Dogs that bite children tend to fall into two categories: one is the status dog, owned by an idiot macho man who has encouraged the aggression, the other is the fearful dog, scared of this smelly, screaming, clumsy alien. I want to talk about the second type, the first needs locking up and the dogs confiscated.
The arrival of a child of any age is as big an upheaval for your pets as for you. Routine, noise, priorities, attention, new items and dynamics are all important and potentially threatening for your dog or cat. Simple preparation could cut down all of these issues, yet few actually do it.
Having worked with many dogs and cats who have threatened and even hurt children, I know most problems could have been avoided. Some of the cases that made the papers where a family dog bit a child, or often, a grandchild seem the same. There is often an interview where the owners say the dog “was a bit nervous” or avoided the child, yet they didn’t act?
Dogs and cats don’t automatically love a child just because you do. Kids can be very scary. They smell funny, scream, fall over, have toys making weird noises and shove their faces alarmingly into theirs. Some dogs think kids are great fun, they treat them as puppies. Superficially this looks great, the dog tolerates everything, but reality literally bites when the child needs to command the dog one day.
I once rescued a cat that kept leaping on the head of the 12 month baby every time it made a particular scream. The cat didn’t hate kids or want to kill babies, it reacted to a noise very similar to that of caught prey and nature took over. Many people laugh at their dog chasing their kids, grabbing their clothes and call it “playing”. The dog eventually gets fed up with the kids who don’t listen or stop when told and grabs for real.
If you are expecting a baby or toddler into your family, start preparing the pets. Download noises, borrow dirty nappies and clothes with baby sick on. Make all of this totally commonplace by the time your baby arrives. Let them examine new items, inspect the new baby room.
Mostly, deal with your training issues. If your pets sleep in your room and you want them to stop, start now, not when the child is already there. Stop pulling, jumping up, test prey drive with noise desensitising. Make sure your dog or cat is comfortable with being shut out of a room when told. You can’t rush off to the loo or to put the kettle on and leave them alone. Nor can you fall asleep leaving the baby and pet in the room with you.
Ensure your dog obeys commands just the same as for you. Don’t let your dog snatch food or share from your plate or stare, drooling at you when you are trying to eat. Test your dog and cat’s tolerance to being touched or approached when eating or in bed. Stop them leaping on the sofa or on you, one day that could be straight on top of your baby.
All of this can be addressed long before there is a child at risk. Don’t be complacent. Lots of my customers having problems with their pet and new child thought they had a well adjusted, nice dog or cat and underestimated the stress of a new baby on both them and their pets.
Get professional help to prepare your pet and don’t take anything for granted. Kids and pets can live together very happily and be friends as long as both are well trained and know their boundaries!