Very often the behaviour of a dog is highly influenced by the behaviour of the children around it. This is no surprise since they often spend considerably more time with the dog than adults do. On a positive note, dogs offer wonderful companionship for children and often give them a sense of responsibility and security. Furthermore, because of their shorter life span, they help children understand bereavement and coming to terms with it. Adversely, children can sometimes tease and be cruel to dogs and encourage the types of behaviour you want to avoid (e.g. jumping up, nipping and begging). If certain dog behaviour is treated inconsistently by individual family members, it will be difficult for your dog to understand what the desired behaviour should be. Likewise, dogs which have had negative or cruel experiences with children can grow up to treat children with caution. Consequently, it is important for dogs to have as many positive experiences with children as possible and that children, as well as adults, are educated in good training and behavioural management practices.
Interestingly, dog behaviourists often look at an owner’s behaviour towards their children as potential indicators of how they treat their dog. Parents with well-behaved, confident children often have more manageable dogs. Although no scientific evidence exists, behaviourists often find that hyperactive children have a negative influence on dogs within the home.
What if I don’t have children?
If you don’t have children it is still essential to socialise your dog with as many children as soon as possible. Dogs will always encounter children at some point whether it is in the park, on walks or on holiday. It is important that they are accustomed to the characteristics displayed by children such as: higher pitched voices, excitable behaviour and fast arm movements. Puppy classes that allow children are often a good opportunity for your dog to meet children in a controlled environment.
How should I introduce my dog to children?
If your dog has not been socialised with children, you should exercise caution during initial introductions. The best way to introduce dogs to children is to ask the children to put a dog treat on the palm of their hand with their fingers close together and let the dog approach them to retrieve the titbit. Children should hold their hand beneath the dog’s mouth level and keep it still. They should be encouraged to stroke or scratch a dog under the chin or around the throat, rather than patting them on the head. Patting on the head obstructs a dogs sense organs and can be misconstrued as an act of aggression.
Children should not hug or cuddle dogs that have not been fully socialised. Please ensure children and dog interactions are closely monitored.