Do's and Don'ts for Kids and Their Family Dog

Dogs + Kids = Warm, loving companionship --- or chaos?

Well, that's up to you. The benefits of canine friendship can be many. Kids can learn that responsible care-giving is well worth the effort for the love and companionship they receive in return. They can also learn a sense of trust and security that will carry over into their human relationships. There is, however, a lot you need to know to ensure that your child has the same fond memories of growing up with Rover as you did.

Building any good relationship takes understanding, communication and realistic expectations. The relationship between a child and a dog can be very special, but it needs guidance to become a rewarding experience with lasting good memories. So teach your child how to get along with dogs and reap the rewards of all those warm wet kisses and big hugs. The AKC, experts on purebred dogs since 1884, offers tips on how to keep everyone in your family safe and happy.

“Every child should grow up with a dog. I did.”

Does your child want a dog? Ask him or her. Maybe it's not the right age or time, or the child isn't ready for the responsibilities of caring for a dog. Maybe your child is too busy with other activities. Maybe you're the one who really wants the dog. Regardless, you as the adult, are the individual ultimately responsible for the dog's health and welfare.

“Billy, this is Rover. Rover, Billy.” Now what?

What do these two wily creatures need to know about each other? How to: 1) Behave, and 2) Communicate. The first message: Be Gentle and Learn Mutual Respect. Other tips:

Do explain to your child that since dogs can't talk like we do, they communicate in different ways, such as facial expressions, body posture, or barking. Your child should learn to be sensitive to the dog's behavior.

Do demonstrate how to interact with the dog. Show the child how to pet the dog nicely, to give the dog some space if it gets anxious, and how not to pull the dog's tail, or ears, or poke its eye. Carefully explain that a dog is not a toy.

Do make sure your dog has basic obedience training. The dog needs to know what is expected of it, and you need to establish a form of communication with your pet. Consulting a qualified obedience instructor can be helpful.

Do be consistent in all teaching endeavors.

Do supervise all puppy - child interactions. The adult in the household is the responsible party to be sure interactions are fun and mutually respected.

Do oversee the dog's care and well-being at all times.

Don't expect any dog to tolerate ear tugging, tail pulling or the like. Intervene if play gets rough or out of hand.

Don't force responsibility on the child that he or she is not ready for. The dog will suffer the consequences of being neglected, ignored and not properly cared for.

Safety Tips for Kids

Even a nice dog may try to protect himself with a growl and a nip at certain times. Biting is a dog's natural way of protecting himself. Since dogs sometimes see kids as equals, they may try to send them a warning, doggy-style, when things get tense. Here's how to avoid misunderstandings with your own or anyone else's dog.
• Always ask a dog's owner if you may pet the dog.
There may be a very good reason why a dog should not be touched. He may be "on duty" as a handicapped person's assistance dog, or he may be injured, ill, or afraid of children.
• Approach a dog from the front or side.
Hold your hands low and speak softly. Surprising a dog from behind, forcing him into a corner, waving hands in the air or screaming may overexcite him, causing him to snap in fear or even in play.
• Let a dog eat in peace.
If there's one place a dog may get defensive, it's at the food dish. Your dog shouldn't growl when you get near his dish, but you shouldn't interfere with his eating.
• Watch out for special toys.
Some dogs have powerful feelings for their balls or chew toys. Never take a bone or toy from a dog's mouth unless you have trained him to drop it and give it to you first.

• Avoid teasing, rough wrestling, or tug-of-war games.
Dogs may get too enthusiastic in these sorts of games and forget you're not a dog. Fetch, Frisbee, hide and seek, agility courses, and flyball are better outlets for your dog's energy.
• Respect a dog's space.
Dogs naturally defend their territories. Sticking your hand inside a strange dog's pen or in a car window where a dog is sitting may put him in a defensive situation and he might bite to protect his territory.
• Leave fighting dogs alone.
Do not try to break up a dogfight! Most fights end quickly, but it's a good idea to remain quiet and get an adult who can stop the fight with a garden hose or lemon juice in a squirt bottle. Trying to separate or yelling at fighting dogs makes them more excited, and they might turn on you.
• Observe dog body language.
Dogs normally resort to biting only when they think you haven't listened to their warnings. Watch out for a dog who is barking, growling, or showing his teeth. Beware if his ears are back, legs, stiff, tail up, or hair standing up on his back. Slowly walk away and say "No" firmly, arms by your side. Do not scream, stare into his eyes, or run away. If you run, he will chase you and may attack.
• Tell your friends what you know.
When friends come to your house, introduce them to your dog and explain the house rules. When you're out, share your knowledge. The more everyone knows about dogs, the better world it will be for dogs and people.

The above is an excerpt from The Complete Dog Book for Kids, a publication of The American Kennel Club.
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