Safety Practices for Children and Dogs
As a dog owner, even if you don’t have children, it is important to understand how to ensure interactions with children are as safe and positive as possible, not only for the child, but for your dog as well! If you live in New York City with your dog, you will likely encounter children who want to pet and greet your dog. You, of course, have the right to avoid these situations or even excuse yourself and your dog if you don’t feel the situation is safe, but if you would like your dog to interact with children there are some important things to remember. If you have children as part of your life, these pointers will also help keep interactions safe and happy for everyone!
If you don’t have a dog yet, or you have a young puppy, you should begin bite inhibition training as soon as possible, or understand how to properly practice once you get your dog. Train your puppy that human skin, hair and clothes are off limits for your dog’s mouth. I like to do this two ways; first is the hand blocking method, while the second is the three-strikes game.
Practice by holding a toy and getting your dog interested in it, let her grab the toy and play with it, and even praise her while she does. Then cover most of the toy with your hand and offer it to her again. If she mouths on your hand, then hide the toy behind your back and ignore her for a moment. This can be a very short time, and then you can offer her the toy again, making it easier for her to get the toy and get it right this time, and praise her if she does. Sometimes it is best to stand up on your knees and turn your face away while you hold the toy behind your back, this way she can’t climb all over your lap or nip at your face. If she gets really rough or nips on you three times, then get up and walk away. It will be easiest to practice this with her tethered so it is easy to walk away for a moment. Don’t ever leave her tethered while you are not home, or not close by!
The Three Strikes Game
While playing with your dog we want him to be tethered, or have someone holding the leash so that the person playing can walk away easily. Give him three chances to redirect his mouthing to a proper toy and if he keeps coming for you, get up and walk away. When you come back he only gets one chance, if he mouths on you, walk away immediately so he learns you leave when he nips. Don’t worry about saying “no” or taking his toys with you, just show him that the direct result of mouthing on you, is you leave him. You can leave for a short period, especially if he isn’t barking or begging for you to come back. Also please be prepared: this will take several repetitions, but don’t give up, it is such an important lesson for all dogs!
If your dog is already an adult, or you are adopting an older dog, you can still use these training games to help him learn to have a softer mouth, but don’t let children practice these games until you fully know the strength of the dog’s mouth. If and adult dog hurts you when he grabs for toys, it will be best to restrict playtime with children so there are no toys. Sometimes teaching an adult dog to have a softer mouth will be a long, and sometimes futile, process, so if you have children and are adopting an adult dog, it is a good idea to test bite inhibition, and if you aren’t sure how to do this, hire a certified trainer to help you choose the right dog for you! This can be the best way to ensure you don’t have to return a dog you have bonded with, because he simply wasn’t right for your family.
Following these do’s and don’ts will help promote child safety around dogs and prevent dog bites. While some children, and adults alike don’t love following these rules, they WILL keep a child safe around an animal that can be potentially dangerous. Better safe than sorry, is an expression that applies, but keep in mind that the “sorry” in this case could be a child with a bitten face, or a disfiguring scar, so the “safe” in this case, really makes the “sorry” not even worth considering!
- Do not hug a dog, put your face close to his face or lie on him. Do sit beside your dog, rub his chest or scratch him on the side of the neck.
- Do not play chase-me games with a dog. Do play hide and seek – where the dog has to find you or an object that you hide.
- Do not play tug-of-war games with a dog. Do play fetch with the dog – teach the dog to trade the object for a treat so he won’t try to tug.
- Do not lean over or step over a dog. Do respect a dog’s resting place – go around him or ask an adult to move the dog.
- Do not bother a dog who is sleeping, eating, has a toy or bone, is hurt or has puppies. Do wait for the dog to come to you for attention.
- Do not dress a dog up in play clothes. Do dress up your stuffed animals.
- Do not hit a dog or poke him with a stick. Do be gentle with dogs.
- Do not pull a dog’s ears, tail or fur. Do scratch the dog’s chest or the side of her neck – most dogs enjoy this.
- Do not stick fingers or hands into the dog’s crate. Do ask an adult to let the dog out of the crate if you want to pet her.
- Do not play in the dog’s crate. Do play “in and out of the crate” with the dog – toss a treat in – dog goes in to get it – dog comes back out – toss another treat in etc (with adult supervision).
- If your dog does not welcome you with wagging and panting – leave him alone. Do wait for the dog to come to you for attention.
- If your dog gets too rough or excited, be a tree until he gets bored and goes away.
- Do not run and shout around a dog that is not in a crate. Do be calm around dogs; involve the dog in an activity such as chewing on a bone or playing fetch so he doesn’t feel that he needs to chase you to have fun.
Source: Doggone Safe!TM A non-profit organization dedicated to dog bite prevention. www.doggonesafe.com
Finally please avoid taking pictures and video of your child alone with your dog. If you have a third party who can stay in the shot, to be sure nothing happens-this is the only safe way to take pictures. Especially when your baby is too young to move around well on his own; your baby could fall onto your dog, and a dog can bite 3 full times in one second. The next time you want to leave your baby snuggled with your dog on the couch, to fumble for your phone to capture the moment; instead, time it. Time how many seconds it take you to get your phone, turn on the camera and get ready to take the picture. It will be at least 30 seconds, that is 90 punctures in the time you turned to grab your camera; I am sorry to be graphic, but I do just want to get this point across; the picture is just not worth it!
Please be safe, careful and attentive anytime your dog is around children, whether they be your own or not. It doesn’t matter how good your dog is, we can all get stressed out and snap, and it doesn’t make us bad people; the same is true for your dog. Even if your dog has been extremely tolerant her whole life, learn about body language signs (https://pawsibilitiesny.com/blog/2014/01/01/26-body-language.html) and watch out for her! Be sure your dog isn’t showing stress signs, while also ensuring any and all children around your dog follow the rules! If you want to learn more, or schedule a Be A Tree Presentation (http://www.doggonesafe.com/FAQ_booking_Be_a_Tree_program) please contact me, or visit http://www.doggonesafe.com.
Let’s keep dogs and kids safe and happy together, because when they are, it is priceless!