When Helping Isn’t Helpful

Our daughter is at an age now where she wants to be involved with pretty much everything that we do. She likes to “help” us with chores including sweeping, cleaning, making the bed, and feeding the dogs.  When walking the dogs, she insists on holding the leash. So I’ve adopted the “two-leash” system of dog walking, with her holding one and an adult holding the second leash, both attached to the collar. This morning, she even helped us set the course for an agility demo at a local dog event for the Humane Society Silicon Valley.

The two-leash system

The two-leash system assures control while allowing the child to “walk the dog”.

While I truly appreciate that she enjoys picking up after the dogs – something that she only “gets to do” supervised – her helpfulness can also slow things down considerably.  And at times, helpful could simply get in the way.  In feeding the dogs, for instance, if I’m in a hurry to get out of the house in the morning, I’ll often feed them in stealth mode before she gets up, so that she does not hear me and insist on helping, which can triple the time it takes to get it done.

Picking up poop at Grandma's house

Helping to pick up after the dogs.

The other day, after feeding our pack (they are fed in crates) I briefly left the room to let them finish. I heard a suspicious noise in the front room – anyone with a toddler understands about suspicious noises – and I went in to find that our 2-year-old had let my husband’s dog out of his crate and was taking his bowl out to put it away. We are very fortunate that a) he was done eating, b) he never guards food and c) he is the most tolerant of our dogs around her. Nevertheless, I made a mental note that the dogs in “closed” crates need more supervision.  Fortunately, the other crates have different latches that are difficult even for adults to open, much less a toddler. We’ve also discussed changing out my husband’s dog’s crate for a similar model.

The point is that even in the most benign of settings, a completely well-meaning child may put himself in danger. I recently read an article from Animal Behavior Associates describing a tragic situation in which a previously “good with children” dog was pushed beyond his limits. They go on to describe how this heartbreak could have been prevented; all in all, it comes down to more supervision, not just for the child’s safety, but for the dog’s as well.

Well-meaning dogs can also present problems. I have heard many stories of overly exuberant dogs accidentally injuring children by knocking them down or scratching them. And stories of dogs “protecting” (which is often actually resource guarding) children to the detriment of visitors or passersby.

Having children and dogs together is a decision that should not be taken lightly, regardless of how “rock solid” our dogs are, or how well behaved our children are. Good intentions are not always well-received by dogs or by children. We must remember that, as parents and dog guardians, our job becomes all the more demanding in order to keep everyone safe and comfortable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *