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Dogs and Kids – Being Safe

Yesterday I was driving down one of our quiet back roads when I saw a young girl walking, or being walked by, an also young and rambunctious Golden Retriever.  I slowed down even further because the entire scene looked like something that could easily go all kinds of wrong in the blink of an eye . . . and I’m so glad I did, because no sooner did I think it than the dog saw a squirrel (or something equally fascinating) and yanked the little girl right off her feet.  Fortunately, the little girl kept a great hold on the leash and her balance.  No runaway dogs.  No scraped knees or hands.  Disaster barely averted.

Best human puppy defence system there is!

Best human puppy defence system there is!

But it got me thinking about kids and dogs and how we always pair them as being such great friends.  Sometimes they are.  Sometimes dogs are our kids best defence against the evils of the world.  How often to do you read about dogs who have stayed with their charges after a little one has gone wandering too far from home?  Or protected them from other animals, wild and domestic?  Furthermore, what children learn about respect for all living things, caring and responsibility to those who depend on us is perhaps one of the most important lessons we can help them learn. Yes, our dogs can be our children’s best friend and ultimate nanny.  Then things can go very wrong.  Like the little girl with the excited Golden Retriever, these moments usually happen when we are least expecting them.  But like everything else in life, a little common sense goes a long way.

Here are some tips on how to keep your kids and your dogs safe:

  • Adult supervision of dog/child interaction is the best way to ensure that neither get hurt, especially when the child is very young.  Really little kids don’t have a sense of what causes pain to others, so they yank tails and ears, poke eyes, hit and slap – not out of malice but because they are kids.  That’s what kids do. Conversely, your dog only has a limited means to communicate what he finds acceptable behavior.  If you’re there on the scene, then you can keep your dog from having to parent (bite/snap/bark) your child.
  • Don’t let your child “ride” your (or anyone else’s) large dog. Ever.  Dogs are not horses.  Even though they have four legs, they are not meant to be ridden.  It’s not funny and it’s not cute.  It will cause damage to the dog’s spine.  See the point above if you need reference on what happens when a dog experiences pain.
  • Teach your children to respect that the dogs’ food bowls are strictly off-limits. Even the sweetest natured dog might take offence to a little hand reaching for the breakfast bowl mid-meal.
  • Make sure your kids understand that they are not to surprise or startle the dog – which includes not sneaking up on a sleeping dog.  This one is tough depending on the age of your kids – and even harder if you have an old dog with hearing loss.  Again, this goes back to keeping an eye on your kids and your dogs until the kids can understand how to respect your dogs.
  • Your kids have favorite toys and your dogs have their favorite toys; keeping the two from taking one away from the other will prevent problems.  In this case, imagine two toddlers fighting over the same toy – now imagine that one of those toddlers has fur and a mouthful of sharp teeth.
  • Never let your child tease your dogs with food or toys.  It’s a stupid way to interact with an animal, and it reinforces that other creatures don’t deserve respect.  Dogs don’t play by our rules and (again, see above) they will teach your child what’s right and what’s wrong.  It is a surefire way to have someone end up with pain and tears.
  • Keep your kids calm and quiet around dogs (i.e., no running and screaming around the dogs – especially away from the dogs).  Conversely, don’t let your children near the dogs when they are going nuts over something.  Unpredictable and bad things happen when overly excited dogs and/or overly kids get together.
  • Letting you kids roughhouse with the dog will probably result in the dog doing something you don’t want, like biting. Don’t let your kids do that with the dog.
  • The flipside of that is that some dogs do NOT like to be hugged or cuddled.  These dogs find having head-to-head contact very threatening and will react badly to being in that type of contact.
  • If your child wants to take your dog for a walk (the event that inspired this article in the first place!), take stock of the situation before letting them out the door.  Is your child old enough, commanding enough and strong enough to control your dog? Is your child mature enough to handle whatever situation he or she may encounter with your dog on their walk? Is your dog too large, too strong, too unruly for your child? If your dog sees a squirrel or another dog, how will he react and will your child be able to manage to keep your dog from running off?

And here are some suggestions for when your kids meet unfamiliar dogs:

  • If the dog is with its human, always ask to touch the dog before reaching for it!  Not all dogs like kids.  Even if the dog looks super-friendly, ASK, get permission and then touch very gently and not on the top of the head.  Dogs can find that very threatening. 
  • If the dog is on its own – lets say, in its own backyard or in its car – stay away.  Do not approach a strange dog.  Especially a dog in its yard or car! Dogs are naturally protective of their territory and will not look kindly on little hands reaching in to pet.
  • If the dog is on its own and running loose, again don’t approach the dog, but DO tell an adult so the dog can be helped getting back home.

I realize I’ve basically outlined a whole LOT of do NOTS that make it sound like kids and dogs really should be kept in separate spaces and for everyone’s sake not be allowed to interact.  That is really NOT the case! The above tips are to make you aware that things happen that you might not even think of.  Dogs treat children differently than they do us – it is pack mentality, and in a pack children don’t “rate” very highly with dogs.   If you know your dog – I mean really, really know that your dog is bomb-proof when it comes to kids, then great!  However, every child needs to learn that dogs must be treated with respect and dignity.  Dogs, as much as we believe they are just little humans in fur coats, think differently than us, and they view the world through a different set of lenses than we do.  Even within the gentlest, sweetest dog there is a sliver of the heart of a wild animal.  It is our job as the ultimate guardians and protectors of our packs to keep everyone safe.  A little common sense goes a very long way to that end.

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Time to round up a bag of Tigertail Foods’ Duke’s Backyard Barbeque Biscotti!  The treat that has all the savory flavor that your dogs want with all the healthy ingredients you’ve come to expect from Tigertail Foods’ products! 

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