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Dog behaviour and children


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With the recent tragic deaths of children by dog attacks, it’s vitaly important that as a pet owner, parent, or both, you’re responsible for your dog and your children’s safety. That means ensuring your children behave appropriately around dogs, as a dog owner you’re in full control of your animal and that as a human being, you’re aware of the warning signs or ‘language’ dogs use to let you know they’re distressed.

While every dog has the potential to bite and can never be 100% safe, there are numerous ways you can reduce the risk of such behaviour. This is by no means a definitive or ‘cover all’ guide, but you should find a few useful tips you may not be aware of, to better ensure the safety of your children and dogs.

Unfamiliar dogs

Many kids will see a cute fluffy pooch and want to run up and pet it – but this isn’t wise. Always ask the owner if their dog is friendly and never let your child try and hug, pick up or corner the dog. Some dogs are obviously excited for a childs attention but some will not be. Growling, showing teeth, turning their head away, shivering and showing the whites of their eyes, are all warning signs the dog is distressed – so if this is displayed, don’t allow your child to pet them. There’s a new ‘yellow ribbon’ scheme that dog owners are adopting. The yellow ribbon tied to a lead or collar is a sign the dog isn’t happy to be petted, is in training, on assessment or isn’t comfortable around children, so look out for it!

Rescue dogs

Unfortunately, many dogs that end up in rescue centres are there due to mistreatment and as a result, their behaviour can be less predictable. Rescue centres will assess each dog and their suitability around children, but if you’re thinking about adopting a rescue dog and have small children, you may want to consider choosing a smaller or more ‘gentle’ breed, so that should the worst ever happen and your child get bitten, it will do less damage that a bigger or more powerful breed with larger teeth and jaws or whose instinct is to clamp down. It’s a tricky topic to advise on and while no dog should be judged on its breed, as a parent considering an unfamiliar rescue dog, common sense tells us the bite from a small Yorkshire Terrier will do less damage than that of a powerful Japanese Akita.

Dog breeds

dogs and childrenUnfortunately, due to irresponsible ownership, many breeds such as Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Rottweillers, have terrible stigmas attached to them. Years of thugs brandishing them as weapons, encouraging aggresive behaviour and using them as a status symbol, has deemed breeds, which make lovely family pets, as dangerous dogs to be feared. In fact, there are more dog bites from Labrador’s reported than from Staffie’s and aggression in small toy breeds like chihuahuas can be much more common than in larger breeds. The moral of the story? Don’t take any dog breed for granted, they’re individuals!

Family pets

Having a dog in the family from being a puppy, is arguably the safest road to harmony with small children and dogs. However, we’ve all heard of stories where the loving family pooch suddenly snaps, so lower these risk by doing the following:

  • Socialise your puppy/dog with as many other dogs, people, children as possible.
  • Introduce them to as many environmental factors as possible; busy roads, balloons, noise, flashing lights, plastic bags etc. Dogs that are suddenly faced with something new and unfamiliar can behave totally out of character and snap out of fear, so reduce this risk to exposing them to as much as possible.
  • Give plenty of exercise and mental stimulation – bored dogs can become destructive dogs and in turn they can get over excited. Dogs can go from playful to aggresive due to overexcitement so make sure excess energy is burned off
  • Keep children away when dogs are eating – Good feeding habbits can be established from a young age to ensure dogs don’t develop food aggression (that’s another topic altogether!) but make kids respect a dogs space nevertheless, especially if you see teeth being displayed or growling.

Signs a dog is distressed

Not all dogs give obvious signs they’re unhappy so it’s important to be aware of the more subtle indicators dogs give to tell us they’re distressed, they may display one or several of these and remember, each dog is different.

1) Eyes – you can tell a lot from their eyes, just like a human – so showing the whites of their eyes is an indicator they’re scared or warning you.
2) Turning their head away – if a child is trying to hug or pet a dog and they’re turning their head, it’s a pretty good sign they don’t want the attention
3) Panting when not hot or thirsty – dogs can display this behaviour as a way of calming themselves when stressed. A baby trying to crawl on a dog that suddenly starts panting is a sign for you to step in!
4) Growling or teeth showing – this is a pretty obvious warning for you or your child to stay away, so respect that. The dog will in turn trust you more as he can see you reacted to his warning and respected his space.
5) Walking away – if a dog repeatedly gets up and walks away every time a child goes near, it’s not coincidence. They’re removing themselves from anything they’re not comfortable with so again, respect their space.
6) Shivering when not cold – this again is a dogs way of expelling  nervous / tense energy. Just like a person can shake when they’re angry, the same can be said of a dog.
7) Lip and nose licking – unless there’s any food or treats about, like the panting and shivering, its a sign they’re stressed.
8) Low posture and or tale between their legs – this is a defensive position and sign they’re not comforatble with the given situation
9) Repeated yawning – unlike a tired yawn, stressed dogs will repeatedly yawn with more intensity than a sleepy yawn
10) Pinned back ears – many animal such as cats and horses, will pin their ears back when they’re unhappy, so take note!
11) Shaking off – if they’re not getting out of the bath or river, dogs tend to shake off after an ‘unpleasant’ experience. You may see this after a vets exam.




About Rebecca Robinson

About Rebecca Robinson

After spending the last 8 years juggling life as a mum of two, wife and working full time as a Project Manager for a global telecommunications company, Rebecca Robinson made the decision to follow her love of writing and took the plunge; turning her passion into a full time career. Since becoming a full time writer, Rebecca has worked with various media and copy-writing companies and with the ability to make any topic relevant and interesting to the reader, now contributes to The Working Parent on articles ranging from credit cards to teenage relationships. Ever the optimist, Rebecca's dreams for the future include a house in the country filled with children, dogs and horses in the field!

Website: Rebecca Robinson

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