Children and Pet Dogs

Children and pet dogs make natural companions, but when children are small they often are unpredictable in their behavior, and situations may arise where a child accidentally provokes a pet dog in the wrong way and injury to the toddler can result.

Not every dog makes a good companion for children and not every child is suitable for a pet dog. The majority of problems involving pet dogs and children happen with youngsters under six years of age. If you have children under six you need to give a lot of thought before choosing a pet dog. Large dogs bred as guard dogs, or dogs who have a history of being aggressive or biting, should not be adopted into a family with small children. Large, energetic dogs can easily knock children over and are not good choices. And if you have small children you often won’t have the free time to spend hours grooming or walking a high maintenance dog.

Young puppies are usually the natural choice when bringing a new pet into a family with children. However, be prepared to devote almost as much of your time to the puppy as you do to your child. If you have decided to adopt or buy a dog because you feel it will be good for your children, or if your children begged for a pet, but you don’t really want a dog and are not committed to training and taking care of a puppy, then you should not consider adopting one. It will not be fair to either you or the dog. Dogs can help teach your child responsibility, patience, kindness, and compassion, but no young child is capable of properly training or caring for a dog, whether full-grown or puppy, so you as a parent ultimately have to take full responsibility for the animal.

Your children will have to be trained on how to treat a new dog, so plan on spending a lot of time training both the dog and your children. Children and pet dogs seem like a natural combination but without proper training, for both the dog and the child, you’re inviting trouble.

Hopefully your pet will be with you for a long time so spend the time in the beginning to avoid unwanted behavior in the future. Read books on how to train a pet dog and consider enrolling your puppy in an obedience class. Well-trained dogs are a joy to be around and are a necessity if children are part of the family.

Dogs have a unique relationship with people. Understanding and changing a dog’s behavior involves understanding dog behavior and the importance of dominance and submission in the dog’s consciousness. In a dog’s mind the family is a pack unit and everyone in that family has a certain ‘position’ in the pack. In most families, one or both of the parents are considered the pack leaders and the dog is subordinate to them. This may be obvious to the dog or it may not really matter much. However, when small children are involved, dogs almost always consider the children equal or lower in the pack hierarchy than they are, and this is where problems arise.

Because the dog considers the child a subordinate, it may refuse to obey a child’s commands or will ‘accidentally’ bump into the child and knock him or her down. It may go from bad to worse with the dog growling at a child when the child is near its food or toys. It may even bite a child who tries to play with it. You need to understand this hierarchal relationship in the minds of dogs and take precautions to prevent such problems.

When dogs bite adults it is usually out of fear or aggression. When dogs bite children it may also be from fear or aggression, but many times it is a “warning bite.” The warning bite is usually to the face or hand and while traumatic for the child, is usually not too serious.

Almost all dog bites are a result of a failure on the parents’ part to recognize and prevent potential problem situations. This does not completely take the blame away from the dog. Dogs are capable of learning to control their behavior and not bite.

The best advice is that a dog and small child should never be left alone unattended. Even the oldest, sweetest, most passive dog and the best-behaved child is no guarantee that a serious incident won’t occur in your absence..

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