I have always believed that safe dog and child relationships begin with the parents before the child is ready! Educating parents and shaping expectations of what safe dog and child encounters look like often takes time and practice before it becomes natural. Often new patterns need to set into place and old beliefs challenged and adjusted. Our programs encourage practicing these different approaches and new ideas BEFORE the child is ready to learn from them. Parents modeling appropriate interaction even beginning at age one helps pave the way for success. Taking advantage of children’s natural desire to imitate is a great opportunity to set both dog and child up for success right from the start. I have enjoyed watching my daughters and client’s older babies and toddlers respond to the hard work the parents did prior to their baby being ready to grab the dog, crawl or run. Having parents practice and model safer interaction and develop new awareness of their dog’s needs prior to their baby reaching challenging milestones can be a huge key towards success for all.
Tonight I was reminded of this again as Kelsyann (4) and I were reading a book. Kelsyann grew up learning behaviors that helped our dogs feel safe. Ex: standing and stopping a distance to talk to the dog or invite them over or to just blow a kiss instead of rushing them or crowding them while they rested. This took a great deal of time, management and patience as we have had 4 dogs with various needs and comfort levels as she was an older baby and toddler.
Here are some examples of what she was able to communicate to us at a very young age based on our modeling and practicing at home.
At 2 1/2 years old Kelsyann reminded me one day “no huggies Mommy” from across the room when I went to give our senior German Shepherd Duke a hug. I blogged about it here. At 3 she told the kids at her childcare about BEING A TREE and one hand petting (the teacher told me and thought it was so cute)
When we are out sometimes our neighbor feels put off because kelsyann does not approach her dogs and give them attention. I am pleased as she knows to give them space and that we don’t pet all dogs.
Tonight we were reading a book at bedtime and there was an illustration with great details in it. She picked out the baby hanging over the mom’s arm reaching to grab the dog. “mommy that is not a good idea for the baby to do that to the dog? right?” She also pointed out an image of a child reaching into a cage in a zoo and how that too was a bad idea.
Does this mean she is ready to be left unsupervised with our dogs or any dog? No! She is a four year old! It just means that she is learning and beginning the foundation for a healthy and respectful relationship with dogs as she gets older.
I believe that by helping parents set up proper expectations for their children that are age appropriate and their dog that are comfort and respect based we can increase safety and fun in homes.
Looking back 13 years ago when I came home with our 5 year old German shepherd with our 3 and 2 year old little boys….boy did I have a lot to learn. I thought I knew dogs then and sometimes am fooled I know them now but the reality is that dogs and kids are all individuals with minds and motivations of their own and all we can do is do our best to set everyone up for success by being open to learning along the way.