child will not sit down to eat, either take the food away,(your child is not exempt from the consequences of unacceptable behaviour) or put the dog into another room. Do this kindly – he has not done anything wrong.
Protect your dog from your child, and there will be much less need to protect your child from your dog. If your dog knows he can rely on you to stop your child tormenting him (however innocent was the intention), and you can read his body language well enough to intervene and “rescue” him when the games with children are stressing him (remember, a dog cannot say when he is tired or just has had enough – he can only try to escape, shut down – or bite), he will leave it to you to reprimand the child and stop the inappropriate behaviour. If he can’t rely on you to help him he will just have to help himself – and that is not desirable.
Teach your child to care for vulnerable creatures – and that no matter how big and bouncy he is, their dog is one of these. Instil compassion and kindness – it is not possible to be cruel (if you are normal) once you are made aware of your cruelty. This will be a lesson which will stand your child in good stead throughout its life, and make him a better person.
Do this and you will give your child and dog the chance of the most rewarding relationship EVER – and no sleepless nights for you!!
– Lesley Harris
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