By Daniel Stevens and Martin Olliver
For parents, children are a small menace who can be difficult to predict and control. For dogs, children are a medium-sized menace who can be difficult to predict - but a menace they rely on parents to control.
In order to avoid your dogs aggression in the company of your children, there are several important rules to put down. Basically, owners need to train their kids on behalf of their dog.
- No tug of war or “contest” games. Certain play activities encourage and elevate dog aggression responses, as they trigger the “prey instincts” of dogs. It may look cute when puppies thrash a stuffed toy, jerking their head from side to side. But this is a hangover from when wolves had to snap the spine of their protesting prey. Tug of war, in particular, also encourages the dog to assert its strength and dominance by way of a contest. These games are a bad idea for kids.
- Don’t push a playful or jumping dog. Dogs respond to this force as a further engagement of play. They are hardwired to respond to this force with an equal and opposite force. Translation: they will push back. In situations where you want a dog to stop jumping, the child needs to make sure they are calm enough to avoid encouraging the behaviour, which is where it gets tricky when the high-pitched giggling, squealing, or even crying kicks in. High-pitches are music to an excited dog’s oversensitive ears. You’ll need to work with the whole family on having commands to interrupt this behaviour (such as “Down” or “Ouch” followed by ignoring or physically separating child from dog).
- Don’t touch tail or paws. Dogs can’t see what’s behind them. If something is pulling on their tail, even if it’s just a curious tug, they will respond quickly and firmly, often with their mouth open and primed. Kids don’t have tails. That’s why they’re curious about them. It’s up to you to make them cautious as well. The same goes for their paws. They are over-protective of their paws since back in their pack hunting days they were the means to their survival.
- Don’t have attack commands, even for fun. The command “Sick him” should not be part of your children’s vocabulary, whether it is directed at a squirrel or the bully down the road.
After you’re done with basic training for your children, there are a few tips you should give them when dealing with other people’s dogs, which after all is where a lot of dog aggression problems start:
- Always ask the owner first if you can say “hello” to their dog.
- When you do greet a new dog, it’s always best to pet “underhand” with your hand first making contact under the dog’s jaw. This is a non-threatening contact that allows the dog to see your hand (and what it’s doing) at every point.
- Never pet or even approach a dog tied up on its own, however nice it may appear. Dogs that are tied up can easily feel “cornered” by an approaching child or group of children, and will act defensively.
- Avoid head-on, direct eye contact. For dogs this can be a sign of confrontation or challenge.
Kids love to teach other kids what they know. You’ll find that if you start with a few simple rules, the knowledge will spread and we’ll have a safer relationship with kids and canines.
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