Best friends forever: How to foster a beautiful relationship between children and your family dog

CINCINNATI - There is something so special about watching a positive relationship between a child and a dog. The bond they share is beautiful. From the dog’s perspective, the foundation of friendship isn’t about whether the child is smart, popular, sporty or funny.

Rather, friendship grows and blossoms when there is clarity, trust and safety.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Edmunds Layton via Facebook

The thing is kids don’t always know how to be those things to their dog.

As a parent, caregiver or other adult role model you have a very important job to do: helping that relationship between your child or children and your dog (and other dogs) succeed.

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Below are some of the actions you can take to both strengthen that relationship between your dog and your child (and other kids), and prevent bites. They involve management, pro-actively supervising your dog’s interactions with children, teaching your children how to interact appropriately around your dog, and teaching your dog to have positive associations with children.

6 management tips

Photo courtesy of Becky Thomas Konz via Facebook

1. Ensure the safety of your dog and your child by separating them when you can not directly and actively supervise them. If your dog already has a fear of children and you are expecting a group of kids, or just an occasional visit from a child, the best short term solution is to keep your dog in another room, a crate or even a kennel.

2. Provide your dog with a safety place where he can go when he wants to be left alone, and teach him that it is a good place to hang out while teaching your kids not to disturb him there.

3. When you are actively supervising kids and your dog, be very attentive to watching your dog’s body language for signs of stress and be ready to redirect either your child or your dog or both. If your dog steps back, turns away, shakes, licks his lips, yawns, shows a half moon of white in his eyes, those are some of the ways he is telling you he is not comfortable.

For information on dog body language, visit this link and look for downloads

4. Do not allow groups of kids to surround your dog as that makes many dogs uncomfortable.

5. Do not allow kids to run up to your dog or reach for him when you have him on leash.

6. Make sure that your dog has plenty of appropriate choices for getting his mental and physical exercise needs met.

What to teach kids

1. Hugging, kissing, pinching, chasing, straddling, dressing in clothes, poking, lying or straddling on, or chasing are just some of the activities they should not do with or around their dog.

2. Dogs use body language. Teach children to recognize when your dog wants to continue being near them; when your dog wants some space; or, when your dog is aroused--making it not the best time to approach.

3. Always, children and adults should respect a dog’s growl; as this is the last resort when his other body language was not heard. A growl means, "back off."

4. The place to be wild and crazy is away from your dog (and unknown dogs). If a dog becomes overly aroused, movement will keep that arousal curve moving forward. Kids should be taught how to stand still and be a tree with their hands under their armpits to lower the dog’s arousal.

5. Teach your children how to feed your dog treats so that your dog will not accidentally nip them. This can include dropping the treat on the ground, tossing it or giving it to your dog with an open hand.

6. When your dog is in his safety spot, napping or eating that he needs to be left alone.

7. Teach your children to be the giver of all good things to their dog and never take things from their dog – including food, even if their dog has something of theirs.

8. Teach your children to always ask the owner and the dog before approaching a dog on a leash. Some indicators that a dog should not be approached include:

  • pulling on a leash
  • the dog's mouth is closed
  • raised paw or a raised tail (or slow and deliberate wag)
  • yawning, lip licking, turning away, showing half moon whites in his eyes
  • ears up in alertness
  • growling

What to teach your dog

Photo courtesy of Carol Lail Rolfes

1. Teach positive associations with children and diverse experiences by giving him treats in the presence of new surroundings and kids, and listening to his body language.

2. Likewise, teach him positive associations with being petted in different parts of his body and being hugged by pairing petting with a treat. If his body language tells you he is uncomfortable, stop and allow him to move away.

3. Teach your dog basic behaviors such as sit, down, stay, come, calm greetings, drop it or leave it, first away from children and then with children.

4. Teach your dog that he has the power to walk away from situations that make him uncomfortable.

About Lisa Desatnik

Lisa is always looking for opportunities to strengthen her skills--both for her own pets and to help

other animal caregivers through in-home dog training consultations, speaking engagements, written work. Check out her blog and website. You can also connect with her via the So Much PETential Facebook Page, and follow her on Twitter and Google+.

My Dog’s Super Hero

Helping kids build bonds with their pets is something Lisa loves to see and be a part of. She is partnering with the Care Center and the City of Blue Ash to offer a three-week class for children, ages six to 10, and their parents in September and October.

The "My My Dog’s Super Hero" bite prevention program is all about strengthening your child’s relationship with dogs and preventing bites. One parent is required to attend with the child for each session. Lisa will use a demonstration dog, so please leave your dog at home.

  • Cost is $45 for all three lessons.
  • Class size is limited. Visit Lisa's website to learn more and register. 
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