Wallace Clay, an experienced parent, grandparent, Chessie owner and long-time participant in the Chessie-L, has written an article on Dogs and Children for CBRRR. It is written from a personal perspective and relates what has worked for his family. We hope that prospective homes read this article before deciding on whether they are ready to integrate a new dog into their home. We hope that rescuers pass this article onto adoptive homes who will need to introduce children and a new dog. Wally makes the important point that you must view the kids and dog as members of your family to make this "kids ‘n dogs" integration work. Any less of a commitment is setting yourself...and your family.... up for failure.

Dogs and Children
A question that is commonly asked by people that about to acquire a new dog or puppy is, " How are they around children ?" This is especially true of couples with small children or who plan to have children in the future. It can also be asked by grandparents who are about to acquire a dog. There is so much information and perhaps misinformation that is spread by word of mouth that it is certainly a valid question one would expect directed to a breeder or someone like myself (who has two wonderful Chesapeake Bay Retrievers , an American Cocker Spaniel, and a Jack Russell Terrier).

I cannot recall the number of times people have asked about the Cocker and my grand-kids, commenting " I have heard that cockers and kids don't mix well" or " Aren't Chessies too mean to have around kids?" I have even read comments like this on some of the canine e-mail lists that I read. Well, in my opinion, having your dog and kids, or grandkids, get along is not as simple or as easy as picking the right "breed." I think my philosophy, what I am about to write about, relates to most breeds. I suppose there are some breeds that might be better to have around children, but I am not convinced of that. At least, I don’t think the breed of dog is the only consideration.

If one were truly concerned, I believe that asking how the dog is around children is only part of the question. What also needs to be asked as well is " How are kids or how will my kids be around dogs?" And, in the end, the really correct question should be "What do I, as a parent or grandparent, have to do in order to maximize the relationship between my kids/grandkids and my dogs?" Not addressing this question could result in kids getting hurt and, perhaps, in dogs being blamed unjustly. I realize that there are individual cases or individual dogs that should not be around kids for one reason or another. But I am writing about that vast majority of cases where Fido (the dog) and Rufus and Esmeralda (the kids) can and should live in harmony.

First of all let me tell you a little about me. I am not an expert at anything. As a matter of fact, I abhor the label "expert." I am not a trainer of dogs or a master at dog philosophy. I am a dog owner and I have had dogs all my life. They have been and always will be my "best friends" and companions. They lift my spirits when I am down and brighten my day. They have taught me the true meaning of acceptance and unconditional love and through them I have learned that we are intimate with nature and not separate from nature. These are wonderful lessons and gifts. We also have 5 children, all adults, and 9 wonderful grandchildren ranging from age 2 yrs to 15 yrs. So my aim has always been to share the gifts the dogs give me with my children and my grandkids.

Let me explain what has worked in my family.

First - the Dogs: One of the first things we do when we have gotten a new dog or puppy into the household is to start touching it. I mean we give the dogs morning massages, rub their ears, hold onto their paws, and even give them tugs on their tails. They get their fur brushed and periodic baths. In addition to getting cleaned and massaged, etc., the purpose is to get the dogs used to being handled a lot. When the grandkids eventually come over, they like to handle and touch the dogs. If a puppy wants to bite he gets a gentle tweak on the nose, but the main ingredient is lots of attention, all loving.

Probably the most frequent incidents between dogs and children involve food or a doggie treat or toy of some kind. When kids are around it is not enough to think that you can prevent an incident by feeding the dog in a separate room. There almost certainly will be a time when they will be in the presence of a dog with food. To assume otherwise is foolish. So, that being said, we handle the dogs’ food in some fashion. We make sure that any dogs that we have had accept the fact that we will and do pick up their food dishes when eating. This is usually before and after eating, while in their presence. This is on a daily basis to get the dogs used to us being around their food. We do not encourage the kids to do this! We also have made it a practice to allow the dogs around the dinner table and feed them food, usually small bits of meat, and veggies and fruit. This may be considered a no-no, but I believe it teaches the dog to accept food in a slow and gentle fashion. The dogs do not beg but have been taught to wait. When we first start a dog out, we keep only a small amount of food exposed and if he lunges, he gets a tap on the nose with the words "slow." I have also lined the dogs up side by side and spoon-feed them ice cream for example. I say each of their names and then give them a spoon. This has taught the dogs discipline around food. Again, I do not do this in the presence of the children but when they are not around. This training exercise is for the dogs to learn this discipline around food.

Second - the Kids: The first thing I try to instill in the grandkids is to respect the dogs. That is, it is okay to pet the dogs and to touch the dogs. It is not acceptable to hit them, pull on their fur or to harm them in any way. They are taught that gentleness and kindness is the key. The kids are encouraged to use the basic commands of "sit" and "no!" when appropriate. We try to teach the grandkids to mention the dog’s name before they approach them, especially if the dogs are sleeping. They learn that they do not surprise a dog. The grandkids are not allowed to tease the dog, either physically or with food and are not encouraged to feed them. This is not counter to what I teach the dogs. I realize there are times when a child will offer something up and I want the dog to be gentle if that happens, but it is not encouraged. The adult dogs that we have, especially the Chessies seem to know the limitations of the children and are remarkably gentle around them. Food is always a draw though.

The next thing, especially for the older kids, is to respect the power of the dogs - especially the Chessies, but even the Cocker and the Jack Russell. Kids have to be taught to understand their limitations in what they can get the dog to do. This, of course, varies from child to child - but my 60 lb. granddaughter likes to work with my 90 lb. Chessie. If she is not in my presence, she is not allowed to put the leash on the dog and work with him. As she gets older, she will be allowed to work more and more but if the Chessie doesn't sit for her, she must realize she doesn't have the strength to make him if he doesn't want to.

Third - The Parent or Grandparent: Okay, this is the last and most important part of the equation. The dogs are mine. For dogs and kids to gel requires a lot of work on our part. I love my dogs and I love my kids. You need to work on the first two parts... and more. Attitude is all-important. I don't know how many times I have heard the statement "If that dog bites, he's outta here" or "never, never never allow a dog to bite." Well, I think both of those attitudes are self-defeating and unfair to the dog. Having those attitudes could actually result in a child getting hurt. They tend to be macho attitudes and do not acknowledge the fact that an incident can occur with any dog, no matter how gentle he is. That is - there is ALWAYS the possibility. Surprise! Protectiveness can trigger an incident where the dog is immediately sorry but...too late! In many cases if a child is taught to respect a dog and if the owner is ever vigilant - this scenario can be prevented. So, in addition to some of the items above, here are some more things I do or don't do.

I ALWAYS tell and work with the grandkids to keep their faces away from the dog’s face. To allow it always leaves open the possibility of an incident even accidental. I don’t mean a dog reaching out and licking a face. They can do that, but rather I don’t allow a child to put their face in close in an intimidating fashion. I roughhouse with my dogs from time to time. But never in the presence of the children because they like to imitate us and to do so without know the limitations is dangerous. While I feed the dogs from the table, I do not do so when the kids are around.

I know what I’ve written about above is not inclusive. Working with the dogs and with the kids is an everyday task that is incorporated into my daily life.... so this article will never end! I do not claim these ideas to be totally unique and that they will work in all situations. If there would be one statement that I could describe about my philosophy of dogs and children is this: My children, now adults, were and are still part of my family. I treat them as such. The same is true of my grandchildren. It does not take much imagination on my part to extend that philosophy to my four dogs and three cats. They are not merely pets - I don’t treat them as just animals. Rather, they are now part of my family and I treat them accordingly, philosophically, in the same way I treat my grandchildren. In this way we have all been able to live in harmony thus far. The most important ingredient in all of this is the parent/grandparent, dog companion.... Me or You....

-- Wally (July 1998)

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