In the light of the recent horrific tragedy involving little Lexi Branson and her adopted rescue dog I thought it was fitting to write this blog post about how dogs and children can both be kept safe in each others company.(I also say keeping the dog safe, because lets face it, one mistake, one nip is all it takes for a death sentence to be issued on the poor creature. It is not only in the child's interest to be kept safe, but the dog's also).
As you may know, we have a toddler, George, and we also have a young Border Collie bitch, Mila, who is eight months old. We actually decided to buy a puppy, simply because I believe that you can never fully vouch for the behaviour of a rescue dog. You don't know their history, you don't know who has trained them and using what methods, or what experiences they have had. Rescue dogs may be just fine with older (better trained!) children, but with babies and toddlers I personally wouldn't recommend it. We chose to buy a puppy, simply so that she could grow up with him and get to think of all the noise and excitement of our house as 'the norm'. It is obvious the rescue dog that attacked Lexi was unsuitable for family life with young children, but also, I think it's naive to assume that just because a dog has been brought up with children, that you have no need to take precautions or be careful.
Lets face it. Children are an awful lot to cope with. They're noisy - they cry and shout and scream and squeal. They have little to no empathy and the attention span of a gnat. Even their toys are noisy and irritating! They're unpredictable and rough, and have tempestuous emotions. Children can, unfortunately, be a big stress causer for any pets in the home.
Obviously, the first rule in child/dog safety is to not allow your child to approach strange dogs without specific permission from the owners. And even then the child must be made to approach quietly and calmly. But actually, statistics show that children are much more likely to be bitten by their own family dog than they are by a strange dog that they don't know.
I personally believe that family dogs are expected to put up with too much. Often they are expected to take all the noise and the ear pulling and the teasing, without any protest at all. This is simply not fair to the dog.
Any report I've ever heard about children being attacked by dogs always seems to indicate that the dog attacked 'without warning'. I simply don't see how this could be the case. The warning may have been subtle, but it will have been there. A little growl, raised hackles, lip licking, yawning, freezing, the dog could try running away from the child, or the dog taking too much interest in the child, these are all warning signs.
How can we keep our children and dogs safe?
1.) Always supervise. A simple rule, but an important one. If your child is playing with your dog, then you must be around to supervise. Don't leave them in the same room together and walk off. George and Mila LOVE to play with each other, running around the house causing chaos, but often need reminding to not pull at fur, or to not jump up, or to stop running you'll fall! / knock him over! If you are there you can stop any disasters before they happen.
2.) Allow the dog to have a 'safe place', where they can go and the child cannot follow. This is easier when you have a baby, as they can't move much or walk. Amber used to jump up on the settee when she'd had enough of George, but now he can walk, Mila doesn't have this luxury. She does have a doggie door to the garden, and so she can always shoot through this if she needs to. But mostly we keep them apart unless one of us is there. If I feel Mila is getting a bit fed up, I put her in another room to have a break.
3.) Don't let dogs and children eat around each other. There was another fatal dog attack involving a child some years ago, it was a Pitbull, but I don't feel that was the issue (I don't thing breed specific legislation solves anything). The story went that the Nana of the child gave both the dog and the child a bag of crisps. She then left the room, and came running back once she heard the child screaming. I can actually picture what may have happened. The dog eats his crisps first, then goes for the child's. The child will not of wanted to give up their food, maybe the dog received a smack on the nose, and unfortunately we all know the rest. The same sort of scenario could occur with toys instead of food.
4.) If you have an old dog, or a poorly dog, then take caution when children are around. Children can be rough, and although they don't mean it, they may cause pain and end up being bitten. They may also surprise older dogs whose hearing and eyesight may not be so sharp, and in such instances the dog may react on instinct and snap. Also take care when a dog is sleeping, for the same reason.
5.) Be aware that the squeaky little noises babies make can sound similar to prey. In some dogs this may trigger a predatory reaction. Let the dog smell and be near the baby, but as said before, never leave them unattended. Another dog attack comes to mind here, a Jack Russel Terrier that attacked a newborn baby. Terriers are excellent ratters, they are geared up to take a great interest in anything small and squeaky.
Also, with older children when they run around, it could also trigger this sort of predatory response. The dog may chase them and nip, acting on instinct.
6.) Teach them both well! A dog that responds to commands and knows their place will do better with one that has no rules or discipline in their life. Mila is only young but she knows that when I say 'Oi!', she has done something displeasing and she will stop dead in her tracks. Similarly, I will praise her when she does something I like. This is how she will learn how to behave around George, she will eventually know what's good behaviour, and what's not.
And the same goes for George. He will be reprimanded for any fur pulling or roughness, and praised when he pets her gently. When he's a little older I will make sure he knows exactly how to behave around dogs, calmly and sensibly, not to put his face close to theirs, and not to shout etc. It is a learning process for both of them, but neither is exempt!
Dogs and children are made for each other. I think they can enrich each others lives and bring a lot of joy and happiness to each other. A few simple precautions and remembering to never be complacent can protect them both from harm, and ensure that their relationship is one that's based on mutual respect and love.
GEORGE AND MILA - IN TRAINING!
George and Mila meet for the first time! Here she is ragging on George's trousers, I'm pretty sure he probably gave her a whack just after this shot. Time for some serious training!
What are you pair up to?!
Here is Mila 'putting up' with George - Her face says it all! He is ramming his wheel barrow into her. Cue a telling off for George and a pat for Mila for being so tolerant.
Mila looks at the balls but doesn't touch - Good girl!