Living With Kids and Dogs

One of the biggest challenges for some of my clients is working out the safety, logistics and training of both kids and canines. This is especially true of those parents with small children and those who already have a dog and are expecting a child.

I’ve found that many parents have a deep seated misconception about how children and dogs should play and get along with one another. Maybe it’s due to movies. Perhaps it has something to do with skewed memories of childhood family dogs. I’m not sure. But so many of us imagine an ultra-tolerant dog who is able to sleep with the kids, be dressed up in doll clothes, chase the kids in the backyard and even share their food without so much as a blink of the eye.

What I get in my office instead are concerns about dogs who are growling at children, nipping at their clothes or knocking them over in the yard. It’s interesting that this is almost always seen as a defect in the dog’s behavior. We sure do expect a lot from our dogs, don’t we?

Many parents don’t like it when I suggest that children should not be playing chase games or wrestling with their dog. They tend to not appreciate the suggested calmer, training-oriented relationship that envision between child and dog. They really think I’m nuts when I tell them that the dog and child should never, ever, ever (that means never) be left unsupervised together.

What I often hear is, “But he’s a (Lab, Golden, Boxer, whatever) and they’re good with kids!” Well, any dog can be good with kids if they are properly socialized and taught how to behave with kids from the beginning. But, I’m telling you that Labs, Goldens, Boxers and whatever other breed you have still have one thing in common…they are dogs! When dogs get over-aroused they can knock things over, including children. When dogs feel threatened they growl and sometimes bite. Any breed can feel the need to guard their food or toys.

It’s very important for parents to understand dog behavior and child development. It’s important that they take a pro-active position that includes full responsibility for ALL interactions between their children and their dogs. There is no way that your dog can be expected to always make the best choices in regard to your kids. In fact, not anymore than it can be expected that the kids will make the best decisions in regard to your dog, or other dogs for that matter.

Following are the best resources I’ve found for parents who are living with kids and dogs:

Colleen Pelar's website has tons of great information and resources, including her book, Living With Kids and Dogs...Without Losing Your Mind.

In my opinion, the very best dog training video for parents and kids is Dr. Ian Dunbar's Dog Training for Children. Your kids will be inspired by it, and you will be jealous of the small children who are handling dogs better than most adults!