The child and the dog
A good contact between a child and a dog supports his emotional and social development. It teaches respect, respect, sensitivity and responsibility towards animals and people. Therapeutic contact with a dog is also increasingly used in the treatment of autism, infantile cerebral palsy and various forms of disorders and emotional difficulties of children.
Our family pet can give us a lot (after all, this is what we have it for, to support us and accompany us in everyday life), provided that, firstly, it finds its right place in the human family, understands our language and behaviour to the extent that it can function without conflict, secondly, it learns to communicate with the child, and the child learns to communicate with the dog.
It is obvious that the parents are responsible for the proper relationship and contact between the child and the dog; their task is to ensure the safety of both the child and the dog and to act as interpreters of the dog’s behaviour to the child and, to some extent, of the child’s behaviour to the dog.
Every contact of infants and small children with dogs should be supervised by adults. Most often the dog exceeds the child’s body weight, and if it is small anyway, it is better at coordination and balance. Therefore, even though he may be the gentlest dog in the world, he may knock the child over in play and frighten it. The temperament and impetuous emotionality of a young child and insufficient motor coordination may in turn endanger the dog. Do not allow the child to carry or even lift the dog, because any carelessness can cause pain or a fall, which in turn will discourage the dog from contact with the child. Similarly, we do not allow the child to lead the dog on a leash alone – a sudden jerk of the dog can easily knock over the child, and a fall or sudden movement of the child can unpleasantly and unexpectedly jerk the collar of our pet. Most children react very well to the presence of a dog and naturally seek close physical contact with it. Spontaneous childish behaviour – approaching with hands raised in the air, open mouth and close eye contact, are all danger signals to a dog unfamiliar with children and may trigger defensive behaviour. Hence the need to be watchful and explain to the child what the dog feels and understands its behavior.
If a puppy comes to our house, especially important are the first contacts in mutual getting to know both young representatives of Homo Sapiens and Canis Familiaris. A puppy gets to know the world in a dog’s way – to smell and take into its mouth, a small human in a child’s way – to touch and see up close. Wise accompanying of the child and the dog by encouraging and explaining to the child how to approach and interact with the puppy and by providing support through calmness and composure is the most important task of adults. It is best if the first contact of a small child with a puppy is contact "hand in hand" with its parent. Holding a toddler, we take his hand with the palm up, bring it closer to the dog and let the dog sniff it. A puppy’s natural urge is to try everything with its teeth, so holding a child’s hand can protect it from sharp baby teeth while teaching the puppy to bite "little master" is not an acceptable behaviour. For the human child, on the other hand, it is calmly and patiently explained how to stroke the dog and what behaviours – putting fingers in the eye or mouth, pulling on the coat, tail or paw, disturbing sleep or eating – can cause harm to the puppy. Gradually allow more spontaneity in the child’s and dog’s play, but at all times be ready to intervene if necessary and set the right rules.
It is a good idea to allow the child to take part in preparing the dog’s food and feeding it. Feeding the dog properly is particularly important. The dog should only get food in its own bowl and in a fixed place. There’s no reason not to let the child give the dog food, and if, before giving the bowl, our young trainer makes the dog sit, this will be one of the dog’s first obedience lessons toward "the little master’s dog". The principle of rewarding the dog for something should also be followed when giving it any kind of treat. It is not allowed, however, begging or forcing a child (of course, this also applies to adults) for food by a dog, as well as people disturbing the dog at his meals.
Older children can successfully care for a dog on a daily basis, provided they can control their pet who respects their commands. Everyday skills of being a dog and being a young dog owner are easiest to learn in dog school under the guidance of an experienced instructor. If the family passion is dog showing or agility, it is worth involving older children in preparing the dog for the show or competition. The ability to show your dog or teach him agility exercises, will be useful not only in the show ring or obstacle course.
Although there are exceptions, aging dogs, avoid contact with human children as well as with puppies and young, temperamental dogs. As a rule, they play and move less, they like to find a secluded place away from "immature noise and screams",and if persistently harassed, they can cut off and discipline the unruly toddler (regardless of the species). It is necessary to respect this kind of needs of the dog and not to force it to play or have unwanted contacts with children. This kind of situation can be a lesson for our child about respect and sensitivity to the needs of others.
How to prepare a dog for the arrival of an infant at home? This is a relatively common question that I answer for my website readers and my clients. A well-mannered dog, knowing and respecting certain rules will have no trouble accepting a new member of the family. It is important that the arrival of the child is not associated with a complete revolution in the existing life of our pet, and above all with a change in the rules that apply at home. If – obviously – a dog is forbidden to enter a baby’s room, let this prohibition be in force long before the baby appears in the house. If our pet is a couch potato accustomed to close and constant contact with us, it is worth teaching him as early as possible to stay on his bed and take care of himself while the household members are watching TV, for example. The situation in which a child suddenly finds itself in the arms of a beloved dog can lead to many problems. Of course, you cannot and should not completely isolate a dog from a child. On the contrary, your dog has the right to get to know you and to sniff you "new" and participate as an observer in feeding or playing with the toddler. This promotes bonding and develops natural dog instinct to care for immature members of their group. Every contact with the child should be pleasant and calm for the dog – it is up to us adults to support and bring the child and the dog closer together.
Children, as it has been said, react very spontaneously and emotionally to the sight of a dog and usually strive for close physical contact with it. This is largely the reason for the success of dog therapy as a method of assisting in the treatment and physical rehabilitation of children. In everyday situations such spontaneity, especially with dogs unknown to the child or dogs that don’t like children (such dogs are not so rare)!) can be dangerous. So it is worth teaching the toddler the following rules:
– the child must not approach an unfamiliar dog, and if the owner is nearby must first ask if the dog accepts children and if it is possible to stroke it (from experience I know that many owners are willing to allow the child to play for a while with their pet)
– if a strange dog approaches the child should behave calmly, do not shout, do not wave hands (such behavior can be interpreted by the dog as confrontation) and do not run away (because it triggers the reaction of pursuit)
– when wanting to establish contact with a strange dog the child stands a little bit sideways to the dog, does not look him straight in the eyes; if he wants to pet the dog first holds out his hand to the dog with palm facing up, lets him smell and only then touches the dog avoiding stroking his neck
– If attacked by a dog, one must not run away
Let’s remember that it is often our human anxiety that provokes dogs to defensive behavior or open aggression. That’s why in almost every situation an adult’s attitude of calmness and composure is invaluable. Such reactions should be taught to the child from the very beginning. It is also a good idea to give the youngster some knowledge about the dog’s needs, its behavior and understanding of the world. Knowing when the dog can be dangerous, why e.g. defending his territory or food will avoid many unpleasant experiences.
Of course, the vast majority of homes where both children and dogs live are happy homes, and unpleasant or dangerous situations do not occur in them. If, on the other hand, something goes wrong in the child’s relationship with the dog, it is advisable to seek help from a specialist in dog behaviour before the conflict or difficult situation becomes dangerous.