What is the best dog for my kids?

 

Kisses
There is enough love to go around. (Photo by Jabrina Robinson.)

Have you decided to add a dog to your family? You may be wondering what the best way is to go about it. To be honest, there is no magic formula to ensure you will get the perfect dog. Much about the outcome is not under your control. Life is interesting that way! I think it’s important to acknowledge that in order to take some pressure off you, your dog, and your family. Having said that, I also think your wise efforts before, and after, you choose your dog can stack things in your favor for happy relationships and safety.

With that in mind, look for the following qualities when you visit with doggie candidates you are considering.

Friendliness

Why it’s so important:

  • A dog who prefers to be close to children is likeliest to be a safe, fun companion.
  • One who voluntarily wants to be in the kids’ space is less likely to take offense when one of them gets on her nerves.
  • You’re likelier to bond with a people-oriented dog and therefore help her with training challenges that crop up.
  • A dog who loves to connect with people will be a joy to include in family activities.

What does friendliness look like? If your doggie candidate enjoys toys, romps with another dog, or has an adorable appearance, it may look like friendliness because those things make us smile. However…

  • The key is to look for a dog who approaches your kids and maintains contact with them.
  • Look for loose, open body language and a tail held at spine level or lower.
  • Pet the dog and then stop, and have your child do the same. A friendly dog will ask for more by stepping closer.

No matter where you get your dog, friendliness should be the top priority.

Maturity

Ideally your new family dog will be a young adult, about 1-2 years old (or older).

  • Parents with young kids usually find it stressful to housetrain a puppy, teach him or her to accept confinement, learn the right things to chew on, and how to sleep through the night.
  • It is challenging to teach children to interact gently and safely with a teething, energetic puppy.
  • By selecting a more mature dog, you’ll be able to see the dog’s grown-up personality when you meet, making a successful match that much likelier.

Settles down easily

Children have a lot of energy, come and go throughout the day, and have emotional ups and downs. When evaluating a dog, run around, play with a toy, or lavish the dog with excited attention for a couple of minutes. Choose a dog who simmers down when you become quiet.

Attentive to you outside

Interact with the dog outside. If the dog pulls moderately on the leash, training can turn that around. But if the dog fails to check in with you (without you coaxing), tunes you out when you try to get his attention, gets the leash twisted into a spiral, nearly drags you over, or leaps and mouths incessantly, he or she will likely be a challenge to integrate into your family.

Relaxed around other dogs

Picture your new dog walking beside your kids as they tell you about their school day, and imagine how stressful this will be if your dog habitually barks and lunges at other dogs. Arrange a mock leash walk with a helper who will walk one or two different leashed dogs past you to see how your candidate reacts. Whether the barking is out of aggression or frustration, helping a dog overcome this issue takes more time and training than most people wish to invest. Choose from candidates who are more blasé about canine cousins they see coming down the pike.

Not overly possessive of food or toys

Snacks and toys are a normal part of family life, so choose a dog who is not upset by a person approaching or reaching for valued items. While you will coach your child not to do this, it is impossible to always prevent your child and dog from being interested in the same items.

It is risky to assess a dog for possessiveness, since he may escalate quickly from keep-away to a frozen, hunkered body posture, growling, snapping or biting. It is best to get professional assistance with this, or follow the tips in the book Successful Dog Adoption.

Easygoing about everyday situations

An easy going dog will take in stride household routines, play dates and outings. Try to assess how calm or jumpy your candidate is.

  • Drop an item like some keys when the dog is looking away.
  • Have someone knock and enter wearing a hat or holding an open umbrella.
  • Sit quietly and simply hold the dog by the collar for one minute.

Choose a dog who remains nonplussed by these common events.

Consider your children, too.

Are they rough-and-tumble or quiet? Do they typically follow instructions or do they have trouble following through? Try to match the personality of the dog such that he can enjoy your kids. If they are well matched, your job will be so much easier, and their friendship will be much likelier to flourish.

After You Bring Your Dog Home…

No matter which dog you choose, be a kid-canine coach. Successful kid-canine coaching requires that you:

1) Guide your child to respectful, kind behavior. That means no approaching the dog when he’s resting or chewing, and no imposing on his space by following him, sitting on him, or hugging him. Dogs may tolerate hugging, but unlike human family members, they rarely like it. Coach your child to play games like fetch and tricks, to read to the dog, and to show affection (when the dog solicits it) by kissing their palm and petting the dog on the chest. (If you find your dog is great and “will let the kids do anything,” read this.)

2) Monitor your dog’s signs of relaxation and tension. Loose, open body language, a partly open mouth, and choosing to be close to your child are good signs. Stiff body language, a tense mouth, or turning away from your child are signs you should separate them. This is Ruff Love. Otherwise your child may learn it’s okay to touch someone who is saying “no.” Your dog may defend himself when his pleas for space go unheeded.

3) Use a Safety Zone when it’s not a good time to coach their interactions.

Choose your dog wisely and be a kid-canine coach, and the friendship between your child and your new family member will be off to a dreamy start.

To blend a dog of any age into your family, see Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers. If it’s not yet time to get a dog, have fun with Don’t Lick the Dog in the meantime!

BONUS

rainywalk
In good hands. (Photo by Celeste Huntington.)

The Best Dogs for Kids: Myths and Facts

Myth: It’s better to get a puppy.
Fact: You cannot raise a puppy to have a certain personality. Puppies are no more blank slates when they are born than people are.

Myth: Some dogs are hypoallergenic.
Fact: There is no such thing as a dog who poses no allergy risk. All dogs shed hair and dander, so talk with your doctor before getting a dog.

Myth: Certain breeds are better with kids.
Fact: You can’t judge a book by its cover. Certain personalities are better with kids. Get a friendly dog and teach your child the dos and don’ts.

Myth: Shelter dogs have too much baggage.
Fact: It is possible to get a really great or a really difficult dog or puppy from any source. Carefully assess any dog or puppy you’re considering, no matter the source.

Advertisements

Ruff Love: How to Create a Canine Connection

Ruby is approaching with her ears loosely back, soft eyes, and low, wide-sweeping tail. "Let's connect!"
Ruby is approaching with her ears loosely back, soft eyes, and low, wide-sweeping tail. “Let’s connect!”

Alrighty, before I start today’s topic I have got to tell you about a ginormous, bonus offering on dog training books. (Just skip this sentence if you are eager to get to the blog post. I mean, who has time for chit chat in this zany, fast-paced world?) Until midnight tonight, Monday, November 4th, you can get 40% off Puppy Savvy and Happy Kids, Happy Dogs (and all other books) at Lulu.com. Just enter coupon code FALLSALE40 at checkout.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

I was recently asked how a person, especially a child, should approach a dog. Naturally that is a trick question. Anyone who wants to interact with a dog should be waiting for the dog to approach them. This begs the following six questions:

1. What the heck are you talking about?
2. What if the dog doesn’t approach me?
3. What if the dog is prevented from approaching me because the owner has asked the dog to hold a position like a sit-stay, or is holding the dog by the collar or in their arms?
4. What if my dog goes bananas around people and therefore I purposefully prevent the dog from approaching others by having the dog hold a stay?
5. What if I have a dog who never voluntarily approaches people?
6. What if people don’t give my dog a chance to approach before reaching toward him or her?

I think it might be fun and useful to take on each of these questions in a blog series. What better timing than right before the holidays, when people and dogs are packed so tightly in each other’s space they might as well be stuffed into one of those little clown cars.

Let’s jump right in and start with the first question…

What the heck are you talking about?

As you can tell by my ABC’s of Dog Safety and Respect I am not only an advocate (as are other modern dog trainers) of asking the dog’s person whether it is okay to touch their dog, but I’m also an advocate of asking the dog. If you see a dog you’d like to greet, here is the way to do it: 

Ask permission of the person.

Be a tree in order to ask permission of the dog: With hands at your side, stand and wait for the dog to approach you.

Chin or chest is where you should pet.

Fight the urge to stick out your hand (presumably in an effort to allow the dog to sniff you). That is outdated advice. As in, using-leeches-to-treat-a-fever outdated. The dog has already smelled you. He or she can smell you from Coney Island, trust me. When you stick out your hand, you are making a rude gesture to the dog. “Rude in what way?” you may be thinking.

Rude like so: Imagine I just introduced you to a pal of mine, and she said hi and then went right in toward your neck with both hands and straightened out your crumpled collar. “Whoa! Easy there, well-meaning new friend!” you’d be thinking. On one hand, she has kind intentions, but on the other hand, she doesn’t pause to imagine how you would feel about her actions. Think how differently you would feel if she said, “It’s so nice to meet you. I notice your collar is rumpled; would you like me to fix it?” She has just invited you to be an active participant in the interaction. If you want to make a connection with her that is more on the intimate side, you might well take her up on it. If you’d rather wait to get to know her a bit before having her adjust your clothes, you will appreciate how thoughtful she is and just fix it yourself. By asking you first, she may well have earned your trust right off the bat, instead of alienating you by coming on too strong. Maybe, just maybe, she will become one of those rare you’ve-got-parsely-stuck-between-your-teeth friends.

If you’ve always extended your hand toward dogs and swear you’ve made zillions of dog buddies this way, please consider this: When you choose to reach toward the dog’s nose you are proving that there is a gap between you wide enough to allow a reach. That means the dog has not come up to you voluntarily. What might the dog be saying by hanging back a bit? (Dramatic pause for reflection.) Are you willing to listen?

It is polite, respectful, safer, and compassionate to wait for the dog to approach you, and here’s why (here comes the rough love portion of the post). Wanting to show your affection for dogs is a wonderful, wonderful thing. You may want to touch a dog because that makes you happy. Or maybe you are taken with a particular pooch. Or you want your child to feel comfortable with animals, or your child is desperate to touch the dog in front of you. These reasons are all perfectly understandable. However, and this may be difficult to acknowledge at first, none of those reasons is more important than the dog’s feelings. Remember, the dog has few options due to being on a leash, tethered, in a small space, or otherwise confined. If you fail to ask the dog, but instead just move in using old timey moves like sticking out your hand or patting the dog on the top of the head, you are invading the dog’s space and starting off your encounter with a fairly rude (and also potentially unsafe) maneuver.

Ask yourself: Would you want someone touching you (or your child) just because they feel like it, or because your child is (or you are) super cute? How about if you were saying, “No, I need my space,” loud and clear to the grabby person, and they touched you anyway? Even worse! And then there’s the awful ripple effect you could create: Do you want your child to learn that “I wanna!” is a good enough reason to touch others who are saying “no?” That thought should give you the heebie jeebies. No person should get to touch someone just because they really, really want to.

Dogs have their reasons for sometimes not wanting us to get close and touch them. And that should count. We should listen. And we should show our love in ways that take the other’s feelings into account. We should also teach kids to listen and to care about how others feel. We are all connected, and the more we practice paying attention to that, the better off we will be. This “ask and listen” practice may seem like no big deal at first glance, yet thinking of others this way is so powerful that it can change our world.

What do you think about doing an experiment the next five times you see a dog you’d like to touch? Would you be willing to try just standing still, and seeing if the dog comes up to you? If you’re even the least bit curious, give it a try! I would love to hear what you experience.

Tune in next time when we see grown adults have massive meltdowns on the sidewalk, trying to cope when dogs do not approach them, and we answer the question, “What if the dog doesn’t approach me?

Gettin’ Schooled on Freaky Friday

Time for a Freaky Friday multiple choice quiz! Freaky Friday is the day we see the world from the dog’s perspective (just like Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan did when they switched bodies in the movie).

I thought I’d try out a twist to the format (thanks to your feedback). Below the photo I will point out some body language the dog is displaying that gives clues into how he or she is feeling. Since this Friday’s photo is from a classroom, I thought I’d offer a multiple choice quiz, too (see below). Please let me know what you think, about the clues, the quiz and about the dog’s perspective.

This dog may love children. His person is generously sharing him with the kids. All good, in theory. But what is the dog’s perspective, at least in this moment (copied with permission with the N&O)? What do you notice about his ears, eyes, mouth, body position/direction/movement?

GreatDaneClassroom

Ears: stiff and rotated half-back
Eyes: wide, pupils very dilated (a bit hard to see in the copy of the print)
Mouth: shallow panting, corners of mouth drawn far back
Body: head turned away from kids, moving away (biggest and clearest clue)

Quiz time! Choose one based on what the dog is trying to tell us with his body language:

a) This dog would probably like it if the humans kept doing what they are doing.

b) This dog is feeling very relaxed.

c) This dog is trying to create space for himself because he is not feeling comfortable.

Extra credit: If you were the dog’s handler, how would you rearrange the space and positioning of yourself, your dog, and the kids? What instructions would you have given the kids in advance? What would you do/say to the kids right this minute if you noticed all these signs of stress in your dog?

Study aids:

Madeline Gabriel’s new blog post on what to do when other kids are around your dog: Dogs and Babies Learning
Wendy Wahmann’s (funny and wise) book on the right way for kids to make friends with dogs: Don’t Lick the Dog (book trailer)
K9Kindness for new doggie educational programs in the classroom: K9Kindness

I look forward to your questions and comments. No grades, but you get points for trying to imagine how this dog feels!

Don’t Lick the Dog

April 27th is going to be a great day this year. It marks the much- anticipated release of Don’t Lick the Dog by award-winning illustrator Wendy Wahman. I have read the sample copy of this book over and over and I enjoy it every time (I am unfazed by the fact that it is designed for children ages 3-8). The drawings are unlike those I have ever seen in a children’s book. They are beautiful, vibrant, and express the gamut of emotions that children and dogs have in each other’s company. coverThe story conveys such joy and excitement, and at the same time such gentleness and thoughtfulness towards both dogs and kids. Get ready to feast your eyes on the masterfully created illustrations and the gorgeous design you’ll see page after page.

There are a couple of things that make this book one-of-a-kind. First, this is the only children’s book I know of that describes the correct way to make friends with a dog, and why it is so important to do it right. For example, plenty of people still teach their children to extend their hands for a dog to sniff. But that is outdated, potentially risky advice (and honestly, according to dogs, just plain rude). The narrator of Don’t Lick the Dog, a pony-tailed lady out on a walk with her six dogs, teaches her three young friends what to do instead: “Stand still and let dogs come to you, to smell your hand or sniff your shoe.” My very favorite pages show a dog being patted on the head by eager little hands, also a no-no (“Whap! Whap! Whap! Dogs hate that!”), followed by advice on what dogs wish we humans would do instead: “Gently stroke his chin or chest, or rub his cheek—Boo likes that best.”

Second, this book is simply a crack-up. There are little visual jokes and puns that you won’t see the first time you read, but that will reveal themselves with each new reading. I can’t think of a better way to learn something new than to have fun doing so. This book will delight your kids, teach them all the right things, and tickle their funny bones, too.

At Wendy Wahman’s blog you’ll find more information about Don’t Lick the Dog, upcoming book readings, and activities parents and educators can use with kids. I am so excited about this book that I am attending the launch party at Park Place Books in hopes of getting some autographed copies. Copies are also available for pre-order online. To tide you over, view these print-outs on the best way to meet a dog and the ABC’s of Dog Safety. And remember, don’t lick the dog!

Kids and Dogs (and their well-meaning parents)

tensedog

You’ve probably seen the emails with photos of kids and dogs that make the rounds from time to time. The photos are supposed to be cute, but honestly, most of them make me shudder. If parents knew that children are those most often bitten, and that the dogs most often doing the biting are their own dogs, they might not put them both at risk for the sake of a photo. (For more information see the CDC information about dog bite statistics.) 

You may say, “But my dog would never bite my child. And he didn’t bite him when we took the picture.” You are not alone; nearly everyone whose child has been bitten has uttered those words. No one thinks their dog would bite their child. But just because you’d like to think it won’t happen, does not mean it won’t. In fact, your child and dog may be at greater risk because you are leaving things to chance instead of being proactive. (I tell the participants in my Baby Meets Bowser classes that I suspect they are less likely to have a bite event in their families just by signing up for the class; their awareness that they must be proactive and their willingness to learn what do do to help their child and dog put them ahead of the game.) See if you can identify what the dog above may not like about the situation he’s been put in, and how he is showing he is tense.dogscentmarkingbabycropped

unsafe1I have three objections to these sorts of photos. One is that the child is being allowed (sometimes encouraged) to engage in the wrong behaviors towards their dog. The  parents reward the child with attention, laughter, and even praise. The more the child gets in the habit of behaving toward the dog in these risky ways, the more comfortable she becomes, and the more likely it is she’ll repeat these behaviors. She is learning the wrong way to behave around dogs, and she will then behave that way not just with your dog, but with other dogs.

Second, the fact that the dog did not bite during the photo does not mean the dog likes to be touched or approached in the way captured in the picture. He may just be tolerating it. He may even be tense (often the dog has been commanded to lie down in an effort to pose the child and dog for the camera). He may give off warning signs, and then perceive that these are being ignored. Over time, as these  annoying or frightening encounters add up, the dog escalates his warning, and one day there is a bite. If you are not sure what things may frighten or annoy your dog, please see the list of dos and don’ts. Dogs also sometimes perceive infants as prey objects, so please don’t ever put your baby down on the floor with your dog as in the photos left and below. (The child below is also being allowed to crawl directly toward the dog at face-level, which is not a fair thing to do to the dog.) 

crawlingtowarddog

Finally, just because your child feels like touching a dog a certain way is not a good enough reason for allowing it. Most parents do not want to teach their child to ignore how his actions affect others. They want to teach their children lessons about empathy and about respecting others. Yesterday I was with a couple who had read Happy Kids, Happy Dogs, who knew the dog warning signs to look for and even what things their kids should not do to their dog. Yet I witnessed one child throw the leash at the dog when he was asked not to sit on the bed with the dog. Then the other child climbed into the dog’s bed, while the dog was resting there, and put his face up to the dog’s face. The parents lamented that they had explained the rules repeatedly to the children. I don’t doubt that, it’s just that they need a more effective approach. After all, parents find a way to make boundaries very clear to their children when it comes to touching a hot stove, hitting another child, throwing a rock at a cat, or running out into traffic. I am hopeful that these parents will no longer allow their children to engage in the “don’ts” with their dog and begin to encourage only the “dos.” Otherwise the dog’s warnings (turning away, yawning, stiffness, growling, and snapping) may soon give way to biting.