At WiggleLess, we love walks on the beach, weekend BBQs and playing outdoors. Although my own girls have left the nest, I still notice little ones everywhere. Once school lets out, the kids hit the beaches and towns in our surrounding area wearing flip-flops and ready for Summer Fun!
Along with families, comes DOGS. Big ones, little ones, and some in between. Of course, I am highly tuned-in when it comes to children and dogs in general and enjoy meeting new pet parents and their fur babies. I notice when a dog is super friendly and approachable or when one seems skittish and afraid.
As with kids, dogs are highly responsive to their surroundings. Children learn from us, the adults… and many times I have witnessed a child treat a pet EXACTLY the same way their parent does, both positively and/or negatively. Harsh treatment from an adult usually stems from fear and misunderstandings. Sadly, this is passed on to their children.
It breaks my heart to see children afraid of dogs and animals and scream with fear when they see one. Lack of education and understanding are to blame. There is a language barrier and it’s time we humans learn the language of dogs and animals, instead of us humans demanding that animals understand what we want and expect from them—no one here is a mind reader.
When a parent approaches a dog with fear, their child LEARNS to be afraid. However, if the parent teaches the child to be gentle, cautious, respectful, and friendly, the child (and dog) will learn that same approach. Understandably parents are cautious, given the unknown reaction of a given dog. More often than not we have the chance to instruct both child and pet with a harmonious outcome.
As a dog and animal lover my entire life, it was extremely important to me that my daughters have a caring, respectful relationship with dogs. I taught them dogs have feelings and emotions just like us; a dog needs to feel a sense of trust and kindness from us because they get scared too; a dog needs to feel safe with us, just like we want to feel safe with others. Dogs are not toys where we pull their tails, bonk their heads, tease, or hurt them in any way. My guidance also influenced how a pet owner responded to my child (and to me!) creating a shared space of learning and peace.
A responsible adult should always supervise encounters with children and dogs.When being introduced to a dog, crouch down with your child to the dogs level, and stretch out your hand. Speak calmly and allow the dog to approach you and sniff your hand to establish a sense of TRUST.
If you detect an uncomfortable, fearful dog, it’s best not to force a greeting. Don’t let a child approach a dog when it is eating or chewing on a bone or toy as it may be possessive (understandably!). If a dog has its tail tucked between its legs, or growls, leave him be. Subtle nuances in a dogs body language speak volumes.
WebMD (one of my favorite sites!) recently published a very helpful article on this topic called Helping Your Child Overcome a Fear of Dogs: http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/features/helping-your-child-overcome-a-fear-of-dogs#2
They suggested some great tips for helping your child overcome their fears, and I think #9 is a very important one on many levels! When teaching a child manners, you are not only addressing and molding their behaviors but also illustrating to others what is expected.
Without manners, either the parent, the child, the dog owner or the dog will feel fearful or frustrated with the exchange. It is important for all parties to treat each other with respect and courtesy, allowing the meet and greet to happen naturally.
As adults, we have a responsibility to help children form a lasting bond with not only dogs but with all animals. That’s when all the fun, love, and appreciation begins!