Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kids and Labs - How to make It Work!!!

Kids and dogs are like peanut butter and jelly. They are just good together. However, a large dog that is eye level with your toddler can be intimidating to a small child and scary for you. Check out these tips to make interactions between your Lab and toddler a breeze.

If possible, have two people available to help out with an introduction. One person should hold the dog on a leash a few feet from the child. Give the dog a "sit" command. The other person should guide the child to the dog. The child should be taught prior to the introduction about how to properly greet a dog. Do not allow the child to pet the dog on the head or face. Teach the child to approach the dog calmly and pet the dog gently on his back or neck.

In the event that the dog lunges or jumps, have the dog handler move between the dog and the child. Have the handler keep the dog behind him. This can be done by using the human body to block the dog. The dog handler can place both arms behind his back with the leash in hand. He can lock his arms by grabbing onto the wrist holding the leash to keep the dog behind him. He may also spread his legs to make his body bigger to prevent the dog from going around him. The handler should never use his knees or hands to discipline the dog. Body blocking the dog is the proper approach. The person with the child should step away until the dog calms down.

Repeat the process again. Give the dog the "sit" command and then have the child approach the dog slowly and calmly. Repeat the process until the dog sits willingly and allows the child to pet the dog.

Do not allow the child to give the dog a treat or a toy unless you are 1000% sure that the dog will not lunge, grab or accidentally bite the child offering the food/toy. Never allow a child to discipline a dog.

Always supervise interaction between your child and a dog. I remember watching my nephew crawl on top of my dog and peel his eyelid back, sticking his finger right into Cayman's eye. Nothing really phases Cayman, especially now in his old age, but had I believed for even a second that my nephew was in danger, obviously, I would not have allowed them to interact that closely. Cayman was lying in a relaxed position on a dog bed and had ample time to move away from my nephew's investigations. Never did he tense or did his body language indicate that he was anxious or upset. He never even lifted his head. Be sure to recognize body language in your dog that may indicate he is losing patience. Stop any inappropriate behavior from the child before the dog reacts.

In the beginning refrain from allowing the child to crawl on or grab the dog. Desensitize the dog by distracting him with a special treat. Begin to pull on the dog and poke him. See how he reacts. Begin gently at first and increase the intensity without hurting the dog.

Give your dog an escape hatch. Be sure your dog doesn't feel cornered. Allow him to be able to walk away from the child. Discourage the child from chasing after the dog. If the dog seems upset or irritated, place him in his crate and close the door. Allow him to take a break from the child. Distract the child's attention from the dog and let the "doggie take a nap".

Following these tips should help reduce the stress between introducing dogs and children. It is most important that the child understand how to approach and pet the dog in a calm and gentle manner. Once you know that you will be adding a canine family member to your pack, begin teaching the child immediately how to interact with the dog prior to your dog's arrival. Recruit friends and neighbors with friendly dogs to help out. Practicing prior to your dog's arrival will make the special day that your new dog arrives a happy and joyous occasion for all!!!