We are very protective of our children — and rightfully so. It is our responsibility to keep them safe and ban from our homes anything harmful. It is also our responsibility to teach children how to keep themselves safe. Because, when it comes right down to it, almost everything we need and want in our homes is potentially dangerous if handled incorrectly; a fork, the stove, or the dog.
Until children are old enough to know how to safely interact with any of the above and a hundred other common household “items,” they shouldn’t be left alone with them. A child isn’t allowed to eat with a fork until he gains fine muscle control — and them only under supervision. So, why should that same child be left alone with the dog — something with moving parts and a will of her own?
Children should be taught to respect anything potentially dangerous! It is a life skill and children are not born with this knowledge. Just as we teach a child that a stove is hot, we should teach them that there is a right way and a hundred wrong ways to interact with even the most placid, good-natured family dog.
No one thinks it’s OK for one child to pull another’s hair or ears, poke him in the eye, sit on him while he’s sleeping, or take away his toys/treats! We call a child that “picks on” other children a bully! And no one would expect that other child to put up with such behavior without reacting and retaliating in some way. So, why do we hold the family dog up to a higher standard?
It takes a special dog to be able to live with small children. It takes a very special temperament in either humans or dogs to withstand the noise and activity level and invasion of personal space personified that is a small child. There is really no such thing as a Child-proof dog — or human. Even parents get annoyed and yell at their children, but we expect 100% good-nature from a dog?!
Unlike human adults, dogs can’t retreat behind a closed door to escape annoying behavior. They cannot ask a child to stop, or reason with it. A dog cannot say, “That’s enough!” They can only react like a dog and communicate as a dog would with an annoying puppy.
Unfortunately, children don’t understand what the dog is telling them. They don’t know that when a dog looks up and to the side, that’s a polite way of saying, “Go away, puppy!” They don’t know that a wrinkled lip and soft growl means, “I’m telling you to back off!” If the dog tried to move away, a child often follows to continue the poking and prodding. Kids push and push until the dog has no resort but to give a warning snap or correcting bite — the same thing she would do to her puppies. The problem is the correcting bite is usually aimed at a puppy’s nose. A puppy is protected by fur and pretty thick skin. A child’s face is not.
Every dog has her breaking point, and adults should intervene long before she reaches it. If a good-natured family dog growls at a child, the human adults have let the child’s behavior go too far; either that time or on previous occasions. Please do not punish your dog, instead place yourself between the dog and child to demonstrate that you are the boss and separate them!
Even if you could “child-proof” your dog, so she put up with anything the kids could dish out — what does that teach the children? Wouldn’t they feel free to treat any dog they meet the same way? Grandma’s dog isn’t used to living with kids. That chance-met dog in the park may have never seen a child close-up before. The neighbor’s dog might have a touchy disposition. Any of those dogs are unlikely to tolerate being pestered.
Dog-proof your child by teaching him the same respect and polite, careful interaction as you would expect him to use with his siblings and playmates. If you can’t supervise their interaction, separate the dogs and kids with baby gates. If your dog is getting fed up, put the dog outside or in her crate — or the child in a playpen! Correct any inappropriate behavior from your child! Better safe than sorry that a dog felt forced to take correction into her own jaws.