I was at a client’s home recently working with their Shih Tzu who is growling and cowering under the chair whenever the children are near. The kids like to put the young dog in a stroller lifting it by its front legs, carry it around on its back like a baby and give it hugs while it’s sleeping. Their mother wanted me to make the dog like the children. I told her that was impossible. She asked me if I would work with the kids. I’ve been working with families a long time. Here’s how I interpret that request. “When it comes to the dog I give the children no boundaries or consequences for broken boundaries. I was wondering if you would do my job for me.” I can’t tell you how many people say to me “I told her not to do that to the dog but she won’t listen”. Are you kidding me!

The combination of kids and dogs is no joke to me. A child is bitten by a dog every day by not abiding by boundaries, parental or canine. A very well-intended couple who happen to be clients of mine told me that their 3 year old daughter was bitten in the face by an Akita when she went to hug him. (An Akita!) The sweet little girl accidentally bopped the dog on the behind with her toy shovel. Being the sweetheart, product-of-her-parents that she is, she went to tell him she was sorry and give him a hug around his neck coming at him face to face. She required medical attention but the wound was quite superficial and eventually the scar faded. I assure you the only reason it was so superficial is because that dog had mercy. He gave her a warning. I was told, in this case, there were no consequences for the dog. Not your typical case. It’s usually much worse for the child and the dog.

When I think back to how I used to tease my Cocker Spaniel at her meal time I’m stunned that I don’t have an enormous scar on my face as evidence. Sugar would give her best menacing growl and a dirty look out of the side of her face as I put my face right next to her bowl like I was going to eat her food. I remember my mother scolding me with that empty threatening tone, using my name, “Suuuusaaan” and a disapproving look. To do over again I wish my mother had snatched me bald headed. Luckily, I was never a victim of my own ignorance in this way. The odds were definitely against me. I did everything to my dog of which I have just accused the children in the previous story.

I get it. You envisioned the dog and the kids living in harmony in a Disney sort of way. You got the dog for the kids and it’s just not working out as you’d hoped. Best thing to do is accept reality and keep the kids and the dog safe. Last thing anybody wants is a kid with a facial scar and a euthanized family pet with nothing to remember him by but a photograph on your iPhone you forgot to delete.

Let’s get down to business. If you’ve got little ones, here are the rules.

#1 Feed the dog in isolation. This includes bones.

#2 DON’T HUG THE DOG! Regardless of what you think; dogs don’t like full frontal hugs especially from children.

#3 Don’t let the kids take things away from the dog.

#4 Don’t let the kids invade the dog’s space when he has clearly sought refuge.

#5 Don’t drag the dog around.

This can all be summed up by asking you to please teach the children to be respectful of their dog and other dogs. It is said most children are bit by their friend’s dog who WON’T tolerate the same treatment the child doles out to its own dog. Do everything you can to make sure your child and dog don’t become a statistic.