Friday, May 13, 2011

That Bites!

When it comes to dogs and children, the last thing you want is an altercation between two of the cutest members of the family. How can you keep the peace? Next week is Bite-Prevention Week and child-dog expert Colleen Pelar has excellent tips to ensure all members of the family share a safe, loving, and harmonious relationship. As a dog trainer and mother of three kids and a dog, she knows what she’s talking about!

Canine Body Language
Dogs will often alert us to how they are truly feeling, but since not all of us are dog training professionals, it can be difficult to discern what’s really going on in that fuzzy head. Luckily, Pelar has us covered. She points out that most dogs, when nervous, will display indications of this emotion by attempting to calm themselves down, what she calls, “an attempt at self-soothing akin to thumb-sucking.” According to Pelar, these are the most important signs to look for:

Lip licking—When a dog is a little anxious, he will often quickly stick out his tongue and lick his lips. It’s usually just a fast, little flick. Watch your dog; this is one of the most common signals I see.
Yawning—This is often mistaken for contentment.  The dog is surrounded by kids, and he lets out a big yawn. Isn’t that sweet?  Nope, it’s a sign that he’s in a little over his head and would appreciate your help.
Shaking off—We’ve all seen dogs shake off when they are wet, but this happens at other times too. I liken it to a reset button on a video game. Time to shake off and start over. It will happen right after something makes the dog uncomfortable, usually as he’s walking away.
Freezing—Watch out! Freezing is one step beyond a calming signal; it’s often a last-ditch attempt to tell you to back off. Dogs typically freeze right before they snap or bite. That may sound obvious, but one of the scariest things I ever saw was when an owner told me, “Lucy loves to have kids hug her. Look how still she is.” It was a heart-stopping moment for me. Lucy, thank goodness, did not bite, but she was definitely not enjoying the experience. 

Alone Time
Just as every person needs alone time, every dog needs a bit of privacy as well. You and your kids should respect that. So when Fido is slumbering away in the dog bed or crate dreaming of digging up bones in the yard, your children should realize pup is now off-limits.

As Pelar poignantly remarks, “It’s important not to blame kids for being kids or dogs for being dogs.  Let’s be realistic; it’s impossible to control someone else’s behavior 100 percent, be it dog or child. We parents can, however, teach dogs and kids to enjoy each other’s company more by building an understanding of each other’s behavior.”

Credit: Colleen Pelar, CPDT, CDBC, author of Living with Kids and Dogs . . . Without Losing Your Mind, is America’s Kids and Canines Coach. Colleen has more than 15 years’ experience as the go-to person for parents trying to navigate kid-and-dog issues. Because a knowledgeable adult can improve every interaction between a child and a dog, Colleen is committed to educating parents, children, and dog owners on kid-and-dog relationships.

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