Friday, November 22, 2013

Teaching children how to interact with dogs mindfully is an ongoing process that will yield lifelong skills

The other day, I ran across an article written by David Valdes Greenwood that piqued my interest, and for a lot of reasons.

The topic was resonant: the interaction between children and dogs.

As someone who lives and works with canines everyday, I know that teaching children about how to mindfully share life with dogs is likely the most important legacy that we can leave.

Dogs and kids -- they go together, there's no doubt. But because of their young age and lack of experience, children need positive exposure, supervision and lots of help from mindful adults in gaining the finesse to co-exist with four-footed friends safely and happily.

Greenwood mused about a potential outcome from his 8 year-old daughter's interactions with the family's 2 year-old miniature Schnauzer in a way that was nothing short of alarming.

The child was closely interacting with the dog, rubbing his tummy, then at one point playing with his muzzle in a way that caused him to display displeasure by letting out a growl.

After Greenwood's interjection that the pooch was uncomfortable with the young girl's actions, she continued and the animal gave another but more pointed growl. At that point, child let go of the dog's muzzle and he ran off.

It was after detailing that incident that Greenwood expanded on a silent wish that came to mind: "Next time, I hope he bites her."

A seemingly harmless thought? A potiential 'Low-Cost Lesson', as this father put it? To a pet professional like myself and many others, hardly.

Natural consequences and those like them are undoubtedly a part of a young child's learning process, and they can be some of the most resonant teaching moments and often a parent or responsible adult need not intervene. But when it comes to the interactions between children and pets, there is no substitute for the oversight of a responsible adult to help both of those parties navigate them safely and mindfully, regardless of the size or breed of the dog. After all, a bite is a bite, and the truth is, dogs often bite for one common reason: they are uncomfortable or fearful about a situation that a human has put them in -- regardless of the age of said human -- and the dog's behavior has not been read correctly.

Later in his piece, Greenwood revealed that later that day the dog did end up biting his daughter, citing that it was "was suitably frightening to her", and "a perfect 'Low Cost Lesson' -- no blood, only tears".

Let's consider that an injury like this could prove to be more than just a nip -- and maybe that a bite would need medical attention. Certainly during the course of treatment, the question of "how did this happen?" would arise and dog bite of any kind would be cause for further concern.

What started out as a so-called 'Low-Cost Lesson' would then become quite complicated.

I acknowledge that it can be quite challenging for adults to police the interactions between kids and pets; to remind that animals are living things who, just like people, have preferences, thresholds for interaction and pain. It's a tough job, but that's part of parenting, right?

Perhaps rather than a 'Low Cost Lesson' in this case, let's keep the focus on an approach that is more mindful -- more effective, even: educating children about all things dog at a level they can understand.

It's unrealistic to expect youngsters to be able to accurately read a dogs’ body language — they lack the mental sophistication to understand, so starting off by demonstrating gentle behavior and talking about that dogs have specific preferences when it comes to interaction and help them gain an understanding of canine behavior that will flourish as they age.

Granted, children have a natural tendency to push the limits (or in some instances would make the case that if they were another dog, their interactions might make it okay), and because of that, it's even more important to supervise things.

Neither party should be put in a situation that is less than ideal.

Whether it's basic interaction with a canine, giving a dog a treat or helping children to understand that puppies lack of self control and mental sophistication at different stages of development, there are many opportunities to have a teachable moments with youngsters that are safe and are the real 'Low-Cost Lessons' that are valuable for a lifetime.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment!