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Pet Column: Dogs and Kids

Columnist Karen Mangini gives some advice to parents with young children who are thinking about bringing a dog into the family.

“How will my new dog behave around children?” I believe that asking this is only part of the question. What also needs to be asked is “How will my kids behave around dogs?”

Not addressing this question may result in kids getting hurt and perhaps the dog getting blamed unjustly. With an unruly child around, an incident may occur, no matter how calm the dog is.

You may have heard that some breeds of dogs work better with children than others. That may have some truth to it, but it is more likely that any dog can be good with children as long as the children are taught how to handle a dog gently and with respect.

Your dog is NOT a toy. It is a living being that feels pain. To your dog's misfortune, young children can have no perception of the pain they inflict by biting, pinching or twisting various parts of your dog's body. They must know the consequences of their behavior. It is NOT enough to tell them what to do, children must be taught to substitute unacceptable behavior with acceptable behavior toward your new pet.

Here are some guidelines:

1) Never leave a young child unattended with a new dog.

Strict parental supervision is fundamental to the success of your dog getting along with your children. The age at which they can spend any time without supervision depends upon the maturity of your child and the temperament of your pet. It only takes a split second for a bad move on the part of the child to turn into a bad move from your pet. If your child is under 6 then perhaps you should reconsider adopting a dog, or at the very least, do your homework and take a proactive approach to the new situation.

2) Never surprise a dog.

ALWAYS greet the dog from the front by putting your hand gently under its chin, and let it smell you. Never approach a dog from behind (it needs to see you), and never put your hand on top of its head! Put yourself in its place: This is a whole new environment for your dog. You may not know where it has been or what it has been through. The animal needs time to get to trust you.

3) Never disturb a dog while it is eating or sleeping.

Never pick up a dog's food dish while it's eating or disturb a dog while it's chewing on a favorite toy.

4) Don't chase the dog.

Teach children not to pursue a dog that has run away from them. This would be a good invitation for the dog to chase and perhaps nip, bark or growl. If the dog chases a child, teach the child to immediately stand still with arms folded across the chest, and use a soft, quiet voice. Your child will become less interesting to the dog and he will calm down.

5) Don't restrain a dog that is trying to run away.

The way you get a dog to come to you is to get its attention and then immediately run the OTHER way. Your dog will run after you!

6) Do not hit a dog to discipline it.

Do not slap, yell, choke, shake or use a shock collar on your dog for misbehaving or for aggression problems. These methods are unsuitable and can be dangerous. They only show your children how to inappropriately resolve problems.

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