Kids and Dogs: 5 Smart Tips to Savvy Supervision

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Idea: Train Yourself, Teach Your Children

Watching kids while they play with a pup is great, but do you know what to look for?

A bite is one of the top 10 list of reasons dogs are given up. Learning a dog’s language is our responsibility so we can keep everyone safe and in the home.

Robin Bennett, a positive reinforcement dog trainer with 17 years of experience, observes that the problem is not that parents aren’t supervising their children, it’s that they don’t know what to look for. She says:

Parents generally have not received any education on what constitutes good dog body language and what constitutes an emergency between the dog and the child.  Parents generally have no understanding of the predictable series of canine body cues that would indicate a dog might bite.  And complicating matters further, most parents get confused by the good intentions of the child and fail to see when a dog is exhibiting signs of stress.

Here is her advice:

  • Watch for loose canine body language. Good dog body language is loose, relaxed, and wiggly.  Look for curves in your dog’s body when he is around a child.  Stiffening and freezing in a dog are not good. If you see your dog tighten his body, or if he moves from panting to holding his breath (he stops panting), you should intervene.  
  • Watch for inappropriate human behavior. Intervene if your child climbs on or attempts to ride your dog…pulls the ears, yanks the tail, lifts the jowls or otherwise pokes and prods the dog. Don’t marvel that your dog has the patience of Job if he is willing to tolerate these antics.  And please don’t videotape it for YouTube! Be thankful your dog has good bite inhibition and intervene before it’s too late.
  • Watch for these three really easy to see stress signals in your dog.  All of them indicate you should intervene and separate the child and dog:
    • Yawning outside the context of waking up
    • Half-moon eye – this means you can see the whites on the outer edges of your dog’s eyes.
    • Lip licking outside the context of eating food
  • Watch for avoidance behaviors. If your dog moves away from a child, intervene to prevent the child from following the dog.  A dog that chooses to move away is making a great choice.  He’s saying, “I don’t really want to be bothered, so I’ll go away.”  However, when you fail to support his great choice and allow your child to continue to follow him, it’s likely the dog’s next choice will be, “Since I can’t get away, I’ll growl or snap at this kid to get the child to move away.”  Please don’t cause your dog to make that choice.
  • Listen for growling. I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard parents say, “Oh, he growled all the time but we never thought he would bite.”  Dog behavior, including aggression, is on a continuum. For dogs, growling is an early warning sign of aggression. Heed it.  If growling doesn’t work, the dog may escalate to snapping or biting. Growling is a clue that you should intervene between the dog and the child.

Read the full article here.

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