Many people believe their dog “Loves all kids” and make this generalization. This, in fact, is usually far from the real experience of the dog. Dogs that accept older children
(like in photo left) might not feel comfortable with unsteady toddlers.
The unpredictability of toddlers may make dogs uneasy. The frequency of child visits and exposure to a dog also impacts how strong the bond is in that particular child and dog relationship.
Dogs do not generalize kids as a group but rather dogs measure each encounter with each individual child. Our job as adults, is to make a child-dog encounter a positive one and begin each encounter as if new every time.
We also must consider the comfort level of each individual child.
Is the child comfortable with dogs? If not, then an introduction creates stress right away.
Does the child have dogs at home? That can cause a reaction from a dog when the child visits. The dog may be very curious about all the scents the child brings with them. Dogs love sniffing people all over when they smell like other interesting dogs.
Children have the right to say, “No” to meeting, touching or engaging with a dog. When a child does not want to meet a dog, then dog management at a distance is a priority. This is an opportunity for the dog to stay at a success station such as outside space, another room, behind a barrier. This is the perfect opportunity to allow your dog a yummy frozen goodie to enjoy while in their success station away from the kids.
Dogs also have the right to say, “No” to a child visit. Dogs do this through their body language. Turning away, Whale eye, licking lips and many other subtle signals may indicate they are not interested in interaction. When a dog shows stress signs as a child visits, the dog needs a way out such as a path to retreat. Praising the dog for choosing to leave will reinforce a safe retreat when needed.
Dogs and children have different comfort levels with each new person and animal they encounter. We must listen and respect what they communicate with us.
Family Paws Parent Education would not be the same without all of the talent behind the scenes. I want to thank Bethany Cunningham for all the amazing photos for our programs and website. Bethany has also been a HUGE part of the program development and is now co-instructing the Family Paws Foundation course.
Our hotline gets many calls from concerned families who have experienced growling or a bite from their family dog. In the description often they will mention how the dog always licked the child. They are confused by why the dog would be “kissing” (a human form of affection and then biting? This is why I began calling some licks …kiss to dismiss. This definitely is a pattern we see esecially at certain developmental stages for the child. It is very interesting. Here are 2 videos where I describe in more detail what I reference as Kiss to Dismiss:
Family Paws Parent Educator Course is indented to help professionals who choose to use our licensed materials in consultations or to offer community education. Our 13 week course is just the beginning of the support and learning we do together as a strong network of professionals dedicated to dog and baby/toddler dynamics.
Our course for professionals runs 4 times a year. Once approved into our program you may jump in at anytime! Here is more information about cost, time and CE’s for our program.
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We really encourage our families to increase their Dog Aware skills by becoming in tune with their dog’s subtle responses. Ever notice a change in your dog’s behavior when someone approaches with a hat on? Sunglasses? Costumes? What about kids running around in snow suits? If you are expecting a baby to be visiting or living in your home then you want to keep in mind that subtle changes can decrease comfort or startle a dog.
This image is of me with a mask on. I got the ask to scare our teenage daughter and to just have fun. Unfortunately Oliver was let in from outside while I sat on the steps waiting to SCARE my daughter. Well….Oliver was not impressed. He was spooked and acted as such. As soon as I took it off he did some recovery head shakes to let that awkward moment go but he definitely was not pleased by this mask. He, of course, reacted to this sudden odd change in appearance.
Here is another example. My daughter walked in the room with this facial mask and I about jumped out of my skin. This contrasting look and change in appearance started me at first. We have to remember that just like people, some dogs are spooked or startled easily while others are not. Know your dog. Be Dog Aware and observant about their responses and what they mean. Dogs that are spooked can bite. This is not something to make light of or tease a dog with. It is something to be aware of so that you can respond accordingly or adapt a situation if you notice your dog is stressed, unsure or reactive in some way. It took us a minute to realize this was making Oliver uncomfortable too. He was coming up close and acting very uneasy with her. Then we both quickly realized it was the visual change he noticed and we were able to help him relax and take it in at his own pace with our support. In this situation it took kayleigh talking to him and her turning away from him when he came close. This allowed him time to really “know” it was her and settle down.
Can you think of examples that might involve young children? Please share!
Our dogs observe us all day long and when it is just we adults….they are quite used to our patterns of motion etc. Once a baby arrives there are all sorts of odd looking actions that can cause dogs to become confused, excited or reactive in some way. FPPE encourages families to know their dog and learn what triggers they may have. Ex: if you lift up a toy from the floor does your dog jump wildly? If so then working on a new behavior you want your dog to do when you lift u a toy may be a great idea. Our educators love problem solving with families before baby arrives. Don’t wait until your dog jumps and you feel anxious about their response. Being Dog Aware means preparing and continue learning with your dog before and after baby arrives. This is new to both of you! Set you and your dog up for success by thinking through some of these possible opportunities.
Here is a great example of a Dog Aware parent making a good choice when lifting baby. Tossing the dog’s toy away so that the dog is occupied while she lifts baby. Nicely done! Do you have examples to share with us?
It is easy to doze off when you are a very tired parent to a newborn. Family Paws Parent Education programs encourage expectant families and caretakers of babies to have plan and PRACTICE. Where will the dog be when….baby is in crib, bouncer, on playmate, in basinet, or even asleep on a sleeping parent.
Our Dogs & Storks program encourages all families to prepare with their dog for times when they will need to be secured in a “Success stations.” What is a success station? Great question! Here is a handout that you can share that describes several.
A success station is a great strategy for your dog , your baby’s safety and your peace of mind. A cozy crate, a gated area, indoor tether all could be comfortable success stations. It is ideal if we begin early in pregnancy to prepare our dogs for time in their success station. If not we can begin at any point along the way. Success stations look different depending on your home, your dog and your comfort. This is something many families really like to brainstorm with our licensed Family Paws Parent Educators. There is a great deal to consider.
How does your dog handle being separated you while you are at home?
Is your dog able to be behind a closed door in your home with you home?
How does your dog respond to being in a crate while you are home? In view?
Is your dog used to being on the other side of a secure gate while you are talking to guests?
Have you ever used an indoor tether system or put your leash on your dog while in the house?
These are just a few of the factors we need to consider to begin preparing for times when your dog may need to be secured when you bring your newborn home. It is essential to consider many possibilities and what the safe option will be for you, your baby and family dog. Dogs are dogs….they are not familiar with your new baby and must be supervised by a fully awake adult at all times.
Many people laugh when they see my stickers….sit on the ground not the hound. This is NO joke. Some think it is so obvious it need not be said. Sadly many people think this is ok. Or they know it is not a good idea but if the dog does not growl or bite…then he likes it. We have a great deal of educating about being Dog Aware™.
Intelligent and caring parents make the mistake of expecting a dog to tolerate many things their child does. What saddens me is the heartbreaking phone calls when a dog’s tolerance runs out. When the subtle signals dogs use naturally to indicate stress, conflict or need for space, do not work then it is likely the dog will progress to a growl or bite. Dogs are predictable and with more education and families become Dog Aware™ I know we can help parents make better choices to support life long relationships with dogs.
Headlines I don’t usually like to comment and show things I DON”T want done. I prefer to post things that are nice examples. This however concerned me and I felt was a very good teachable moment.
Princess Charlotte make friends with HUGE dog and bounces on him. One articles says jumps on him like a trampoline. Let’s look at just a couple of things that could be very stressful for Charlotte’s new friend Moose.
I know I would NOT enjoy a child running over to me and bounding on my back if I were resting. Not my own child and especially not an unfamiliar child. Why is it we believe a dog should tolerate this? “What a good dog.” often is heard in these situations. This comment indicates we KNOW this is not something acceptable. Why do it?
I compare this to when I was pregnant and the world thought my extended belly was a free for all to touch. UM NO! We all have spatial needs and boundaries and it is really important for us to teach our children this about animals too. We don’t want our children rushing up to strangers and hugging them but yet it is “ok” for them to do this to strange dogs? Think about it! this is not fair or comfortable and the bottom line is if a dog does vocalize or complain he is likely to be punished or put down. We really need to shift our expectations.
Dogs do not enjoy bouncing weight on their backs and even if they “tolerate” it one time this definitely does not mean they will continue to do so. The likelihood actually is that they will begin to dread and anticipate small children as painful and intrusive. This can be a huge problem for the next child the dog encounters. We must create mutually comfortable interactions when it comes to encounters with young children and dogs. Not all kids want to touch dogs and not all dogs want to be touched. No dog enjoys being sat on.
Another concern by allowing this behavior is that a child may think Mommy and Daddy love when I sit on dogs. Pictures and videos are taken…. everyone laughs. This is very reinforcing for most toddlers and they will repeat this with not only that dog but other dogs too.
What I would like to suggest to help families tempted by setting up these “cute” situations is to become familiar with subtle signals dogs offer indicating stress or a need for space.
Dog Aware parents learn about body language that is seen WAY before a grumble or snap. Most likely in all of these riding dog encounters the dog is offering signals but they are not being received by the trusted adult because they are unaware of them. Here are just a couple.
Turning away, head turn
Whale eye (whites of eyes)
Checking in with adult (making eye contact)
Changes in breathing speed
Tight facial muscles
These all are ways that dogs attempt to communicate before escalating to a growl or snap. If these attempts are missed too many times dogs may offer less signals and snap or growl sooner. This is why many say the dog bit out of the blue. Often parents think because “he always was fine before” or “they have always done that with him and he loved it.” or “he never leaves and lets them do anything to him.” Each of these are things we hear multiple times a day about great dogs that are misunderstood due to a need for families to become Dog Aware™ We all think we know our dogs and how dogs behave but the reality is that we are not dogs and our communication
Having toddlers and dogs together is a full time job. It can be hard especially if you do not know what to look for. Family Paws Parent Educators offer ongoing support and resources dedicated to dog and baby/toddler dynamics. Don’t wait until you NEED us…..call us when things are going well so we can help them go GREAT!
If you have questions or are interested in learning and becoming a Dog Aware parent we invite you to reach out to us on our hotline 877 247-3407 or find one of our licensed Family Paws Parent Educators near you!
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