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A Boy and His Dog: The Importance of Parent Involvement

By Cecile Ashen-Young

Children can be quite active and often unpredictable in their behaviour and may not always remember to treat dogs gently and with respect. For their part, dogs can feel uncertain and even threatened around children. There is always the potential for bilateral misunderstanding and inappropriate interaction and reaction between children and dogs, and therefore there is always the need for constant parental supervision and guidance (Love & Overall, 2001). 

Consider the following scenarios:

  • Mum, Dad, four children under 8 years of age, and a very large 16-week-old GSD. The puppy is confined to the yard. The dad wanted the dog, the mum did not. The dad has given full responsibility for the dog to his 8-year-old son and refuses to be involved in any training. The mum is overwhelmed. The puppy has a very hard mouth and all the children are scared of him. 
     

  • Mum, Dad, two children under 6 years of age, and a 13-week-old Beagle x Blue Heeler. The entire family comes to puppy class every week. The dog is fed by hand and is crate trained. He responds to the children’s cues to come, sit, drop, and roll over. He sits and stays while the 3-year-old boy hides a piece of food under each of 10 sports cones. The puppy waits for the boy to release him to the search.
     

  • A young couple with a 4-year-old Giant Schnauzer. The couple is expecting a baby in 4 months. The dog bites anyone outside of the extended family that enters the house and growls at the children living next door. They have decided to rehome the dog with the mum’s older, childless cousin.
     

  • Single mum, 8-year-old boy, and a very ‘vigorous’ 6-month-old Cavalier King Charles mix puppy. The mother and her son have been coming to classes since the puppy was 8 weeks old. The puppy is crate trained and very responsive to both the boy and his mother. The boy and his puppy are used all the time in puppy class to demonstrate play behaviour training exercises to the other children.
     

Each of these scenarios involves parents, children and dogs. One of the telling differences lies in the level of responsibility that the parents have accepted relative to the dog. Parents must understand that, just as their child goes through developmental stages that affect their behaviour, so do dogs. During the developmental stages of children, changes in their gross motor skills, social, and cognitive capabilities effect how they interact with dogs. In the same way, a dog’s response to a child is affected by the dog’s stage of development (Love & Overall, 2001) as well as by their history. In both cases, the dog and the child will be learning about social interactions with one another and will need ongoing supervision and guidance from parents. Parents need to plan, participate, and direct all interactions between children and dogs.
 

Families with children and dogs should attend to the following professionally supported recommendations:
 

  • Before acquiring a dog, families should attend a pre-acquisition counselling session with a qualified individual.

  • Parents should be aware of normal behaviour exhibited during the developmental stages of both dog and child, and be able to assess and avoid situations that may elicit stress or anxiety in either the dog or the child.

  • No child should get to interact with a dog until he/she can successfully cue the dog to come and sit.

  • Parents should teach a dog that the presence of a baby or toddler is the cue to lie down and relax.

  • Dogs must be crate or pen trained. 

  • Children must be educated about the needs and communicative behaviours of dogs.

  • Children should be taught a list of appropriate do’s and don’ts of behaviour around dogs. All parents should memorise the article by Sophia Yin entitled “Kids and Dogs: How Kids Should and Should Not Interact with Dogs” (Yin, 2011).

  • Parents should plan and supervise appropriate dog-children games. These games should not involve play with the hands, wrestling, or chasing.

  • Dogs should never be scolded around children. They may learn to associate the presence of children with punishment. Children may learn that punishing the dog is acceptable.

  • Parents should teach the dog a reliable ‘leave it’ behaviour.

  • Children must be involved with training under constant parental supervision.

  • Children should be involved in the day to day care of the dog under constant parental supervision.

  • Families with puppies under the age of 16 weeks must attend a puppy class with their families to take advantage of socialisation opportunities for the puppy and education opportunities for the family. Families should also schedule an in-home session with a qualified trainer or behaviourist to address individual needs.

  • Families with an adopted or rescued dog must obtain reliable information on the appropriate socialisation to children and past behaviour exhibited around children. Families should schedule an in-home, post adoptive session with a qualified trainer or behaviourist to address individual needs.

  • All dogs that exhibit normal developmental behaviour should attend group training classes, run by a qualified trainer, with their families.

  • When on a walk, the dog should be handled by an adult who has effective control of both dog and children.


References


Canino, J., Shaw, J., & Beck, A. M. (2007). A look at the role of marriage and family therapy skills within the context of animal behavior therapy. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 2, 15-22.


Love, M. & Overall, K. L. (2001). How anticipating relationships between dogs and children can help prevent disasters. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 446-453.


Yin, S. (2011, July 18). Kids and Dogs: How Kids Should and Should Not Interact with Dogs. Retrieved July 25, 2011, from Dr. Yin's Animal Behavior and Medicine Blog: http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/kids-and-dogs-how-kids-should-and-should-not-interact-with-dogs

Contact

Cecile Ashen-Young (CPDT-KA)
Perth
Western Australia

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Mobile: 0435 018 083

Email: cay.animalbehavior@gmail.com

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