Kids, Dogs and Respect

Life with my dogs

Kids, Dogs and Respect

kids dogs respect

Kids and dogs can be great teams, or a combination destined for misunderstandings and prone to lingering negative feelings on the dog’s part. What we may consider appropriate interactions are not polite at all in the dog’s eyes.

Unfortunately we often only realize this after an escalation has happened.

The problem lies in how little respect we often demand our children to pay to our dogs.
While severe bite incidents are uncommon, children are pushing dogs’ boundaries in (perhaps) benign ways in many settings every day.

Being a dog trainer and having a child, the one person that I need my dogs to respect most in the world is my child. Therefore I also demand that my child highly respects my dogs.

I am not looking for surrender to authority when I want a dog to respect a child. I am talking about the dog viewing the child as a reliable, predictable and kind person who they will be careful and gentle around.
The way to earn this respect in a dog is – you guessed it – to treat him like you want him to treat the child.

Dogs have a high social intelligence. They will pick up on the way different persons interact with them, make mental notes of how polite, predictable and consistent these people are in their interactions, and adjust their behavior around them accordingly.

Let’s look at some common, but rude practices we see in children interacting with dogs:

It is not ok for a child to run after a dog.
It never is. I cannot count how many times I have seen a child tumble after a dog, with the dog walking away, licking lips and squinting eyes.
Oh, they’re playing chase? The dog has no way to tell the child when the chase game is over other than by walking away. Which unfortunately looks exactly the same to your child as the dog participating in the game. While child and parents believe that the kid and dog are having fun, the dog desperately tries to escape the game without escalating it.
Eventually, he will need to escalate.
If you allow your child to do this, he looks anything but predictable to your dog.

It is not ok for a child to attach anything to the dog.
Don’t let your child play dress-up with the dog. Do not let your child attach leashes or harnesses or collars for fun to your dog. If we want our dogs to respect our children’s bodily autonomy, we need to teach our children to respect theirs.
There is no point in your dog being lead around by a leash inside your house. Look at his face and body – this is not a game for him. He may tolerate it, but:

Do not look for tolerance, but joyful consent.
“My dog is so tolerant” as the child climbs on his back and lifts his ears. Tolerant in this case means “He strongly dislikes it, but chooses to not escalate the situation. (yet).”
If in doubt whether or not an interaction between a child and a dog is ok, here is a simple idea: Think about whether it would be ok if another kid did it to your child.
If you feel bad thinking about your child lying on the ground with another kid sitting on his back pulling his ears, then your dog probably feels just as bad in this situation.

Tolerance is not enough. Strive for joyful consent in child-dog interactions.

Your dog excitedly waiting for his ball to be thrown by a child? That’s joyful consent. Your dog’s tail wagging wildly as your child gets out his favorite treat? That’s joyful consent.
Your dog taking his head from side to side, yawning and licking his lips while your child repeatedly tries to hug him? That is rude, disrespectful and absolutely unnecessary.

Instead of demanding unlimited tolerance from our dogs, let’s demand high respect for the dog from our children. It will teach them about kindness and empathy, and our dogs will gladly reciprocate the gracious way they are treated.