When we're installing invisible fences for our clients in Southeast Michigan, we hear how hard families work to find the right breed to ensure that their children and their new dog are a good match. Today, our guest blogger shares her personal and professional experiences viewing and helping mold the bond between dogs and children. See what she suggests for getting your children and your new dog ready for a successful, lifelong relationship.
Different Breeds and Different Reactions
As a parent and a dog owner, I’ve found nothing more enjoyable than watching my children play with our two dogs.
They’ve discovered that the Collie likes to dress up in costumes, doesn’t mind having his hair fixed, and can wear a crown without it falling off. This dog likes to be hugged and will fetch until your arm gets sore.
Our Labrador, on the other hand, doesn’t retrieve, doesn’t like to be hugged, and hates dress up. She will, however, sit with you forever if you are sad, listen to your jokes and stories, finish off the crusts on your sandwiches, and lick your face clean. Although I trust my dogs implicitly, I never leave my children alone with the dogs. A lesson that is often hard to teach other dog owning parents. I know many parents rely on the family dog to be not only a protector for their property, but a built-in playmate for their kids. So, how does one go about finding a dog that can be both guardian and friend to a child?
Choosing the Right Breed for Your Family
I am often asked to help families choose the “right breed”—the one that will fulfill these two important functions. While there are some breeds that we tend to associate with kids (such as Golden Retrievers and Labradors), almost any breed of dog will have representatives that make good family pets and good watchdogs. Thus, the breed of the dog isn’t the most critical factor here, but the way in which the individual dog was raised. The best place to start is with a puppy born to two, well-adjusted parents with even temperaments. This puppy and his littermates will have the best genetic potential. Then, this puppy must be raised among his siblings until weaning so he can develop the appropriate dog-dog relationships and learn to inhibit his bites. It is also important for young puppies to be exposed to people and well-behaved children. Puppies must become socialized to children early if they are to develop the strongest and most predictable bonds with them as adult dogs. All of this socialization should occur before 10 weeks of age! At 10 weeks, a critical period in dog development, a puppy is primed to develop a lasting bond with one particular family. This is why it is important for families who wish to adopt puppies to adopt them at this age.
Unfortunately, many people believe that by taking such care to socialize a puppy early to lots of people (including children) will result in a dog that lacks protective abilities. This is simply not the case. All dogs, regardless of breed, will act as sentinels for their families. This is a natural, investigative dog behavior; a Chihuahua or Maltese is just as effective as a Rottweiler or German Shepherd at alerting its family to intruders. The point here is that socializing your puppy and encouraging him to be friendly with strangers will result in a more well-rounded companion—one who can defend AND nurture a relationship with your family.
Socializing Dogs and Children
While I have put a lot of emphasis here on the socialization of the puppy, it is also very important to socialize your children to dogs. Dogs are at a child’s eye level and generally treat children as subordinates. Children unfamiliar with dogs will often screech at them or run, causing the dog to chase them. This is actually how many children come to be bitten by dogs and ultimately fear them. Thus, it is critical for parents to monitor all interactions their children have with dogs, familiar or unfamiliar. No dog, regardless of its training or past behavior, should be left alone with a child. Although most parents make a conscientious effort to teach their children not to tease, pester, or abuse a dog until it becomes angry, you cannot count on your children to always follow these instructions. And while your children may play properly with their dog, what about their friends? Many children do not realize they can hurt a dog by pulling its tail or ears, hitting it on the nose, sitting on its back, or stepping on its paws. This is why it is critical for any dog that will come in contact with children during its lifetime to be socialized early to the way kids behave. A young dog can be taught to tolerate a certain amount of rough handling by children, just as the children are being taught to respect the dog’s needs as well. Thus, if children are in your future, now is the time to socialize your dog to kids. Don’t wait until you bring the new baby home to introduce your dog to the smells, sounds, and antics of children.
Teach your children and their friends to respect all animals and treat them as they themselves would like to be treated. And when choosing a puppy for your family, look at the puppy’s parents and ask if the litter was socialized to children as well as adults. Making an informed choice is important here as you are picking a new member of your family. Choose wisely, and your children will have a loyal and loving canine companion.
-- Julie C. Bond, M.S., Certified Animal Behaviorist, Pet Education & Training Services
Julie Bond has a Bachelor's Degree in Animal Psychology and a Master's Degree in Animal Behavior from U.C. Davis. She has been providing pet owners and veterinarians with expert, qualified, professional assistance for all of their tough behavior problems since 1991.