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Friday, March 23, 2012

Kidz n' Dawgz

Image Credit: Everett Collection
   This may come across as a bit 'rant-y' because it's about a subject that really gets to me. I don't mean 'gets to me' in a warm, fuzzy way either. I haven't recently had any irritating experiences involving kids and dogs, but the subject has definitely been brought to mind by this blog entry with imbedded video: Smart Dog: Dog body language

    Like the author of that blog, I too find myself having a hard time watching 'feel good' stories involving animals and for similar reasons, and I find myself cringing extra hard when kids are involved.  In fact, I often find the portrayal of animals in the media to be quite distressing. 'Cute' movies with dogs that speak in human voices and convey human emotions seem like harmless forays into fantasy for the most part, but sometimes they have unintentional long-term effects. People tend to ascribe human behavior and emotional characteristics to dogs to an alarming degree, and it's much to the detriment of the dogs' life experience. Treating your dog 'like a person' doesn't do him/her any favors. In fact, to do so is to disrespect what a dog really is; a super-cool animal that's evolved specifically to be our best friend and companion. Not less than a person, but not the same as a person either. Dogs have unique dietary and emotional requirements that we don't share, and visa-versa. Doesn't it behoove us to learn something about dogs before inviting one into our home?

   Unfortunately, many people learn everything they know about dogs from movies and television, and neither is a great (or even good) source of information. Many pet owners know so little about dogs that they don't even realize that there is more to know. Often these folks are parents too, and that's when the 'fun' begins. I strongly suspect that the folks in the above video are entirely clueless about what is happening to their daughter's poor service dog. It would appear that they have a pet dog too, but handling a pet is a whole world of different from handling a service dog. Even so, pet dogs are the vast majority and deserve to be treated with respect. It is a parent's responsibility to learn what that means and to teach that lesson to their children. Children who don't grow up learning respect are the most likely to be bitten. When I was a kid, if a dog bit me the question was "What did you do to it?" Now though, in our litigious society, it's like a federal offense no matter who's fault it is. Sometimes a bite is the result of a negligent dog owner. Often though, the bite is a direct result of a dog being mishandled by a child in an unsupervised (or even supervised) situation. I am familiar with a recent, local situation where a dog bit a child in the face. The parent was called "a saint" because she didn't press charges. The dog was put under quarantine for ten days, and had to wear a muzzle any time she was outside. The part that very few heard about though, was that this child is wildly out of control, had almost unlimited access to the dog and was pulling on her face and refusing to let go when the bite occurred. The dog was a little sweetheart of a thing but had nobody defending her from this onslaught. It took her months to finally snap. Unfortunately this kind of story plays out again and again while people stand around scratching their heads and wonder "What happened?"

   The troubling things I see the most often are severe boundary-busters; things like kids laying on top of the dog, kids grabbing the dog's face, trying to ride the dog, etc. As I type that, I can almost hear a chorus of "Yeah, well my kids do/did that and nothing bad aver happened. My dogs are/were great." To that I say, so what? That makes it okay? You are lucky that your dog is/was kind enough or respectful enough of you to put up with that. Just because a dog is tolerant doesn't mean they should have to be subjected to that kind of treatment. By allowing that, you not only allow your child to harass your dog, but you fail to teach them how to respect animals. So...when is any of that okay? In my opinion, NEVER. And most dogs are not going to put up with that, and that's normal, not bad. For the ones that do put up with it,  if you were to look at the scene objectively and not as a parent, you can see that the dog isn't happy but merely resigned. I hate seeing that and it isn't fair. And yes, I am a parent. I am a parent who took her young daughter to work with her in two kennels. While my daughter was always supervised (as all kids should always be around all dogs), I knew that she grew up respecting our dogs, and that it would translate to a respect for dogs in general. To say "it's okay to disrespect our dogs but not others" makes no sense at all, and kids do what they know far more often than they do what they're told. It has to begin at home. My daughter never crawled on a dog or pulled on a dog's face, she learned how to respect a dog's space, but she loved them anyway.

   There are a lot of great things that kids and dogs can do together. Done right, the kid/dog combo is pretty awesome. Kids can learn (supervised) care of the dog, take a turn at feeding and brushing. There are games like fetch and hide and seek that are a natural source of amusement for both kids and dogs. While I think there are very few children under ten that should be walking a dog or handling a leash, they can certainly take part in (supervised) positive obedience training and trick training. Some kids are naturals:-) There are so many wonderful ways for kids and dogs to bond that form a positive association for both, that it really makes no sense at all to allow children to invade a dog's space. For the child, growing up having a respectful and fulfilling relationship with a dog is a positive lesson they will take with them into adulthood. For the dog, having positive experiences with children at home means the dog is less likely to develop problems with children in general, and ensures a better quality of life for a beloved family member. Isn't that a better way to go?

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