Dogs & Kids
Most dogs will get along with children they are raised with; however, you should never leave children under the age of 10 alone with a dog — any dog.
Dogs are predators and their prey drive can be motivated by things we do not think about. Infants squeal and flap their arms and legs — this resemble the movements and sounds of small, wounded animals. Infants also wear dirty diapers and dogs may try to get those diapers — if the baby is in the diaper at the time, there can be trouble.
Toddlers present an entirely different problem — they run, they pull ears and tails, they hug, they poke, etc. Running can trigger the prey drive; and no one likes to be poked, prodded and pulled on! In dog language, approaching from a head-on position and having arms thrown around your neck is extremely aggressive behavior. If you watch dogs approach each other, they always do it in a circular fashion and they usually approach another dog from behind — a little butt-sniffing is much more polite than face-to-face!
Common warning signs from dogs are: tongue flicks, yawns, looking away, stiff stance with a glazed look, growling, snarling (lip-lift), air-snapping. These are some of the most common dog body language signals. You should not punish these behaviors because you are simply teaching your dog to hide how he feels and if the situation is severe enough he will bite with no prior warning. It’s better to pay attention to what your dog is telling you. It is your responsibility to protect both your child and your dog.
To teach the dog you should start with yourself. Have lots of good treats ready — hot dogs are great — you should be able to get about 75 pieces from one hot dog. Then slowly approach the dog’s face with your face. Before he’s uncomfortable, stop and give him a piece of hot dog. Keep doing this until you can throw your arms around him and give him a hug and he’s totally comfortable. Each time, be sure to give him a piece of hot dog.
Once you can do it, have your spouse go through the same routine; then a friend that the dog likes, etc. Make sure the dog is totally comfortable with several adults before you start working with children. Start with older children and work down to toddlers. Always be aware of your dog’s reactions — if he’s uncomfortable you’ve moved ahead too quickly and need to go back. Because of the potential problems with this behavior, I highly recommend finding a certified dog trainer (www.ccpdt.org) to help with this protocol – they’ll make sure you do it right!
Raising Canine has a school for dog trainers which focuses on operant training for dogs, dog behavior, working with clients and addressing client compliance, and the science behind behavior modification.