Most kids love dogs and, at some point in time, beg to have a puppy. They (the pups) are cuddly, cute and, in most cases, super friendly. Dogs and kids can be the best of friends and the companionship can help foster kindness, a caring attitude and a sense of responsibility in the child.
From the health perspective, studies have shown that babies raised with a pet get sick less often in their first year of life and that children who grow up with dogs experience a reduced risk of allergies. Having a pet increases the activity levels of the child along with helping them learn empathy, accountability and compassion while developing a higher level of self-esteem by carrying out their responsibilities towards the pet. But the greatest and simplest benefit of having a dog remains that the two have great fun together and make each other happy.
Every dog-kid duo can have such a great bond, and to do that here are a few things that need to be kept in mind:
First of, while deciding to have both, a dog and a child in the same house, the medical conditions and physical capabilities of both must be considered. If the child is only an infant or has special needs, the obedience of the dog has to be on point. If the dog hasn’t already come into your home, the breed, age and size of the dog to be adopted will also have to be decided keeping in mind what the family can support. On the flip side, if your pooch is quite senior or has physical limitations, he may not always be able to support the child’s needs. In such a case, strict boundaries need to be set and initially a lot of supervision is required if the child is not old enough to understand.
Secondly, every interaction between the two should be based on sharing, caring, understanding and most of all – respect. While the aim remains to have fun and give both a good exercise, rough play must be strictly avoided as both parties can get excited very quickly. On the part of the parent, body language of the dog is what needs to be continuously watched and, at all possible times, explained to the child. During a play session, physical markers in the dog such as a limp, excessive panting and/or salivating are red flags that indicate the need for intervention by an adult or even a break from the play. For the environment to be a safe one, both the kids – two-legged and four-legged need to stop when asked to.
Third, encourage a conversation. A dog doesn’t just understand what we say, but also talks in several ways. When faced with a stressor, the first reaction is to move away, if the situation still persists, then to freeze and only when it worsens does the dog growl, curl his lip and as a last resort — bite. But this can easily be avoided by respecting boundaries and ensuring comfort of all parties involved. Sooner or later, the dog and the child will be left with no one watching over them and that is when understanding each other becomes imperative. Whenever either gets uncomfortable, the activity/play needs to be changed.
Some of the known stressors for dogs are a full-frontal encounter; excessive cuddling, touching, kissing or hugging. Depending on the dog, there may be specific areas where the dog doesn’t like being held or touched such as the head or the buttocks. If the child encounters a bite or a bark at intense proximity, there is a very high chance that the child may have a fear instilled in them that is very difficult to overcome. Vice versa, the dog too can develop trust issues and may indeed develop a habit of barking or biting. To avoid this, the threshold of the canine must be understood well.
With enough being said about what shouldn’t be done, let’s now move on to the activities that can help strengthen the bond between the two. Kids from the age 6/7 and up can easily help with feeding and bathing the dog. A great way to keep both entertained would be doing the obedience commands and fun tricks like “shake hand”, “roll over”, etc. This serves as a learning session for both the pooch and the kid by building patience and respect. The child can also be introduced to walking the dog by allowing him to hold the leash and steer when the dog is tired enough to not make unpredictable movements. Playing games like fetch and other puzzles like “guess which hand has the treat” can be exhausting yet enjoyable for both.
All in all, having a dog as a pet can enrich the child’s life in so many ways. It boosts holistic development and fills it with memorable experiences. Metaphorically speaking, a dog is one the best gifts you can give your child because, in that you are giving him one of his closest friends.
Note: All of the above is written assuming that the dog is child-friendly. If there are any behaviour issues that the dog faces, it would be ideal to consult a behaviourist before you decide to introduce a child and a dog.
For more details on how to work with children and Pets together PetSitters Pune offers a couple of programs like Pre Pet Consult, Pet Sibling Program, Puppy Handling sessions to ease the bond between the child and the dog. You can get in touch with us for a pre-pet consult.
Shalaka Mundada is the owner of PetSitters, a premium pet boarding facility in Pune, India.
Founded in 2008, PetSitters largely works in the field of Dog Kenneling, Pre-Pet Consultations, Pet events & Dog Behavior Modification Programs. Shalaka is a certified Trainer, Behaviourist & Dog Aggression specialist from John Rogerson’s Northern Centre for Canine Behaviour, UK. She has also completed her Kennel Management Course from Shirin Merchant Canine Can Care, Mumbai.