• Natural Dog

But i want my dog to be good around my kids

Once, while attempting to enjoy a coffee at a seaside coffee in Australia, I witnessed an unprovoked dog attack. Two Chihuahuas were tied up outside café, minding their own business. Suddenly, from nowhere a man holding what was clearly a recently hatched baby spotted them. “Oh look,” he said to the baby, apparently under the mistaken belief that the baby understood him, “two cute little doggies!”

I virtually spat out my mouthful of latte as he proceeded to walk right up to the tethered twosome, bent down and shoved his baby – head first I might add – right into the faces of the dogs. Fortunately, the chihuahuas did not react to this attack, but it could easily have been a different story.

It seems that a terrible story of a child being badly bitten by a dog is never far from the headlines. So often, the culprit is a family dog rather than a random attack by an unknown assailant, leading to the inevitable death of aforementioned family pet. I regularly receive inquiries from people asking me how to guarantee that their dogs will be well-behaved around children. My reply is not always well received, but I make no apologies for it.

When you study dogs, you quickly see that personal space is a big issue for them.

N.B. Humans also understand this; people seem friendlier in the countryside than in the city…

Dogs are mostly very tolerant with puppies, allowing them to climb all over them and grab their tails. However, there is a limit to what they will put up with. Sometimes a puppy will go over the top with their playful pestering and receive a sideways glance, followed by a growl. If they don’t take the hint then, they are liable to receive a reprimand in the form of a grab of the muzzle. This grab with the mouth is a clear signal that they have gone too far and should leave the other one alone.

Sometimes, the human members of the dog’s family can also be told off for getting it wrong. Over 95% of dog bites occur because people do not respect a dog’s personal space. Have you ever heard the expression, “Let sleeping dogs lie”? There is a good reason for this sage advice…

On a slightly different note (again an incident involving food and/or drink), I was recently at a restaurant near my home in France. As we sat outside, we were immediately the centre of attention of some stray cats that apparently lived in the hedge opposite the restaurant. Another diner started feeding the moggies (mission accomplished for the cats). He then made the error of trying to pick one up for a cuddle, whereupon we all heard a bloodcurdling scream (well, there were two actually – one from the cat as it was picked up, followed by another by the man as the claws went into his arm). The attitude of the restaurant manager typified our general response to a cat attack. “Yeah, don’t pick them up”.

When a cat clearly shows that it wants to be left alone, nobody says a word. When a dog does the same thing, it is accused of being aggressive, categorised as “dangerous” and the usual advice is to kill it. Only the other day, I helped someone in Toulouse with a dog that had been given a Category 3 status of aggression by vets and a behaviourist. The latter has visited the house after the vet who was bitten advised the owner to get an “expert” in. The behaviourist immediately went right up the dog and started stroking its head. When the dog growled, it was branded a menace. After a telephone session and a little online coaching from yours truly, the owner is now seeing a much calmer dog in general, as well as now knowing how to educate people on how to interact correctly with dogs.

The rule is so simple, it is amazing that so many people get it so hopelessly wrong; if you want to say hello to a dog, call the dog to you. This way, the dog has a choice at least. If it comes to you, it has done so of its own free will. If the dog doesn’t come, take that as a really clear signal that they are not ready yet.

A student of mine in Sweden asked how she could stop people constantly coming up to pat her dog. Her dog does not like having their space invaded and despite putting a T-shirt on it telling people to give them space, nobody takes any notice. I advised her to buy a soft muzzle and put it on her dog. This has nothing to do with the dog being aggressive, but if people can’t read, they might think twice about approaching a dog wearing a muzzle. As I often say, training dogs is the easy part…

I have visited schools before with a very tolerant dog called Alfie (I have been invited by the teachers I hasten to add – it would be weird if I just turned up outside the schoolyard) to teach kids how to safely interact with dogs. The children line up on either side of me and the pooch, and one by one they call him to them. Alfie gets lot of cuddles and the children learn a valuable lesson that could save them a lot of pain and anguish in the future.

If a child is too young to understand the rules, they should always be supervised when around dogs. It is usually the case that a family dog attack has happened when everyone’s backs are turned for a moment. I do appreciate that it can only take a split second for something to happen, so being extra vigilant or keeping them apart from each other when in doubt is best.

I use the “Simon Says” game to help children understand the rules of engagement with dogs. There has to be an invitation before a fuss or cuddle can happen. Give a dog the chance to make their own decision to approach when asked too and the cuddle will be much happier – and safer - for everyone.

Tony Knight

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