She Started It!

When I was in college, I had a sweet cat, Scheida, and my roommate had a lovely dog, Bixby. They got along well, since I got the kitten while the dog was young and they basically grew up together. One evening, as we were watching a movie, Bixby repeatedly chased Scheida out of the family room into the back bedroom. Each time, my roommate reprimanded Bixby, insisting that he leave the cat alone. Later, as we were chatting after the movie ended, we happened to watch: Scheida walked right up to Bixby and whapped him on the nose three times then ran away. As Bixby got up to chase her, he looked at us, knowing he’d be reprimanded. At that moment, I really wanted to tell him to go get that cat! She was, after all, the instigator.

While at the surface, this story could speak to cats as troublemakers, (remember Lady and the Tramp?) the fact is, cats are not the only ones who can behave in this manner. Like the old school trouble-maker who lures classmates into trouble, I have seen dogs and children behave this way as well.

Among dogs, I’ve seen plenty of instigators as well: dogs who nudge and nudge at a dog that is clearly giving “cut off” signals, until they have to be reprimanded loudly. In many such cases, I’ve seen the growling dogs reprimanded, when in fact the other dog was the one who had instigated the dispute.

Similarly, children often do not intentionally start things, but do things because they do not know better. I am often called to work with dogs that have bitten and/or threatened children.  While not in all cases, I have encountered a number of situations where the children had been allowed (or unsupervised) to do things that the dogs did not like. In one case that dropped my heart to my stomach, the dog had snapped at the 2-year-old and grazed his face. While the cut was truly just a scrape, there was concern about the dog. When I asked the child what had happened just before his dog bit him, he said to me “I squished his face”. His mother’s face went sheet-white as she heard this, and wondered why he hadn’t told her this part.

In other cases, I’ve been told that the dogs had previously allowed the children to climb on them or pull on their ears and tails, and then “one day, out of the blue, started to growl at them.” This case is so very common: the dog endures all manner of abuse (yes, pulling on one’s ears can hurt) and then one day decides that he’s had enough, and people are appalled that the dog now growls. The sad part is that after this, it can be a steep, uphill battle to convince the dog to once again trust children.

So, what is the solution? To start, we know that children must be closely supervised around dogs. They often do things that they do not even know are bad or painful. The child who “squished” his dog’s face did so in the same room with his mother, who was busy on her computer.

Classic example: the little girl means well,but the dog is uncomfortable
In such a case, call the child away

Unsupervised, children may do things to dogs that we would never even consider, such as sticking things into their ears, pulling their tails, climbing on them, or hugging them too hard. It is not fair to insist that any dog should endure this kind of treatment. In addition to interfering to protect a dog, I recommend teaching dogs that leaving a situation is a perfectly acceptable – in fact preferable – option: flight over fight. Give your dogs a place to hide where the children know they are off limits. When you’re unable to supervise closely, separate them. And when it comes to reprimanding bad behavior, make sure you get your story straight first!

I See You!

Saw the cutest toddler photo the other day with the header: “Silence is golden… unless you have a toddler… then silence very very suspicious.” Funny as the statement is (it’s funny because it’s true) It gave me pause when I thought about how this might apply to interactions between a dog and child – the truth is, a child should NEVER be left alone with a dog, even for a short moment.  And yet, in many households, this could be a tall order at times.

“This is how to scratch her belly”

Our daughter, for instance, has learned to open my husband’s dog’s crate. It is the type of door with the turning knob instead of the traditional stiff spring pins. I used to think that Shadow’s crate was the best ever, but I’m not so happy with it now, and we’re actually considering getting another of the less expensive type that a 2-year-old can’t open. The good news for us is that Shadow is our “good dog”, who is least likely to get irritated by her; he really does appear to like her, seeking her out and kissing her face. Nevertheless, unsupervised visits with him are forbidden, so my ears have become attuned to the sound of a crate door opening.

As much as I prefer to live with loose dogs in the house all the time, crates really are the best resting place for dogs in a house with a loose toddler. In the crates, the dogs are actually safer themselves as well, since a toddler can’t accidentally jump on them, try to ride one “like it’s a small horse”, or otherwise annoy them. It’s the best option when I need the dogs inside but can’t be supervising 100% with the toddler.

When I do have to leave the room and a dog is loose with our daughter, I will always call the dog to join me. While it is not usually my preference, I’ve found that it is often MUCH easier to recall a well-trained dog than even the best trained toddler. Usually, when the dog joins me so does the toddler, which makes things even easier. The point is to keep an eye on them both.

Having dogs and children together is not always fun and games. It is often more work than one would expect. But the rewards are worthwhile for those of us who love dogs and want our children to grow up with the joys of having them in their lives.

Running with the family

Anyone who knows me understand that I am a runner. Not a jogger, nor a “fitness buff”, but a runner. It is something that courses in my blood, and that I myself don’t even fully understand. What I do know is that I crave the run, and I am not a particularly pleasant person to be around if I haven’t had a run for several days. Naturally, my dogs are also runners.

When I was 6 months pregnant, I had to stop running due to a high risk pregnancy, and it not only depressed me, but threw my dogs for a loop as well. My border collie gained 4 pounds in that time and I was relieved for both of us when I was finally given the thumbs up to resume running.

Now I’m fortunate that I get to run on a regular basis, but my entire process has changed since before the baby. Whereas I used to just put on my running shoes, stretch a bit, then leash my dog and go, now the process is much more complicated. After dressing myself and stretching, I get to prepare the stroller, make sure that I have milk and juice and goldfish crackers or some similar snack. Then I thoroughly sunscreen the kid, make sure she is fully dressed, including shoes, and strap her into the stroller. Then I put on the belt strap and leash up the dog as well as the stroller, so that neither will accidentally run off, nor get me a citation (off-leash dogs aren’t legal around her, after all.) After one last double check to make sure I have everything I need, I’m off.

Equipment check: belt strap with leash and stroller safety strap

The runs are still as much fun as they always have been, but they are different. No longer can I duck under a barrier to get to the other side of a trail. For that matter, narrow trails are pretty much off-limits entirely with the big stroller, as is deep mud. And rainy day runs are mostly a thing of the past. I play “find the window of sunlight” and hope for clear skies so that my child and the stroller may stay dry. The dogs never care if they get wet, but the kid is a different story.

As for the dogs, they don’t seem to mind the change at all. They do great on the waist-attached leashes, and quickly learned to run alongside the stroller without cutting in front of it. If they need to switch sides, they do so behind me. They are also getting very good at their left and right turn cues (yes, dogs can learn directions) which I use to keep from running them over when turning the stroller right next to them.

My girls, ready to go!

As for me, I’ll always be a runner at heart, and regardless of the running partners, my morning runs will always be my favorite part of the day.

Kids and Competition

I’ve been preparing for this weekend’s flyball tournament with team Pawdemonium. As I pack up my van and my gear, I remember how easy it was when all I had were the dogs. Each time I added a new dog to my pack, I would get a bag just a little bit bigger, adding another bowl, another crate fan, another collapsible crate, and maybe a bit more food and treats. Then I had a kid…

With my daughter, I instantly had to triple the equipment that I took to tournaments and competitions. With four dogs, I took 2 bags of gear and three crates. Adding Shelby meant two more bags of gear plus another chair, plus a cooler full of food and milk, plus the stroller, plus plenty of toys and books… Just going to grandma’s house feels like I’m going away for the weekend, and so a tourney becomes a huge production. But, I would not trade it for the world.

Learning to load the flyball box for our smaller team dogs.

Shelby is becoming a natural around the dogs. Under our very close guidance, she is learning not to approach any dog without asking first us, then the dog’s owners. I know the dogs on our team well, and so I know which are OK for her to pet, and which she must steer clear of, and she is getting very good about heeding my requests. Yet, it’s not all about relaxing and having fun. There is also the chasing.

Not surprisingly, like me and my dogs, Shelby also likes to run… correction… she loves to run. Thus, going to flyball tournaments or agility trials or any dog event with her involves chasing her around, making sure that she does not run up to or past other people’s dogs. It can be exhausting, particularly for my husband, who gets to do most of the chasing while I am competing. Eventually, she will get to run her own dog in competitions, but until then, we get to chase her around to keep her safe.

Yet I still would not trade it for anything. Shelby is learning so many valuable lessons at the competitions. In addition to shagging balls and holding our dogs’ leashes, she is getting good outdoor exercise while learning patience, politeness, sportsmanship, social skills, asking permission, helping out around camp …  More significantly, she gets to see firsthand how beautiful working relationships can be between people and dogs. So even if she chooses not to participate in dog sports when she gets older, she will understand good human-dog relationships, and hopefully seek to have them herself.

Nap time with Daddy at a flyball tournament

Yes, it is a different upbringing than the average “soccer kid”, but it offers a nice balance that will hopefully have long-term, positive effects on her, and on all of the “junior handlers” that we cheer on in the lanes. Did I mention that I would not trade it for the world?

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I was chatting with a friend the other day, and we came to the topic of what we would or would not want to do in front of our children. At my home, I’m fortunate that my husband and I do not have a lot of “bad habits” that we wouldn’t want our daughter to pick up. Nevertheless, we still have to be mindful of certain things, such as our language, or a decision to run across the street to grab something out of the car.

When it comes to interactions with our dogs, (as well as our cats), we really do find that we have to watch ourselves. For instance, I love kissing my dog, Claire, on the face. My favorite photograph of the two of us was taken right before our first sheep herding trial. I was a nervous wreck, and bent down to kiss her on the nose, while she gently licked my chin. It was a magical moment, but not one that I’d like to see our two-year-old daughter try to emulate until she’s substantially older, and can understand when a dog is OK with this and when it is not.

My husband kissing his dog at our wedding.

I was not present when my daughter kissed this puppy, but I would have discouraged it, in spite of his young age.

Unfortunately, sometimes other people don’t share this understanding and they encourage children to kiss dogs on or about the face. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the “curse of the good dog” and this can add to the challenges, as “good” dogs often let children get away with things that they should never do to dogs. And thus, people often grow even more complacent.

In a recent webinar that I attended, this very subject was discussed. Even those of us who do not use traditional, correction-based training methods still do many things with our dogs that children should never do. To keep myself mindful, I wrote up the following list of things that I now try to do outside of my daughter’s presence:

  • Grooming – my Pyrenean Shepherd, in particular, requires a great deal of grooming to keep his coat from becoming matted. I used to love to groom him in the evenings while watching television. Now, I must wait until after our daughter is in bed (which is usually a time I reserve for working) or have him groomed professionally in order to keep him comfortable.
  • Face kisses – Let’s face it, so many of us love to kiss our dogs on the face. It is a way for us to show affection, but it is not something that children should be doing, as they are unable to understand when a dog has had enough, which could result in terrible consequences. (For that matter, I have seen adults bitten by dogs in this way as well.)  It’s just not worth the risk, so children should be prohibited from ever trying it.
  • Snuggling – like face kisses, a child runs the risk of missing important social cues from a dog. Furthermore, children are naturally clumsy, and a well-meaning toddler may accidentally fall upon or step on a dog in an attempt to cuddle, resulting in an injured and/or very angry dog deciding to defend itself.

Unfortunately, not everything can be hidden from the kids. Following are things that I do not allow my daughter to do, but which she must sometimes witness. In every instance, I remind her that she is not to do this and that it is a “grownups only” activity.

  • Tug game – my daughter joins me at flyball and agility practice sessions, as well as competitions, so she sees me playing tug with my dogs all the time. She often asks for my end of the tug toy to play with, and I always decline to give it to her, telling her that it’s a game for just mommy and the dog. Then I hand her a ball to toss for the dog if we are someplace where this is appropriate.
  • Drop it cue – this important cue can come up at any time, and often must be addressed in the moment.  My dogs all have highly reinforced “drop it” cues, and I continue to reward them for drop its in order to keep this behavior strong. But whenever my daughter is present and I have to take something from a dog, I remind her that *only mommy or daddy* can do these things.
  • Running around the dogs – In child-dog safety seminars, I teach children “don’t run by a dog, be a tree or a log.” However, I run with my dogs all the time in flyball and agility, as well as on my daily exercise runs. This is a tough one, but I explain to her that if the dog is not already running alongside her, then she must not run past it. Again, this takes a lot of management, but the potential alternative is not worth the risk.

Walking grandma’s dog

There are other interactions which come up as safety concerns, but these are the principal issues that I see on a regular basis. Of course, our daughter will not be unsupervised with our dogs, so that I may watch her every move to make sure she learns what is and is not allowed with them. But, like every parent, there will come a time when I will have to let go, and trust her to have learned. Meanwhile, I will continue to emphasize the rules of safety and hope and pray that they really stick.

Fun and games for kids and dogs

Had a great training session last evening with a lovely little rescued cocker spaniel who had forgotten how to play. I often see this in older rescue dogs who were previously backyard dogs, or for whatever other reason did not get to play with their people into adulthood. By the end of the session, this little dog was comfortable enough to offer me a couple of play bows and some playful pounces on a toy, which made my day.

Since part of my specialty is working with high drive and sports dogs, I spend a lot of time teaching people how to play with their dogs. Teaching play is part of my class curricula, and I encourage clients to bring toys to class. But while tug and similar games are perfectly appropriate and beneficial ( for adults to play with their dogs, there are limitations as to how children should play do with dogs.

My daughter, at just over two years old, loves to watch me run agility and flyball with our dogs. She cheers us on enthusiastically, yelling “Mommy, Claire, running!” And then she asks to play with the dogs herself. On a number of occasions, she has asked me for my end of a tug toy to engage with a dog, and I have had to turn her down. For, while I love the idea of my dogs playing with my child, I do my best to remain safety conscious at all times, and tug is just not safe between a dog and a toddler.

So, what are appropriate ways for children and dogs to have fun together? Well, of course it does depend on their ages. But there are several options for the closely supervised child and dog, including:

Fetch: As seen in the above-linked video by my friend, Natasha, there is a minimum age at which this game can begin, but pretty much as soon as a child is able to throw a ball, they can do so for a willing dog. The key is to be sure the game is controlled, and the dog is not one that will grab at the ball as the human is going for it. If you have such a dog, then I highly recommend the use of a chuck it or similar toy to keep fingers away from the ball. Ideally, I like to teach a dog to drop the ball, then back away some distance for the child to pick up the ball. I discourage my daughter from picking up the ball if it is still between the dog’s paws, and to wait until the dog has backed away from it. This ensures that the dog is really ready to give it up for another throw, and won’t grab it, accidentally biting little fingers. And as the dogs learn that she won’t throw it again until they back up, they willingly comply.

Chase games: Most dogs naturally love to run. Mine will “zoom” on cue when I say “run!” Typically, they run away from me, and I give short chases as they tuck their tails and zoom in circles past me. Once a dog has been trained by an adult to zoom on cue, then pre-teen or older children can play this game. While I do teach dogs to chase after adults in my sports classes, I don’t encourage dog-chasing-human games with children younger than teenagers, in order to avoid the risk of their being knocked over or otherwise hurt.

Then there are tummy rubs!

Tug: This is my favorite game to play with dogs, but it is not age-appropriate until quite a bit later due to safety concerns. I generally recommend that children be at least in their early teens, larger than the dog in question, and using a very long tug toy. I also recommend that parents first teach the dog a solid “drop it” as well as teaching the dog the rules of tug (i.e. teeth to flesh = game over) prior to allowing the children to play.

Dog sports: Many sports now have “junior handler” divisions and even awards. The AKC has a complete page dedicated to juniors in companion events including a variety of dog sports. In agility, there are also a variety of Junior Handler programs. And in flyball, I have seen children as young as three years old run well-trained dogs with an adult to closely manage the racing, and Junior Handler Awards being given out at tournaments.

North American Flyball Association’s Junior Handler pin

Clearly, games are good. A recent study looking for the effects of tug on dogs’ behavior actually demonstrated that dogs that were played with (tug in this instance) sought more attention from and were more attentive to their handlers.  Isn’t this what we want in relationships between our dogs and our families? So I say, play on, my friends, play on, and keep it safe.

Please and Thank You

Visiting with a friend recently, she commented on how impressed she was that Shelby thanked her for something she was given without being prompted. Since she started talking, we have been constantly reinforcing and encouraging her to “mind her P’s and Q’s”, so to speak, and she is generally pretty good at it these days, though there are still times when we do have to remind her.

Once again, I’m reminded at the similarities in working with dogs and children. In her recent newsletter, TV dog trainer, Victoria Stilwell, wrote that while we must be careful not to anthropomorphize too much, there are still many similarities between rearing children and raising dogs within our families.

Let’s take please and thank you as an example. As I recently wrote in the High Drive Dogs blog, many dogs get very pushy in asking for whatever they want. In such cases, it’s helpful to teach them to “work for everything.” Most specifically, rather than just insisting on getting what they want, we want our dogs to ask politely. And if you are thinking that by suggesting that dogs “ask” for things, I’m anthropomorphizing here, remember that any well-housebroken dog without a dog door must know how to ask to go out.

Thank you for the flowers!

But what about please and thank you?  Well, I encourage my clients to teach their dogs to sit politely to ask for things, rather than pushing their way onto us for attention, or barking insistently when they want other things. And for thank you? This can often come naturally in the form of a tail wag.

Then there’s the issue of the “indoor” and “outdoor” voices. We are working diligently with our daughter to teach her not to scream and yell in the house, but that it’s OK to do this outdoors when she’s playing. My dogs, similarly, have learned to woof quietly when they need something indoors, but they are allowed to bark more loudly when they are outside, depending on the setting.

Many similarities indeed, as we raise our children and dogs within our homes. And while we must never forget that they are different species, with different needs and behavioral characteristics, please and thank you serve to remind us of why dogs have come to be such an integral part of our families, and why rules for both dogs and children are crucial in developing polite and well-behaved adults. So train on my friends.And thank you for reading.


I didn’t do it!!

“I was sure she knew she did wrong by the look of guilt on her face when I got home.” How often I hear clients utter such words in reference to some misdeeds that their hapless dogs have done. I was thinking about this the other day as I was reading through some reviews of the latest studies on “dog guilt”.  In one study of note, Julie Hecht led an experiment where dogs were told by their owners to “leave” a treat alone, whereupon they were left alone in the room. In some of the cases, the dogs ate the cookie, while in other cases the experimenters took the cookies from them. In both cases, the owners decided that their dogs actually looked guilty. It is surmised that this “guilty” look is actually an appeasement gesture – an attempt to prevent the other individual from remaining angry at them or (potentially) injuring or leaving them.

Uh... was I not supposed to be up here?

I have no scientific basis for this, other than to reference an article that stated that the average dog has the intelligence of a 2-year-old child, but I tend to think that toddlers and dogs are pretty much on par as far as true “guilt” is concerned. Recently, our daughter scribbled with crayon (fortunately the easily soluble type) all over the floor. Proud of her handiwork, her happiness quickly turned to that “guilty” look as soon as she saw that I was upset. Did she know she had done wrong? Was she feeling guilty? Well, if history tells, I would say, most likely not, considering she did it again a week later, and proudly stated “Shelby draws” as I took a breath and went to clean it up again  (with a mental note to hide the crayons when I can’t be supervising the art project!) Thus, I question whether a child of 2 years has the depth of conception to purposely do something bad and then actually feel “guilty” about it, any more than the family dog.

Emotions are complicated, after all. According to Your Child’s Growing Mind  by Jane Healy, ”intellectual and emotional development are inseparable.”   And while one study showed that dogs may show empathy to crying people  – something that 2-year-old children have also been known to do – this is still a long way from the more complex emotions such as guilt.

I understand that it makes *us*, the “wronged” ones, feel better when we believe that the other individual feels guilty for what they have done – disobeyed us, left a mess for us to clean, destroyed a cherished item. But this does not mean that the guilt is really there. And when all’s said and done, the most important thing is not just what we believe, but how we act. Thus, even if you insist on believing that your dog or 2-year-old child feels guilty for knocking over and breaking your crystal vase, what matters is your response to the event. Will you choose to clean it up and make a mental note not to leave expensive things within reach? Or will you punish the wrongdoer after the fact, for something that they may not quite understand?  I don’t profess to know the answer, but it is worth considering the options.

Children Training Dogs


There has been much discussion lately within the dog trainers’ network to which I belong, regarding the variety of training methods that are in use today. While there are arguments for and against any method, the science of learning theory tends to support the idea that, for safety reasons as well as others, modern, reward-based training techniques are the best for children to use. These methods are non-confrontational, and emphasize encouraging correct behavior, rather than punishing incorrect behavior.  Sarah Kalnajs, renowned trainer and author, recently wrote a detailed note about the merits of modern training methods. As a cross-over trainer myself, I understand how each style of training works, and recognize the substantial benefits of the more modern methods.

According to recent studies, punishment-based training methods are not only more difficult to execute effectively in terms of timing and technique, but they can be downright dangerous, as they may increase the likelihood of a dog becoming aggressive. Regardless of whether you subscribe to such techniques in training your own dogs, I still strongly advise against it when it comes to children.

More pet friendly techniques are not only safer and less potentially harmful if one’s timing is a little bit off, but they are also better for improving the relationship between the dog and child.  According to Dr. Ian Dunbar, a pioneer of reward-based dog training methods, one good way to start working with a dog and child is to have the child stand in front of the adult, asking the dog for a behavior (i.e. sit). The adult standing behind the child would then reinforce it, and the child would then deliver the treat, ideally by tossing it to the ground in front of the dog (to prevent nipped little fingers.)  Over time, the child should easily be able to give the dog commands to respond to, and even play with the dog. I started with this method early, and at under two years of age, my daughter was already training with our dogs. They now respond beautifully to her commands, at least when they understand what she’s trying to say.

Another consideration when teaching children to train dogs is that not all dogs understand from the beginning that children are actually little humans, to be respected and loved. Unlike my colleague’s Labrador retriever, who tried to get her 3-month-old son to throw a toy for her, many dogs actually have aversions to children due to the differences compared to adults: their faces are naturally closer to dogs’ faces (which can appear threatening to the dog who is already uncomfortable), they often squeal and yell, and their movements are short and choppy in comparison to adults. For these reasons, as well, traditional methods would be contra-indicated; a dog may react negatively to a “correction” from a child should it feel compelled to defend itself.

The classic: a boy and his dog

Finally, with regard to timing, it is difficult to really hurt a dog with bad timing using reward-based training methods. With traditional, correction-based methods, bad timing could lead to a confused or even fearful dog as well as an eroded relationship with his human. By contrast, one of the worst things that can come of bad timing using modern methods is an overweight dog who doesn’t quite understand what is expected of him. More importantly, the relationship between the dog and human could remain intact. In fact, treats from children in any situation could improve a dog’s perception of them. My own dogs clearly love my daughter, and always look to her expectantly, tails wagging, when she appears because more often than not, she’s ready to give them something yummy. (Though as a side note, I have trained solid “leave it” cues to my dogs, just in case of inappropriate treats!)

Regardless of the philosophy of dog training to which you subscribe, I urge you to consider more modern, science-based and dog-friendly methods should you decide to work with your children to train your dog. They are far safer, and will undoubtedly be more enjoyable for both dogs and children.

The Curse of the Good Dog

We had another fantastic, multi-tasking agility training session/play date with our pals the other day. Natasha’s dog, Polly, is one of those stereotypical, mellow and inherently well-behaved labs that everyone sees in the movies and on greeting cards. She is even-tempered and sweet, and will put up with pretty much anything from everyone, including the children.

In conversation with Natasha, we were pondering the challenges of having such a dog with children, and this brought to mind the kids and dogs safety demo that I did at the C-DOG event this past weekend. Since developing the demo 8 years ago, it has, of course, undergone a number of improvements, but notably, I now find myself telling parents that the fact that they have dogs at home means that they may have to be more vigilant with their children than non-dog owning parents.

This photo made my heart stop, and sparked discussion among colleagues.

I so often hear of people with dogs that allow all manner of things to be “done to them”, even in spite of parents’ threats to children to leave them alone. Natasha mentioned how her older, male Labrador was harassed by children (under another parent’s supposed supervision) and. she went running to him when he barked loudly. She arrived to see him surrounded by harassing children who had been crowding around, poking and prodding him, while he sat quietly and took it until he decided to call for help. After an appropriate tongue-lashing to the parent of the children, Natasha thanked her lucky stars that her dog was so tolerant because, unlike many unfortunate parents, Natasha understands dogs, and knows what is appropriate, what is natural and normal, and what parents should NOT allow children to do to them.

Within the various lists to which I belong, I often see photos that are downright shocking – people letting children kiss dogs on the noses, when said dogs are very clearly uneasy with the interactions. They are posted in the name of “cute”, yet those of us who are trainers and understand dog body language cringe when we see them.

This dog is not comfortable with the baby's kiss

Nevertheless, those of us who have “good” dogs, do have the luxury of worrying just a little bit less about our dogs. We have two such dogs, out of our four. Shadow allowed Shelby to crawl into his crate with him the other day – when I didn’t realize that I had not completely latched it closed before going to the kitchen for a moment. I would never have relaxed so much had it been one of the other dogs. He and our boy, Flash, also tolerate hugs and close petting with quiet sighs and otherwise relaxed looks. I know the difference between Shadow’s body language and my girl, Claire’s when they are about to be hugged by a child, and I stop the hugs immediately with Claire. And believe it or not, I’m grateful for Claire, who is helping me to teach Shelby that not all dogs like that close contact – in fact, most dogs do *not* want to be hugged. I constantly remind her to keep her face away from other dogs, don’t pet any dog unless it approaches you first (all of our dogs will do this, but not all the time) and under no circumstance should you “ride the dog like a pony”.  (Yes, it is frowned upon in this establishment as well!)

But what about those families with the overly tolerant dogs, or big dogs that just don’t care or even truly love children? Those parents, believe it or not, may have it harder in the long run. They will have to teach their children that other dogs are NOT their dogs; other dogs do not want their attention; other dogs do not take treats nicely or even wait until treats are offered; other dogs will jump up on you if you squeal and run…

Shelby enjoys playing in the crates when the dogs are outside.

I was at a park a few years ago and had my dogs on down-stays. They were patiently watching me as I watched and winced as a young child went right up to them and tried to pat them on the back. I ran toward him and stopped him before it happened, as his hapless mom told me “oh, he has dogs at home, so wants to pet them all.” What?? I couldn’t understand why she didn’t even try to stop him?

And therein lies the curse – not all dogs are like “your” dog, and this is a tough lesson for a toddler. Heck, it’s a tough lesson that a lot of adults even have a hard time learning with, as anyone with a reactive dog who has endured dirty looks from others can attest.  Just a short glance at the D.I.N.O.S. Dogs in Need of Space page will show you plenty of stories of such grown-ups, as well as a few children.

Cursed though you may be, thank your lucky stars, and then get to work teaching your child how to properly behave around any and all dogs that are not part of the family. It could be a life-saver, not just for your child, but for someone’s beloved dog as well.