Is this dog good with kids? This question is one I hear nearly every day when passing through our adoption center, and it’s one that has always struck me as odd. The dogs on our adoption floor are people-friendly and love companionship, so why would some of them dislike children? What potential adopters are really asking is, “will this dog tolerate all of the uncoordinated, unpredictable behaviors my child might throw at him?”
The fact is that most children, without even knowing it, can be a bit frightening to dogs. Their fine motor skills are not fully developed so their movements are uncoordinated, and children are more likely to invade a dog’s personal space. Most dogs do a great job of dealing with the unpredictable behaviors of children, but we all have our limits, and just like humans, at some point dogs will have had enough and will stick up for themselves.
This is where education comes in. A great educational resource is Stop the 77, a website created to spread awareness about how we can teach children to safely interact and communicate with the family dog. By sharing these resources, we can change a saddening and alarming statistic: 77% of dog bites come from the family dog or a friend’s dog. 77% of dog bites are from a dog that loved his family but had his buttons pushed one too many times.
Here are the key points that all children (and adults!) should know:
1. Go slow. It is so exciting to see your dog after a long day at school, but rushing up to your dog and giving him a big hug can be stressful. Go slow and approach the dog respectfully. Always let him sniff you first, then pet him gently on the neck or side. Be careful - most dogs to not enjoy being touched or patted on the head. If someone reached out toward your face, you’d most likely flinch or lean away, so it is unsurprising that dogs feel and react the same way.
2. Listen closely. Believe it or not, our dogs are talking to us all the time via body language. Learning to recognize signs of stress like pulled back ears, stiff body posture, tongue flicks, and yawning or panting out of context is key. These are all ways a dog tells us that she is feeling overwhelmed and would like a little space. If we ignore these pleas for help, then our dog might need to make herself heard by growling and baring teeth. If we continue to ignore what she is trying to tell us, then she might even resort to biting.
3. Remember the Golden Rule. We learn in school to do unto others as you’d like them to do unto you. The same compassion should be extended to every member of the family – including pets. Before you go to wake them up from their peaceful sleep or make them play dress-up, think about how that would make you feel. I for one would be deeply unhappy on both accounts!
Just like you and me, each dog is an individual with unique likes and dislikes. Approach each new dog you meet like you are meeting a stranger for the first time. Take time to get to know what makes him comfortable and what makes him nervous and don’t forget to listen to what he’s trying to tell you. Your dog will thank you with a lifetime of unconditional love for taking the time to consider how he feels.
So whether you’re interested in adoption or you know someone who is concerned about how their children interact with the family dog, please share this information: stopthe77.com Someday soon, I hope to pass
through our adoption center and overhear a potential adopter ask, “What dog would be a good fit for our family, and what should I teach my children about interacting with their new pet?”
Jessica Gladkowski is the Director of Community Relations at the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. Jessica received her Bachelor of Arts in Japanese from The University of Vermont in 2013, and over the next several years she traveled to Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines where she taught English and immersed herself in different cultures. Jessica is inspired to combine her passion for helping animals, teaching, and serving a diverse community through a career in animal welfare. Jessica lives in Aiken with her husband David and their rescue dogs Django and Ollie.