Let me start by saying I think every child should have a dog and cat while growing up. I did, starting at age 6. It was a wonderful experience to look back on, and I’ve had several dozen dogs since then. Somehow, dogs and children were made for each other, often becoming best friends, just as senior citizens and dogs go together.
But, there can be problems with dogs and kids if the wrong dog meets the wrong kid.
Many years ago something happened with a friend of mine. His 65 pound Standard Poodle saw a rabbit on the lawn and jumped over a chair after it, knocking a toddler backward onto her skull on the rock and concrete patio 11 feet below. Her skull cracked open on impact. She died at the hospital.
Another time I was walking my dogs and two older kids were wrestling in fun. One kid accidentally fell over the back of a Dachshund we were walking with and broke his spine in such a manner that he could not be saved.
A rule of thumb suggests children under the age of 6 or 7 should not be around dogs, especially unsupervised. Very young children don’t realize how rough and mean they can be. They don’t realize they are with an almost
human object that has feelings, that gets frustrated, that gets angry, that can turn and bite if provoked, and that usually can stand only so much noise, nonsense, poking and pulling.
Consider this. Dogs don’t think like humans. A dog might not be in the mood to play, run, or even be touched. He might find excessive noise such as screaming, yelling kids too much and want to leave the area but not be able to because he’s locked in a backyard with the kids.
Then, along comes a toddler who sees the “cute doggie” and wants to pet it. Well, “cute doggie” has already had it with the yelling kids and is in no mood to be petted. The child tries to pet him anyway and the dog moves away, with a snarl and bit of a low growl.
The child has no idea what the growl means and pursues the dog around the yard. The growl suddenly becomes a major BITE when the poor dog has had enough. The dog tried to warn the child to get away but the child was too young to know what was going to happen.
The bottom line to this is that after all the experience in the field I’ve had, my best advice is that NO CHILD SHOULD EVER BE LEFT ALONE WITH ANY DOG, no matter how well behaved the dog is or how long you’ve had the dog.
You can NOT predict what a dog is going to do when a very young child is involved. Adult supervision is imperative at ALL times when children under the age of 6 or 7 and a dog are together. Just use good judgment.
If you are not going to have the time to supervise your young children one-on-one at all times when they are around a dog, don’t get the dog until the kids are old enough to learn about dogs and understand when a dog is giving them warning signs.
Don’t get me wrong. I think dogs and kids are a wonderful combination. It sure was for me! The combination just needs to be a controlled, safe one.
My dad sat down with me at age 6 and explained a lot of wonderful things about dogs to me. I was taught how to behave around a dog, that dogs felt pain, that dogs had emotions, were sensitive and the whole story. Well, what he taught me about dogs, and my first little Cairn Terrier mix ended up being my lifelong career.
Thus, in picking out “family dogs,” certain considerations are needed, including how tolerant is the dog? A Chihuahua is already nervous so you certainly don’t want to add kids to that dogs life.
There is one important thing to understand and remember. Dogs are different, even within a given breed. Just because you get, say, a Collie, doesn’t mean you will necessarily have one that is great with kids. Just like people. A pair of identical twins, when grown, are not identical at all. They have different personalities and tolerances.
So, we generalize in dog books and websites. We say “the breed is known to be good with children,” for example, but sure enough there will be some aggressive dogs in the breed that defies the rule book. There goes our recommendation for the dogs and kids section on the website for that breed!
Another thing to consider: A dog can feel jealously the same as a human. In some cases, paying special attention to a child will generate a jealous streak in the dog and set the dog off into an irritable rage for no apparent reason. If you think about it, the BABY is getting all the attention and Fido is NOT so regardless of what the website “says” Fido is supposed to act like around children, he isn’t because right now he’s jealous!
It can be difficult to profile dog breeds and it can NOT be done with 100% accuracy. An example of that: I happen to know of two Rottweiler’s that are very affectionate, loving family dogs that love to play fetch and roll in the grass. Where is their vicious guard dog attitude? We don’t know.
And that’s how it is when you have dogs and kids. We generalize and give the best profiles we can.
What we know for sure is that very small children, carpet crawlers and toddlers, can be seriously injured or even killed by accident. All dogs and kids must be closely supervised all the time.
When it comes to toddlers, “supervised” does not mean fifteen feet away in a chair… it means RIGHT OVER THE CHILD, ready to catch him/her if something goes wrong. Dogs generally don’t mean to be destructive, but, and especially large, strong dogs, certainly can be by accident and sometimes by choice.
About the time the child reaches 6 or 7 years of age, sit the child down and tell them in plain terms exactly how to behave around a dog. Don’t touch the tail or ears; don’t put rubber bands around her muzzle or neck, don’t put anything in the ears, don’t ride a bicycle close to a dog, don’t sit on the dog, don’t wake a sleeping dog, don’t chase the dog into the street, don’t give the dog people food and so on.
If you TEACH the children good manners around the dog, the dogs and kids will have a happy, healthy relationship and develop great lifetime memories like I did.