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Dogs and children – building positive interactions

By Jodi Harris*

Cues & Clicks Dog & Animal Training

I AM passionate about child and dog safety and I admit, as a dog trainer and parent, many pictures of kids and dogs I see on Facebook absolutely terrify me.

Educate yourself on dog body language – in my opinion it’s the difference between an average and good dog owner.

There is an app called Dog Decoder which is a great resource, as is gaining information from a qualified positive reinforcement trainer.

Essentially, no dog is 100 per cent happy all the time (our dogs have bad days too) and young children don’t understand the impact their behaviour can have on pets.

Just because your dog doesn’t growl, bite or even move away from a child, and never has done, doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t get fed up, angry or worse one day.

So, what should owners wanting to try their best do?

Unless you’re 100 per cent present and focused on your pet and your child, they should not be able to access each other. This means that if you’re in the same room, but watching the television or doing the dishes, you are unable to see the split second your dog shows body language to alert you they’ve become uncomfortable (or downright annoyed), so keep them apart.

Invest in crate training and baby gates/doggy play pens.

Give your dog something fun and calm to do while they’re separate.

If able, keep your dog present, but out of reach. Share your time between your dog and your child where possible.

Never allow your child to approach your dog while they’re sleeping. You should call your dog and make sure they’re fully awake first.

Never allow your child to approach your dog while eating or in possession of a prized item.

Closely supervise your child eating near your dog or separate them. If you allow your child to feed your dog while they are eating, it may train your dog to approach your child every time they eat, so not a good idea.

Adults or older children under supervision in the home should practice methods for reducing any dog’s anxiety around their food, as well as retrieving stolen items (even if they belong to the child). Getting advice from a positive reinforcement trainer is absolutely necessary to ensure you’re doing this properly.

Where possible, involve your child(ren) in feeding your dog to build a positive association. Getting kids to make up stuffed Kongs and other enrichment items works in our house.

Where possible, involve your child(ren) in calm games with your dog such as “find it” and trick training, under adult supervision and only while the dog is calm.

*Jodi Harris holds a Certificate IV in Companion Animal Services.