Parents often decide to get a dog for the children’s benefit. They might have been worn down by the children, who are desperate to have a puppy and made promises to look after it. Or they might be getting a puppy as a present, and to help teach children to take responsibility. Whatever the reasons, it is important to note that the welfare and liability of the dog falls on adult’s shoulders, and that children under 16 are not legally held responsible for a dog’s behaviour.
So it’s a good idea to talk about how you are all going to look after your dog – what responsibilities you are each going to have, the supervision you are going to give and what you each should and should not do, so that your dog can easily learn to fit in and behave well.
It’s a very exciting time when a family first gets a dog. It’s a bit like having a new baby. A furry one. It is important the children understand though that the dog is not a cuddly toy. Some dogs may relish being cuddled and protected but some may find it restrictive and even frightening. Young children should not be left alone with a dog.
Many young children do not naturally know the signals the dog might be giving, – “please don’t hold me so tight”, “please let me go”, “please leave me alone”, “I don’t like being patted on the head”, “I don’t like being kissed”, until they get bitten. A dog could learn that biting is the only language that ever gets understood. And this could spoil the pleasure of having a dog.
Puppies can bite. In the litter, they play with their siblings. This can involve biting each other as they learn about dog language and behaviour. In an ideal situation, they learn from their siblings and their mother when not to bite. When the puppy joins a family, some puppies regard young children as litter mates so need to be taught that ‘play biting’ is unacceptable. Parental supervision is needed to teach the puppy not to bite and to teach children how to behave with the puppy, so that a happy relationship develops between the dog and children.
Friends are bound to want to come and meet your new family member. Socialising your dog is an important part of his learning because it is getting him used to being part of your family life too. However, new situations can be overwhelming for a dog. It can be over exciting or it can be frightening. Supervise and try to recognise your dog’s feelings. If he is getting excited, keep the interaction controlled. If he is frightened, give him space to retreat to his safe place and allow him time to get used to his new environment. And remember the old saying, “Let sleeping dogs lie”. Teach children not to disturb him when he is sleeping, and this goes for when he is eating too.
Setting the ground rules from the start makes it easier. And having everyone in the family adopt these rules makes it simpler too. Many of the behaviours dog owners complain about are behaviours that they or the children have encouraged e.g. jumping up, getting on the furniture, ‘begging’ from the table.
Encourage your dog to do the behaviours you want him to learn and make sure he is not being inadvertently encouraged to do things you don’t want. Supervising children with your dog helps ensure that the lessons your dog is learning are ones you want, not ones you don’t want.
Wishing you, your family and your dog a safe and happy life together.
Pet Dog Training Instructor