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Dogs and Children

The most dangerous behaviour problems are cases involving adult dogs that bite children. Treating these dogs can be extremely hazardous and time-consuming and is generally only moderately successful. This is largely because treatment techniques are usually beyond the capabilities of the dog's owner, who has already demonstrated ineffectiveness as a trainer by allowing the problem to develop in the first place. Since an adult dog's aggression has no easy and immediate remedies, perhaps we should emphasize preventing puppies from becoming aggressive. This is a much safer, easier, more effective and considerably more enjoyable endeavor.



Child with LabradorProximity And Contact:  After viewing my video, Sirius Puppy Training, a trainer from England remarked that it resembled a pantomime performed in a circus with puppies, children and adults all running amuck. The whole family is encouraged to attend my classes in which both puppies and children are off-leash. There are two reasons for this: to educate the children and to educate the pups.


Educating Children: Every family member must learn to control the dog, so each may as well come to class. Whereas puppies and children are a delightful combination, adult dogs and children often have problems together. I teach parents a simple rule: No one is allowed to interact and/or play with the dog without first asking it whether it would like to play. The prospective playmate asks the dog to come and sit. If the dog approaches and sits, the person may elect to play. If, however, the dog neither comes nor sits, the person (adult or child) is not allowed to interact with the dog because he has no control over it. Without rudimentary obedience control, play sessions tend to get out of hand; people can unintentionally ruin a good dog by teaching it bad habits. A major goal of family pet training is to educate all family members. Using lure/reward training techniques. even -four- and five-year-olds can manage all breeds of dog, whether small and fast or large and strong


Educating Pups: Many puppies are owned by people who do not have children living at home. Though this may offer a wonderful and peaceful existence for some adult dogs and their owners, developmentally it is disastrous for the pup. A puppy that grows up without regular enjoyable interaction with children is hardly equipped to deal with routine interactions with unfamiliar children later on, let alone possible unpleasant and stressful encounters. Just as it is important for all children to learn how to react around dogs, it is important for all dogs to learn how to act around children. During the second week of puppy classes, we give the children some treats for the puppies. Each child approaches a puppy and tosses a treat on the floor. If the pup reaches for the treat, the child backs up and offers another from its hand. Thus, the pup's first interaction with a child is "This is a child and here's a treat."


First Impressions: First impressions are very important since they create a deep and long-lasting impression on a dog. The fact that the dog approaches the child is important; it demonstrates that the dog voluntarily accepts the child's company. Once the children have given treats to each pup, they embark on the second phase, which is to walk right up to the pups and offer the treats. In the third phase, each child approaches each dog and pets it while giving a treat. The above procedure is repeated the following week in class. Most children (who have been training their own puppy at home) just cannot resist asking the pup to sit before offering a treat. In fact, most pups sit instantly, because they have become familiar with the incorporation of food (both as a lure and a reward) in training. By the fourth or fifth week of class, many pups sit automatically when they see a child approach. What a lovely way to greet a child or anyone for that matter. The kids feel great because they can control the pups by instructing them to sit. This is marvelous fodder for the childrens self-esteem and It's not bad for parents either who are utterly impressed with their childrens training skills. They are relieved that their soon-to-be-adolescent dog is congenial and compliant with chil- dren and the pups are ecstatic because they have at long last discovered that "sttting" is the secret command that trains children to stand still and deliver treats.


Protectiveness: Manydogowners make the mistake of habituallygiving the dog Its dinner and then retiring to allow it to eat in peace. Others are warned not to approach the dog while it is eating. While this may be sound and necessary advice, it does nothing to prevent the development of protective aggressive behaviour. On the contrary, lsolating a dog with its food fosters protectiveness. When a puppy grows up eating alone. it becomes accustomed to solitary supper arrangements. It is not surprising then that it may react adversely when disturbed. especially when rudely startled or interrupted by children. The dog must be deliberately taught not only to tolerate the proximity and actions of people at feeding time, but also to eagerly anticipate and welcome the presence of people. Beware of the many "Problem. what problem?" problems. Even though a cute and cuddly puppy looks like It wouldn't harm a fly, in just four months It will be nearly adult size. Similarly. though the puppy may be fine with family members around Its food bowl. preventive Intervention is still essential to ensure that as an adult the dog will be absolutely trustworthy with strangers around its food, bones and toys. Sitting with the pup while It eats its first few meals at home establishes a firm foundation of mutual trust that will last for years. If the owner holds the bowl and dishes out the kibble by hand, the pup quickly forms positive associations with the presence of at least one person around its food bowl. Moreover, providing company at feeding time affords an Ideal opportunity for adult owners to commence routine handling and gentling exercises. Instalment feeding is another valuable method to get the dog comfortable with other people approaching Its food bowl. For example. if a puppy is given an empty bowl, It will welcome the owner,a visitor or a child who approaches with even yesterday's left overs. Divide the dog's dinner lnto several portions but have visitors serve them with an intentional delay between courses. The pup will not only tolerate the stranger presence, It will want the visitor to approach Its bowl. An alternative approach is to invite neighbors to meet the pup. (Remember. it is unfriendly neighbors who report barking dogs. and It is often the neighbor's children who torment them into barking in the first place. This exercise allows neighborhood families to get to know the dog. People are less likely to report a friend's dog for barking. and children are less likely to provoke a pet that they know and like.) Give each person a bag containing the pup's divided dinner with instructions to place a treat or two on the puppy's plate occasionally. The children's bags may contain something special like dried kibble soaked in beef bouillon or garnished with meat scraps. The young pup very quickly learns that human hands Come to give and not to take away. And the pup learns that childrens hands give the best of all. If ever there is a time to use treats in training. It is for. children to offer them to a puppy while it is eating from Its bowl or chewing on a bone or toy. Pull out all the stops: Use turkey. lamb. freeze-dried liver-anything that works. Have children feed the dog on a regular basis (always under supervision). In no time at all. the pup will happily anticipate the presence and presents of children. If there are no children in the house, beg or borrow some to perform these simple but crucial exercises. lt would be foolish to wait until the dog is even four months old. Aggression problems must be solved before they develop.



By Ian Dunbar, PH.D., M.R.C.V.S.