Dogs and KidsIt's sound advice given frequently: Supervise your dogs and kids while they are together. Breeders warn parents, "Don't leave the dog alone with children, no matter how friendly the breed." Veterinarians advise, "Never leave a dog and a child in the same room together." Dog trainers explain, "All dogs can bite so supervise your dog when you have children over." Everyone knows the drill. So why doesn't it work? Why are there an estimated 800,000 Americans seeking medical attention for dog bites each year, with over half of these injuries to children ages 5-9?
The bites are not a result of negligent parents leaving Fido to care for the baby while mom does household chores, oblivious to the needs of her children. In fact, I've consulted on hundreds of dog bite cases and 95% of the time the parent was standing within 3 feet of the child watching both child and dog when the child was bitten. Parents are supervising. The problem is not lack of supervision. The problem is no one has taught parents what they should be watching.
Parents generally have not received any education on what constitutes good dog body language and what constitutes an emergency between the dog and the child. Parents generally have no understanding of the predictable series of canine body cues that would indicate a dog might bite. And complicating matters further, most parents get confused by the good intentions of the child and fail to see when a dog is exhibiting signs of stress. The good news is all of this is easy to learn! We can all get better at this.
Here is a simple list to help you improve your supervision skills:
Robin Bennett, USA
The following two case stories describe such a critical situation where something could happen if you don't intervene in time.
Linda Kerr, USA
When I visited my sister in Indiana I took Roxie who loves children. I watched her body language closely with a 2 yr old boy. At first she was fine and I was taking pictures of them together. The last picture I took clearly shows she was beginning to get stressed out. Her eyes were looking away from the boy and her tongue flicked out. I immediate told the child that Roxie needed a rest and removed her from the situation. Roxie is the sweetest Corgi but they can only tolerate so much.
Especially dogs, who are not used to small children chasing them and pulling their ears and hair, could reach their limit of tolerance quickly. I saved that picture as a reminder because it clearly shows in a snapshot second what I could have missed if I weren't watching carefully.
Mary Kaminski, USA
Both of my Cardis have been wonderful with kids. There are always kids in my yard playing with my corgis. But... it's true, dogs give lots of warnings, if only we pay enough attention to what they're saying and understand their language.
A friend came to visit us with her 4 year old. My Yankee was exceptionally good with the little ones. After greeting the child warmly and playing with her for about an hour, Yankee clearly had enough and retreated to her favorite chair in the living room. The child, as children will, wanted to play some more. We distracted the child a few times with other activities, and repeatedly told her to leave the dog alone.
Yankee (Aragorn's Yankee Doodle Dandy)
But she continued to go back to Yankee, who would turn away, squirm and otherwise show her displeasure. Finally, Yankee gave her a very close "air snap" warning; never touched the child but close enough to scare her. Much crying ensued.
Luckily, this child had a very dog-savvy parent who totally understood Yankee's behavior. She even disciplined her child, appropriately for that child's age. Needless to say, had my dog language skills been better back then, I would have taken Yankee upstairs to her crate (her safe space), long before it escalated that far.
In the 16 years we had her, that was the only time she ever did anything like that. But I learned a good lesson that day - every dog, no matter how sweet, can bite when pushed far enough.