Behavior and Training · Dogs and Kids

The Kids are Alright

childhuggingdog Baby sitting on dog baby with pit bull

child and dog 3  dogkid5  childwithdog

A SAMPLE OF “KIDS WITH DOGS” PHOTOS TAKEN FROM A 30-SECOND GOOGLE SEARCH

Disclaimer: If you are not horrified by these photographs (even worse….if you think they are cute), you are probably not going to like what follows.

A few statistics: According to the CDC, approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Of these reported bites, a large victim demographic is children under the age of 10. Children are most likely to be bitten severely enough to require medical care or hospitalization. They are also most frequently bitten by their own dog or by a dog who they know, such as the dog belonging to a neighbor or relative. Bites to the face and neck are common in children, most likely because of their size and the types of behavior that they engage in with dogs.

Why is this surprising? Really now. If I can find the preceding photographs with a seconds-long Google search, then my guess is that there are a lot more of these photos out there and many more interactions of this type taking place between children and dogs each day. Indeed, such evidence suggests that our dogs are, in general, much more tolerant and accepting of abuse than we ever give them credit for. Unsafe (and potentially unkind) behavior of children towards dogs appears to be epidemic in our society.

Bite Prevention Programs for Kids: The good news is that these alarming dog bite statistics have led to the development of  bite prevention programs.  Though not many have been thoroughly studied or validated, there is some evidence showing that these programs can influence the beliefs and behavior of children:

  • Prevent-A-Bite: Grade school children (7 to 8 years of age) completed a 30-minute lesson that provided instruction for behaving appropriately and safely around dogs (1). Following the lesson, the children had the opportunity to interact with a  friendly dog. Of the children who completed the program, only 9 percent behaved inappropriately with the dog. By comparison, 79 percent of children of the same age who had not completed the Prevent-A-Bite lesson (the control group) showed inappropriate behavior upon meeting the dog.
  • BARK Program (Be Aware, Responsible and Kind): This study was a pre-test/post-test evaluation with 500 children, aged 6 to 9 years (2).  After reading and completing activity workbooks and watching a video, children showed improved knowledge about how to behave with dogs. (Note: This study did not include a test with a live dog).
  • Delta DogSafe Program: A group of young children, 3 to 5 years of age, completed a program that used photographs and a puppet show to model safe behavior with dogs (3). Children who completed the training were more likely to recognize potentially dangerous behaviors depicted in dogs in photographs than children who had not completed the training.  (Note: This study did not include a test with a live dog).
  • The Blue Dog Program:  The Blue Dog is an interactive computer program designed for children between 3 and 6 years of age and their parents. It includes a series of animated scenarios of a dog and a child and the user must make decisions about how (or if) the child character interacts with the dog in each scene. The program provides instant feedback regarding appropriate behavior with dogs. A recent study examined the learning outcomes of using Blue Dog in 76 children (4). After a week of using the program with their parents, children were better able to recognize risky situations when shown photographs of dogs. However, the children who had used the program did not change their actual behavior when presented with an unfamiliar live dog or when tested using scenarios with dolls.

The kids are alright: The results of these studies suggest that children can benefit from dog bite prevention programs in terms of their reported knowledge, and that older children can transfer these lessons to live interactions with unfamiliar dogs. It appears that the transfer of understanding into behavior may be less effective in younger children, however. (Note: No studies to date have evaluated post-test behaviors with familiar dogs,  an important issue seeing that the majority of bites come from known dogs). 

A dog and child

WHAT ABOUT THE PERSON ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CAMERA?

The parents, on the other hand…… In their 2011 study of Blue Dog, David Schwebel, Barbara Morrongiello and their colleagues also collected data from the parents of the 3- to 6-year-olds. They reported some rather disturbing findings:

  • 76 % of the parents believed that their child already knew most or all of the information that Blue Dog provided (remember, these kids were just 3 to 6 years of age).
  • A majority of parents (65 %) also believed that their child would apply most or all of what they learned from the program to interactions with their own dog. (Seems to be rather contradictory, seeing that they believed their kid already knew everything…….I was confused).
  • And, most parents admitted that they did not read the Parent Guide completely (93 percent actually), which included information about safe behavior between children and dogs. (It appears that the parents were certain that they too already knew everything there was to know about proper dog interactions).

Given that parental supervision and good judgment are  key components to safe interactions between small children and dogs, the same group of researchers decided to test the effectiveness of Blue Dog training on the behavior of parents – specifically how parental supervision during interactions between children and dogs was influenced by completion of Blue Dog training (5).

The Study: The researchers had two objectives. First, they examined the typical supervisory practices of parents of preschool children when their child was in the presence of an unfamiliar dog. They then assessed changes in parental supervision several weeks after the parents had completed the Blue Dog program with their child.  The study groups included 55 child/parent pairs, each of which lived with at least one adult dog. Half of the families completed Blue Dog training and half (the control group) completed a similar type of computer program that provided fire safety education.  A pre/post test method was used in which the parent and the child were brought into a room in which a gentle and friendly dog was present with his/her trainer. The parents were given no information about the dog’s temperament and were told that there would be a dog in the room immediately prior to entering the room. Measured parent outcomes included reactions to seeing their child in the vicinity of an unfamiliar dog and to interacting with the dog and the presence/absence/intensity of supervisory behaviors.

The Results:  Results were reported for the pre-test (before Blue Dog training) and post-test (after Blue Dog Training) sessions.

  • Pre-test session: Children in both the test group and the control group showed cautious behaviors upon seeing the unfamiliar dog. In contrast, the majority of the parents demonstrated risky behaviors that included encouraging their child to immediately approach the dog or immediately approaching the dog themselves. Most of the children did eventually interact with the dog, either on their own or as a result of encouragement from the parent. There were no differences between the test group and the control group, but…..here’s the kicker……the collective behaviors of the parents were scored as being significantly more risky than those of their children.
  • Post-test session: Following Blue Dog training, once again, the children were appropriately cautious when confronted with an unfamiliar dog (a different dog from session 1). Their parents, on the other hand, continued to demonstrate risky behaviors. (Parental behavior trended toward less risky behaviors after the training, but the difference was not statistically significant; P = 0.07). Following training, there were no significant differences between the test group that had completed Blue Dog and the control group – in other words, the training had no statistically significant effect on the behavior of either the children or their parents. (The children continued to behave cautiously; the parents, well, they continued to behave badly).
  • Both Sessions: In both sessions, parents stayed in proximity of their children and demonstrated high degrees of attentiveness. This result is an important one because it showed that while the parents’ behaviors with the dog and with the child-dog interactions were unsafe, they consistently demonstrated overall good general parenting supervision.

The results of this study suggest that a large proportion of the problem, at least for young children, lies not with the kids, but with the parents.  And, the problem appears to NOT be one of inattention or poor supervision, as the parents in this study did stay in proximity of their children and did pay attention to them. Rather, at issue is parents’ beliefs about appropriate behaviors  when interacting (and encouraging their child to interact) with dogs.

soapbox

DRAGGIN’ OUT THE OL’ SOAP BOX AGAIN

Like many trainers, I cringe when new clients say to me “Oh, our Rover is such a great dog! My kids and their friends can do anything to him – sit on him, grab his skin, pull his tail, and he just takes it! Isn’t he a wonderful family dog?”.  Similarly, my teeth clench when I open emails from well-meaning (though misguided) people who send me photos such as those posted above because “You like dogs, so you will love this photo of little Johnny crawling on top of our dog“. Yeah…..well, no.

To all parents: Your child should not sit on your dog while reading a book. Nor should he ride your dog like a pony, sprawl across her whilst she is napping, grab your dog’s face in his fist, pull on her skin or tail, or stick a hand into her food bowl. Not only are these behaviors disrespectful and borderline (sometimes not even borderline) abusive, but they are dangerous.  Your loving, sweet family dog who has finally had enough abuse and air snaps at your child in response to these unsafe behaviors will pay dearly for that snap if she makes contact. Both your child and your dog pay (with the  dog possibly paying the ultimate price – her life).

Not only should you prevent your child from doing these things (even if you live with that wonderful dog who allows it)you should model kindness and respect and proper interactions with dogs – all dogs – starting with your own.

doggreetingchild

References:

  1. Chapman S, Cornwall J, Righetti, Sung J. Preventing dog bites in children: randomized controlled trial of an educational intervention. British Medical Journal 2000; 320:1512-1513.
  2. Spiegel IB. A pilot study to evaluate an elementary school-based dog bite prevention program. Anthrozoos 2000; 13:164-173.
  3. Wilson F, Dwyer F, Bennett PC. Prevention of dog bites: Evaluation of a brief educational intervention program for children. Journal of Community Psychology 2003; 31:75-86.
  4. Schwebel DC, Morrongiello BA, Davis AL, et al. The Blue Dog: Evaluation of an interactive software program to teach young children how to interact safely with dogs. Journal of Pediatric Psychology 2012; 37:272-281.
  5. Morrongiello BA, Schwebel DC, Stewart J, et al. Examining parents’ behaviors and supervision of their children in the presence of an unfamiliar dog: Does The Blue Dog intervention improve parent practices? Accident Analysis and Prevention 2013; 54:108-113.

106 thoughts on “The Kids are Alright

  1. Always respect your dogs and the fact they are canines..not climbing toys,not jumoing castles and not for your entertainment..i raised four kids (adults now) with dogs,they were taught to respect them…I never trust a child around a dog and vice versa because kids are unpredictable..one thing dogs really don’t take well..i don’t think the pics are cute I think they send a really bad message..ok one dog may be uber tolerant ..what happens when the child does this to a different dog,or the dog is unwell..then it hits the fan and both child and dog pay the price.Fozziemum

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  2. Sharing far and wide!

    We are human childless, but fur kid heavy.

    Whenever friends with small children came over (note past tense), our dogs were not let loose. Actually, to put it more correctly, child had to stay outside, dogs were loose inside. When the parents questioned why their kids couldn’t play with our dogs, we simply referred to a) the Christmas card or b) a myriad of FB photos of their children with their dogs. To most people, they were cute. To us, not so much. .

    What started it all? Many years ago, the child of a friend was at our house, and while the menfolk were talking, the child jumped on one of our dogs. and the dog growled. The father of that child tried to go after our dog. Crabby, of course, would allow no so such thing. Thereafter, the father of the child (A coworker of Crabby’s) told people our dog was vicious. (Their personal dog tolerated the child’s jumping, further proof of our dangerous dog.).There was nothing Crabby could say to convince people with children that the growl could have been much worse, and that it should be considered very lucky that the child jumping on any dog resulted ONLY in a growl. Oddly, the childless co-workers, they understood. .

    That which scares us most is that parents don’t seem to understand that what they teach their children at home, as far as relationships with animals, is carried to other homes.. As a result, loving family dogs, not used to certain behaviors react in self defense, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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  3. Fantastic article, straight to the point with facts. Let’s hope parents take this on board rather than defend themselves when they think they already know what’s best. I have shared on a page I admin for as a volunteer – Greyhound Rescue in Sydney, because we promote implementing these sorts of boundaries so our adopted greyhounds will succeed in their trials 🙂 Well done and thank you!

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  4. Excellent article. I rescue. We can’t take dogs with a bite history because of liability issues. We don’t want to set up a dog to fail, either. Kids need to learn how to behave around dogs and should never be left unattended.

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  5. The results of these tests are alarming, but I have to admit, I have seen this in the “real world.” Adults have come up to my dog and pet him without invitation. Parents have encouraged their children to pet him, even after he has hid behind me. Then, there are the employees at big box pet supply stores, who are especially frustrating. One would think that animal interaction would be part of the training, but overwhelmingly, these employees are just as bad. So, I end up looking like a rude so-and-so when I have to say, “Please don’t pet my dog…”

    Side note: Yes, my dog loves hugs. He jumps in my lap and “hugs” me first (rests his head on my shoulder and spoons against my body) when he wants me to hug/hold him. Not sure if that’s the definition of a hug, but it seems like it to me. Just saying. 🙂

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    1. I have a dog now who loves hugs, she does the same thing – crawls up in my lap, presses her body against my chest, and lays the side of her head against my collarbone with her head under my chin. If I don’t hug her she wriggles even harder against me until I wrap my arms around her. (She loves kisses, too, will press her cheek against my lips and, without restraint, will remain in that position until I stop smooching.) I’ve had other dogs in the past who loved hugs too, including a Shih Tzu who wanted to be completely enveloped in my arms and hugged firmly. He’d heave a deep sigh, close his eyes, a look of bliss would come over his face, and he’d get heavy and warm (totally relaxed) and go to sleep. What was really amazing about that is that he was a former puppymill dog.

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  6. Parents that don’t teach their children respect for animals even from the time there babies,should not have animals,maybe they should not even have kids.this is of course in a perfect world.in saying that kids and animals that grow up together in most cases have wonderful relationships.they can have a very special bond.i have had this experience myself as a child and my children have it now.all our dogs love hugs and love to play.when children are very young they need to be supervised around any dogs.common sense people

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  7. Such a good post! This cannot be stated enough.
    It actually shocked and disappointed me that 93% of parents didn’t completely read something that directly impacted safety in their household. I guess you can put information out there, but you can’t force people to read it. I guess the 93% is a sign the medium needs to change for the audience, but still. Wow.

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  8. There was a dog in my family when I was born, a large German Shepherd called Peter. All my life, I have been around dogs, having my own first dog at the age of seven. I have never been bitten. I also have three sons, when they were born, I had dogs, in fact, not one single day of my life have I been without a dog. My children have never been bitten. Why have none of us ever been bitten? It’s simple….as a baby, I was taught how to behave appropriately around dogs, and I did, my parents made sure of that. My children were taught to behave in the same way. We still have dogs, there’s one lying by my side right now, and always will, and I urge all parents and dog owners to read the article and act on it. Please keep this topic open, it could save a life, and not only a human one, dogs tend to be killed if they bite, no questions asked.

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  9. Thank you for the very interesting and helpful article! I really appreciate as well that you went to the effort of backing it up with current research, as many people are still so incredulous about dog biting prevention. I have shared your article and congratulate you to keep doing the good writing!

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  10. I have two beautiful dogs, but they were not around children all the time from being puppies to now, so their time with my granddaughters is limited. They are only allowed to be around if there is two adults present, one to keep an eye on the dogs and one to keep an eye on the girls. The girls throw ball for the dogs and a good time is had by all but i know if the girls got over giddy the dogs might get snappy.

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  11. I have 2 older dogs (one I adopted a year ago and one I have had for almost 13yrs) and one is tolerant but uninterested in my 5yr old and the other, the one I’ve had since a puppy, doesn’t like kids. Never has, never will. I love this dog with all my heart, he’s awesome. But, I have trained my DAUGHTER how to be around him. I can’t train a dog to love kids, just isn’t going to happen but I can train my child how to act appropriately around him and all dogs. He will come to her and snuggle up at times but I am always right there. She is not allowed to feed him, share food with either dog, hug him, smother him in any way. A few days ago, he was sleeping on the floor, she was on my bed, she jumped down and accidentally stepped on his tail and, as expected, he turned and snapped. He didn’t hurt her, he never even shut his jaw when he turned, but he reacted. She was terrified and we talked for quite some time as to why he did what he did and why she needs to be more careful. When we are out, she is NEVER allowed to go up to a dog. She can ask from a distance if she may pet someone’s dog and she knows its only on the back, never near the head (unless the owner says the dog does not like being touched on the back…in that case, no petting!). She also knows to not raise her hand over a dog, ever, when near them or trying to pet. It’s a constant discussion on how to approach and act around dogs and having her learn through discussion and experience, the best ways to act around a dog. I am a huge dog lover and I want my daughter to share in that passion but in a safe, appropriate manner. Dogs are not toys, they are individuals that have every right to be who they are. Proper training takes it to a point but humans need to be 100% responsible for their behavior around an animal. I’ve never been able to believe a dog just “lost it” for no reason. There was a reason and it was the person.

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  12. i have had dogs all my life, and understand how important it is to respect your dog. dogs do not like to be pulled around, sat on, have their ears and eyes poked or have their tails pulled, these photos may look sweet, but when a dog has had enough, what can he do? if he moves away the child just follows and continues to annoy him, so he may growl to let everyone know he isn’t happy, and as a last resort will give a nip, then they are either taken away from the only home they’ve known, or euthanized, through no fault of their own!! it is the owners responsibility to always be with the dog and child and never leave them alone together, even for a few minutes. it is lovely for a child to grow up with a dog,and they can build a great relationship, but a parents duty is to educate their child right from the beginning, when they start to crawl, that dogs have feelings and feel pain, and sometimes they just want to be left alone and this should be respected. a child only knows what they are taught, so i never blame the dog or the child. I also feel strongly that dogs food should never be left on the floor so a child has access to it, this makes a dog feel threatened and will often react, its normal canine behaviour. like everyone, I hate to see a child bitten by a dog, but I also feel sorry for the dog, so please please always stay with your child and dog.

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  13. I think parents need to be taught that dogs don’t like hugs. Children should be taught not to hug the dog – it’s a common cause of bites to children. Also, dogs that bite often lose their home or even their life. It’s up to the parents to make sure that children don’t challenge a dog’s tolerance to the point where the dog bites to defend himself.
    A leading cause of death for dogs is euthanasia due to behavior problems. Dog attack is one of the rarest causes of death for humans. You are more likely to be struck and killed by lightening than to die from a dog attack.

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  14. Don’t agree with some of this article and the use of the word abuse. In a relationship between my dog and my child there has to be some tolerance. I’ll give you and example while my dog and son were playing with a ball my dog accidentally knocked into my son and their heads hit. My son got a lil bruise. My son was at the ball first. So do I therefore use the word my dog abused my son? Here is another example my dog is sitting next to my son and he crawls intop of him to give him a hug. Do I now use the term abuse?? My dog always jumps on me to give me a hug is that abuse? Please be careful the way you use the word please. I am a responsible dog owner and never leave my dog and child to play together unsupervised. I of course implement boundaries for both my dog and child in regards to their interactions

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    1. Heads clonking together in that context *is* an accident. I would discourage your son from crawling on top of your dog to give him a hug. That is not abuse; that is the risky type of behavior the article refers to. I would advise you not to let your son lay on your dog, hug your dog or put his face near the dog’s face. These are all things that provoke a dog to bite. Instead, foster interactions like play, tricks, massages. Petting the dog while sitting or standing alongside the dog is a good way to go. If you notice the dog moving away when your child approaches or if your child pets the dog, stops and waits and the dog doesn’t lean in for more, the dog is not enjoying that interaction. If you choose to let your dog jump on you, put it on a cue so that it is not confusing when you *don’t* want the dog to jump up on people. Nothing wrong with it if you like it!

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  15. Dogs are like humans in many ways and do not like to be abused so after a child pulls it tail or sits on it or even hands toward their eyes after a while a dogs way of saying enough is a bite. Dog breed does not come into I believe.Only the owner and how well they are trained. A dog is only as good as the person that brings them up just like a child has to be taught so do dogs.

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    1. The type of dog least likely to bite children is a healthy one from friendly parents, who has received thoughtful training (preferably using positive reinforcement) and receives a variety pleasant social experiences with all sorts of people and new situations as a young puppy (<four months old) and throughout its life.

      So many dogs without these advantages make wonderful pets and would never be inclined to bite children, even in the most provocative situations! They can come from horrible situations and be wonderful! It's an individual dog thing. That said, a big tip-off on "breeds to avoid" is a breed description that includes "independent" or "aloof."

      If you are looking for a dog and the parents or the puppies do not want to approach people or you're not allowed to see the parents or where they live, run, don't walk away!

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  16. And, this is why I am fostering a beautiful, energetic 3 year old Golden Retriever. Parents did not train this dog and left their 4 yo todder alone with this big boy and he bit her on her hand. Most likely she had food and since he was not trained , went after her hand. They wanted to put him down and rescue interviened. He has been evaluated by a canine behaviorist and is not an aggressive dog. Parents!! If you don’t have the time to train any dog that you bring into a household with children, skip the dog and just get the children a video of dogs or a stuffed animal!!!

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  17. Personally I loved the article. I do not have a dog at the moment as I have 3 girls 2 of whom are young and I don’t believe they are ready yet. Too many people out there that get dogs ‘for their kids’ but have no clue as to how to raise/look after the family pet. Then the poor dogs end up being ditched or left in a rehoming centre. I think a dog training program should be made mandatory before actually being allowed to take a dog home.

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  18. This article suggests to me that maybe trainers trying to teach parents about dog safety should rely on short, simple videos instead of written articles.

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    1. If parents haven’t got time to read this excellent article, they haven’t got time to be a responsible dog owner.

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