Dogs can teach children about love and respect, life and death. They can also help teach children to learn responsibility and commitment from their pet. Most dogs will give unconditional love and companionship that can build confidence in a child. Dogs and kids go well together, as each have boundless energy and make excellent partners for discovering the world.
Dogs and children innately go together, but with guidance. Always establish a few rules in the beginning. Make sure that the dog has a place that he can go that is his “safe” area, where the child can not disturb him. Puppies and children need time away from each other. Young children have no understanding of the damage and serious injury that can happen if they drop, hit, pull on, pounce on, jump on, or step on a dog. Children should be taught how to take care of their dog. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach them that all dogs are sensitive, feeling beings. Children must also learn never to hit or abuse any dog. The parents must be willing to teach the child how to take care of the dog by being an excellent example themselves. If a puppy or young dog is supposed to be the child’s dog, the parents need to take full responsibility for it until the child is old enough to do so himself. Even then, the parents should always make sure that the child is doing what he should, and the dog is not abused or neglected.
THE DOG AND YOUR NEWBORN BABY
If you own one or more dogs and are expecting a baby, obedience training for the dog is highly recommended. There is no reason why you should get rid of your dog when you are planning on bringing in a baby. When the baby arrives, slowly introduce your resident dog(s) to your new baby. Allow him to become adjusted to the new smells and sounds that the new baby makes before introducing him to the baby. Keep in mind that these are all very unfamiliar sounds and smells to him and he may feel insecure or nervous about the new addition. Have an adult sit on the couch and bring the dog in on a leash. Let him smell the baby, but do not allow him to jump up or stick his nose into the baby’s face. As long as he remains calm, pet and talk to him and let him know that he is a good boy. If the baby starts crying and the dog because uncomfortable or overexcited, take the dog out of the room. Remain calm and do not punish the dog. Work on the acquaintance period slowly, allowing the dog time to adjust. Most dogs will quickly adapt to the new human in the family. If not, locate a reliable trainer and follow their advice. This is too important to put your dog’s life or your baby’s life at risk. Always keep safety in mind. Avoid putting either in a position where one or the other could be injured. The dog can play a very important role in your new baby’s life as a playmate and confidante, so work to establish a good relationship from the beginning.
To help the dog through the transition, make sure that you still spend quality time alone with him and he doesn’t become neglected and forgotten. Include the dog when you are taking care of the child so that he feels like he is helping too. Most dogs understand that the baby is a young infant and frequently want to help make sure that the baby is okay. This will depend on the breed and the individual dog, but many will grow attached to and protective of the new infant.
INFANTS TO PRESCHOOLERS
As with newborns, do not leave your dog and infant alone together without adult supervision. Always supervise playtime. Infants that are starting to learn to walk may grab a hold of the dog’s hair and pull on it, or the dog may become overly excited and accidentally knock the infant over, nip or scratch him. Offer a “safe” area for the dog if your child becomes too rambunctious, or put your child in a playpen or timeout. Remember to keep the interaction safe for both the dog and the child and avoid situations that may cause a problem.
Establish rules early and set up safety precautions, especially with young puppies. Children should only hold puppies if they are sitting down on the floor and are being quiet. They should also be taught how to properly handle the puppy. Teach him to pet the dog with quiet, calm, loving strokes by watching how you interact with the dog. Never allow the child to step on a dog’s or puppy’s feet, nor to pull ears, yank on hair, poke him in the eyes or ears or sit on him. Make sure that the child is not inadvertently scratched by sharp puppy nails or teeth by teaching them how to handle the puppies correctly.
Do not let the child bother the dog while the dog is eating or sleeping. The child could easily be nipped if he is around the food, or if he accidentally startles the sleeping dog. It is best if the child does not carry food around with him, as he is at a perfect height for most dogs to steal the food from. This will prevent inadvertently teaching the dog bad habits and also keeps the child from getting accidentally bitten or knocked over.
DOGS AND KINDERGARTEN AGE CHILDREN
Children who are around kindergarten age are able to help take care of the dog with simple chores. These could include filling the water and food bowls and brushing the dog. He can also accompany you when you take the dog for a walk. Just make sure that he knows not to approach all dogs that you may encounter, unless he has asked for your permission and the dog’s owner’s permission.
Play should be supervised, as kids this age still make excitable noises, such as screaming and yelling, as well as running around and waving their arms. The dog may want to chase the kids and could inadvertently knock them down or scratch them. Be aware that if your child has friends over and they start to rough house, the dog may want to protect “their” child. You may want to put the dog in an area away from the children so that he doesn’t become overly excited. This will depend on the dog and the children. Always be with them to make sure that no one is teasing or hurting the dog. If the dog is locked up in a crate or kennel, make sure that the children do not poke their fingers through the wiring or put their faces up against the fencing or crate sides.
SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN AND DOGS
Elementary age children will be able to take more care of a dog, although they still are not able to be fully responsible for them. At this age, they can continue to help feed and water them, as well as go on walks with you and the dog. They can help you bathe the dog and brush him. While tug games may be too much for a young child to handle if the dog is medium or large in size, they can play fetch or hide and seek with the dog with adult supervision. With your guidance, they can begin to learn to train the dog for basic obedience and even tricks.
AUSSIES FOR PRE-ADOLESCENTS AND ADOLESCENTS
If a child between the ages of eleven and sixteen shows an interest in the dog, they can now take more responsibility for him, with the guidance of the parents. The child will also benefit from joining a local dog training club or participating in 4-H with the dog. There are several activities that a child can enjoy with the dog, such as obedience, agility, rally course or dock diving. Conformation shows encourage young children to participate in junior handling, so if you own a registered purebred dog, this is also something that the child may be able to do with the dog. As it is judged on the way the dog is handled, and not by the dog itself, the dog doesn’t have to necessarily be a show dog.
A dog can also be a huge benefit to a child at this age, as it is frequently a difficult time for the child. The dog can lend a non-critical ear and can help just by being there.
Children and dogs can make very good companions if done correctly. The dog helps to teach the child compassion, patience and responsibility, which can be used throughout their lives.