Back to CWH home page

Dog Behavior: People and Kids

* Notes Links not working at last update

Note that much of the information here is also applicable for adults.

A new baby in the house can be very stressful for new parents, especially if there are other children to care for. You might feel that you no longer have time for your pet, or the pet might be a danger for your child. Don't believe any of the old wives' tales about animals being vindictive and jealous towards children, most pets accept new children when it's handled correctly, and if you are prepared to work with your pet. Most problems result from pack order problems - the dog does not want to relinquish his status in your "pack". You should start well before your new arrival. You might want to speak to a professional behaviorist if you think your pet might be "jealous" of your child.

Most all problems and bites between kids and the household pet are entirely preventable.  Parents must closely supervise their kids and animals when together, NEVER leave young child unattended with a pet.  The age at which they can spend any time without supervision depends on the maturity of the child and the temperament of the pet.  It only takes a split second for a bad move from a child to turn into a bad move from the pet, and injury occurs. >Dogs sometimes see children as subordinate members of the pack who need to be put in their place, and a trainer or behaviorist might be able to help you immensely. But, if your pet is showing signs of aggression, and you truly believe your children are in any danger, it would probably be best to find a home with a person prepared to deal with this problem. Children also need to be taught to respect their pet's needs and feelings, empathy for others is a very important lesson.

This said, NO child should be expected to fully care for a pet, until they are mature enough to care for themselves.  No matter what a child promises, they ARE only children, and will need help from their parents.  Parents must realize that when getting a pet for their child, most times the parent will end up taking care of the pet. If this is not acceptable, then do NOT get the pet to begin with. Too many animals die in shelters for this reason.

Often, a parent expects the pet to respect the child more than they expect the child to respect the pet.  This is quite an unreasonable expectation. Dogs are turned into shelters and destroyed daily for biting kids who have poked them with sticks, teasing them, teasing them when the dog is tied up and frustrated about his inability to leave  a bad situation (and if the chain or rope breaks?), small kids bouncing on them, hitting them,  or trying to ride them, etc. The pet must pay usually with his life.  Teaching children the safe ways to approach all animals, to respect them and treat them kindly, and to make sure pets are well socialized, trained,  and protected from unruly children is the safest way to give a pet and a child that potentially incredible relationship they can have with each other.  Each time a child is good to an animal, he or she is teaching that animal that kids are nothing to be afraid of, and lessening the chances that the animal will ever threaten a child. It's a training process that lasts a lifetime, for both the child and the pet.

If your spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend, is having a problem with your pet, you must try to find out why. Often with dogs, pack order is a problem here too. If a dog is living with one person when the other comes along, a dog might not want to give up the second in command position in his "pack". This is often interpreted as jealousy, when it's really a dominance problem, and your spouse will have to establish dominance. Or, you and your spouse may have been inconsistent, each treating the pet differently. You will have to start establishing a new relationship between you, your spouse and your dog. You should also call a professional behaviorist or trainer, their job is to train you to train your dog and establish that better relationship.