Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Children and Dogs: Multiple Relationship Possibilities

Many families have both dogs and children. Some people feel it is best to have really large dogs with small children - big dogs are less likely to be hurt by being stepped on by small children and they are a whole lot harder to pick up and thus drop.

Some breeds are also known for being very patient with children.

Herding dogs will often transfer their instinct to protectively watch over a flock to watching over children.

Retrieving breeds also seem to often have an affinity for children.

 It is important to remember that if excited virtually any kind of dog can knock a small child over, particularly if the child is still learning to walk. For this reason, some large bread rescues will not adopt their dogs out to families with very small children.

It is important to teach both children and dogs how to be respectful of each other.

Children can learn to start handling dogs as soon as they are old enough to understand how to hold a leash and walk...if the dog they are handling already knows how to walk politely on a leash. Or slightly older children can be taught alongside a dog how dog handling works - junior dog handlers are allowed to show dogs.

Family companions are just one of the roles that children can share with dogs.

A number of reading programs have developed around the concept that children who have trouble reading, and have trouble reading to adults, can read more successfully and comfortably when reading to a dog.

All kinds of dogs can be successful therapy dogs for children in reading programs. The most important feature for a dog in a reading program is being a patient listener.

Dogs also serve in emotional and physical therapy roles with children.

Children with emotional disabilities can often be calmed by the presence of a dog.

Therapy dogs visiting hospitals are also very comforting for children and help provide emotional support during long, difficult, and often painful treatments.

Dogs also provide physical  support for disabled children. For example a dog can be trained to balance a child's weight if the child has challenges with stability; they can pick things up that their handler drops on the ground; they can carry packs; turn lights on and off; open doors and more.

And of course there is the entertainment value for a family that has both children and dogs. What's more fun than dressing your dog up?

Dressing your child up to look like your dog!

Finally, if you enjoy dogs and you enjoy children, then watching them interact is a great way to fill a space in your soul that can be filled by nothing else.

While children and dogs should be supervised, when they forget the supervisors are in the room or nearby, you get some pretty memorable interactions.

Really, there isn't much that is more smile worthy than a child and a dog making that special connection.


  1. Great topic and lots of great points and pictures. I sent you a separate email with some thoughts and pictures.

    I'm so fortunate to live in between two massive families of small children (three of which just ran by my window). These kids are great friends with my dogs and my dogs have helped them get used to dogs (none have their own family dog) and have helped my dogs get used to kids.

    In fact, shortly, I'm going to bundle up Ruby and Gilbert for a trip up the block to hang out with those kids. Gilbert always searches for the kids when we go by their houses - whether for the treats I give them to give him or the attention (probably a combo). He's great with anyone although I doubt he was exposed to kids much for his 13 years in a rabbit hut.

    Ruby is great with kids - she lived with a family with kids for her first 12 years. Although she can be a pincher when taking treats from hands, so no one is allowed to feed her directly from their hand (she can catch a treat tossed to her).

    Gus loves kids but can be a bit energetic for them - perhaps knocking them over and/or jumping on them, although mostly he wants to get close enough to lick their face which throws them into fits of giggles and screams (fun screams). He tends to intimidate them a little although we've spent a lot of time with him in a sit and them petting him or giving him treats.

    Certainly our dogs were some of my favorite beings when I was a kid. I wish every child got a chance to bond with a dog - it can be such a wonderful experience.

    Thanks, Kathy

    1. I agree Kathy, growing up dogs were some of my favorite people...oh wait, you said beings. Okay, as beings go, I tend to like a lot of dogs more than I like a lot of people. And I find dogs generally are easier to spend large amounts of time with. But maybe that's because I can crate them if they really get on my last nerve...which I understand we "ought not" to do to people.

      Really though, I don't know how I would have managed growing up without the dogs I shared my life with. They provided emotional support long before anyone realized I was disabled. After a tough day at school, going home to pet and play with my Collie, or our family Lab really got my life back in perspective. I also wish more children knew that special bond that you get with a dog.

      I watch my young nephews now and when they're having a bad day, or otherwise need a hug, they can kneel down next to their Lab, give her a big old hug around the neck and she wags her tail and tries to lick them. They've already internalized that social image that boys aren't supposed to be walking around hugging people, but it is socially acceptable in their own minds to hug their dog.

  2. After watching nine year old Hayden spend yet another hour carefully stroking Gilbert tonight (OK he did wrestle with Gus for a few minutes of that) and being delighted to see how much better he looks with every visit, your point about dogs giving boys an acceptable physical affection-outlet really makes a lot of sense.

    Actually Gus is a very happy camper between a LOT of wrestling and rolling on the floor with Addie (she's 11 or 12) some pets from Jill their mom and quite a few stolen face licks on Hayden, Gus is zonked out. He did give me a few looks over his shoulder while putting moves on the kids on the floor, saying something like - see? This is what I was looking for, why don't you get down on the floor and roll around more? :-) Kathy

  3. Speaking of wrestling, I've noticed - to make a broad generlization - that different forms of rough housing is a way that a lot of guys show affection to dogs. My dad always bonds with dogs through wrestling.

    After watching guy interactions with dogs for years, I tried a chase game with my three girls. I shake them gently, then let them run away, chase them around once or twice and then grab them again. They LOVE this game, even Jenny who is usually a gentle soul. She will bark, jump around, run a circle and then bee line right back to get caught again. I think many dogs enjoy a little rough housing; guys tend to corner the market on that kind of playing :-)

  4. Hi: Yes - and Hayden overdid it with Gus a bit. Once or twice I was watching and mildly worried Gus could get hurt. At the end, he scared Gus who ran away. Arvo, Hayden's dog, is bigger and wilder than Gus and may be able to take rougher housing, so to speak.

    I'll have to try your game, sounds great! I can get Ruby and Gus very riled up with a pile of balls or sticks, throwing them to them - Ruby bounces around, catches them, barks wildly, and overall has a great time.

    I also play a game with the two of them where we sort of leapfrog - I straddle Gus and rub his back by his tail and push him through and then Ruby assumes the position and gets a rub and then Gus and on and on - they line up and circle around. Again, both love it but it is particularly fun to see 14 year old Ruby get super excited and rambunctious.

  5. Rough housing can go over the top quickly - even the best natured dogs and kids shouldn't be left unsupervised - my sistser once bit the dog when she got mad at him when they were playing rough. Really.

    I like playing with all dogs but there is something extra special about seeing that spark of fun when a senior canine gets that little frisky feeling. I've been enjoying watching Jenny discover a renewed sense of play with Lil. Despite Lil's size Jenny will still drag her around by a rope they both grab as Lil splays out on the floor - they made that game up when Lil was a much smaller dog but neither of them has tired of it.

    Gracie's undoing was showing Lil that you can grab another dog's collar and pull on it to great effect. Lil figured out how to return the favor and now Gracie has to start her morning out being removed from the couch when she jumps up for a quick cuddle and hauled around the living room for a few circles.

  6. Very nice post and lovely pictures. :-) I grew up with Toy and Miniature Poodles but longed for a big dog when I was younger. As an adult I have had large and small dogs with my own children. I personally prefer larger dogs with children, but little dogs can be wonderful, too. Either way both kids and dogs have to learn what is acceptable and what is not w/regard to interaction. My Rottweilers were wonderful family dogs; very attentive and loving with children. I now have Rama--a Cane Corso--and they are known amongst fanciers of the breed to be very good with children. I have found this to be true. I generally like the slower demeanor of Mastiffs, so I have enjoyed Rama so much and have found her to be loving, gentle and patient with the children.

    1. From toy poodles to Cane Corso :-) Go big or go home!

      I prefer larger dogs with small children however, I also agree that small dogs can work and that no matter the dog size, both child and dog need to understand the rules. And that means the responsibility always lies with the adults in the home - I wish everyone understood that. I get so frustrated with adults who get a pet with the idea that it will stay in the family only as long as a child is responsible for the care. One models good pet care, they don't lecture on it or expect it to just be present. Sigh.

      I'm glad your children have the opportunity to grow up learning to do by doing. I wish more children had that advantage.