By Lesley Brog
As founder and Chief Animal Lover of Los Angeles-based dog rescue Wags and Walks and mom to three girls, I’ve seen firsthand how kids and dogs best go together. There is truly nothing better for a child than the love of a dog. It builds a child’s confidence, immune system and communications skills.
That said, there are some important things to know so that the dogs and kids in your life can thrive. Here are my top tips.
Be respectful. No dog should have to accept rough treatment from anyone – child or adult. It’s important, therefore, to teach children to respect a dog’s space. From their earliest days it’s important to show your children how to be gentle with dogs. If one of them grabbed too hard, you can calmly redirect them by showing them first how to pet, “No, be gentle,” proceeding to pet the dog’s back gently and demonstrating what you mean by “gentle.”
At Wags and Walks we also always encourage children to approach dogs slowly. Even if your dog may be friendly, a child’s sudden movement may startle or frighten even the sturdiest of dogs. Without having to separate your child from the dog, make sure your children and their friends don’t run at him with overly excited energy. And, more importantly, make sure your children understand never to pursue the attention of a dog that is trying to avoid them. If the dog wants alone time, he or she should receive it.
Be responsible. As grown-ups we are responsible for the interactions between our children and dogs. Even if it’s your own dog, it’s best not to leave dogs and young children together unsupervised. Infants especially like to grab things. Remember that to humans, touch is a very important way of learning about the world, and yet even the friendliest dog can react badly to suddenly having its tail or ears yanked. And a bad reaction – a warning bark, a nip or, god forbid, a real bite – whether justified or not, is something you just want to avoid!
Be realistic. Dogs are dogs. They don’t reason as humans do, so you must have realistic expectations of what they can and cannot tolerate. Similarly, be realistic about a dog’s nature. If your dog is old, infirm or maybe just likes to be quiet, let him or her have a safe place to hide away from a rambunctious toddler or child. If you have a dog that is a guard dog or a dog that is wary of strangers, don’t let your children’s friends play with him or her. You are only setting everyone up for trouble.
Be a good example. Kids will relate to dogs in the same ways as the adults around them do. If you yell at the dog, be prepared for your children to do the same. And while you might be able to figure out that the yellow lab with the bandana that says “kiss me” is a good candidate for a snuggle, your child can’t be trusted to make those kinds of decisions. So be sure to always either have your child ask, or you yourself ask an owner if a dog is friendly. And pay attention to the owner’s reaction. No one likes to think of their dog as ill-behaved or mean. So if you sense any hesitation, move along. But if you’re feeling good, show your child how to pet the dog. Start gently, always under the chin or on the chest, and never by reaching over the dog’s back.
There are only a few tips. There is so much to talk about when it comes to dogs and kids. If you have any further questions drop us a line at wagsandwalks.org!
Lesley Brog, mother of three daughters (ages 10 weeks, 6 and 9 ), left a successful career in pharmaceutical sales four years ago to start Wags and Walks, a Los Angeles-based dog rescue charity focused on connecting shelter dogs with families. Wags and Walks has saved the lives of more than 500 animals and is a coalition partner of Best Friends Animal Society (NKLA), one of the largest animal welfare organizations in the country.