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Jan. 2011 – Training Talk: Kids and Dogs

I am a mother with 2 dogs and 3 children. I happen to be a professional dog trainer at this point in my life, but was not when I started to have my children. I had dogs already, and I had been to many different trainers and competed in different dog sports before I had children. I was one of the lucky ones when I had babies with my dogs at that time. I did what some folks said and brought the baby’s little birth hat home for the dogs to sniff. I set up the nursery and taught them to stay out of it, and I tried to integrate our lives together as much as possible. I had no problems with my dogs and my babies. My dogs were not jealous, didn’t try to eat the baby, and weren’t afraid of its stroller or belongings. If anything, those dogs liked the fact that I was home more, and they started to enjoy the free snacks being handed to them by the growing toddler and the scraps dropping from the high chair.

However, as the babies began to grow, I did notice some changes in my dogs’ behaviors. My Newfoundland mix would turn her head when she heard the baby approaching; if she got too close, the dog would decide that the baby was actually coming her way and then decide to move into the next room. My other dog was a diaper magnet, and I had various other challenges with that one. But overall, there were no casualties on either side and all grew up well together.

Sometimes though, it is not so harmonious for all households between our pets and our new members in the house. Generally speaking, most people don’t have problems when the new babies are safe and secure in our arms. It’s when our babies become toddlers that we start to have our problems. The benefits of obedience training go far beyond “sit” and “down” when it comes to running a busy household. An obedient dog will come when called as we see the baby crawling towards the unsuspecting dog and we are not able to stop the altercation. Yes, being completely on hand, available to manage every situation would be perfect, but they ran out of superhero capes when I was in line 15 years ago.

Our goal in our training program is to teach the owner the skills they need to manage their pet in their home. Our priorities may be different but we all need the basic skills of management and knowledge of behavior of the canine species in order for any of skills to work.

Being able to have your dog down on his mat or go to his kennel on command is quite helpful when you are busy with changing the baby’s diaper or answering the door with your toddler. Giving the dog a safe place away from small hands is also ideal for your pet. Being cognizant, as a parent, that your toddler will try to do everything you do to your dog is also good knowledge. If you play silly games with your dog, your child will try to as well. If you manhandle your pup while playing, your child will as well. Hopefully your dog will be tolerant, but don’t wait and see. Be proactive, not reactive, with dealing with kids and dogs. When alterations arise, children can get bit, usually in the face, and it is usually traumatic – especially for the parents. It is also important to recognize that young puppies or older dogs can present unique issues as well.

Dogs bring a lot to our lives and the lives of our children; they are their playmates, four-legged siblings, and sometimes their passion. It is up to the adults in the house to make the interactions safe and fun for all. We need to use good judgment and common sense when dealing with the interactions between kids and dogs.

Mary Pollard is a graduate of the University of Illinois where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Companion Animal Science. She has been training dogs since 1987, and has competed in obedience, conformation, agility and therapy classifications. She is a member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Trainers and past member of the Delta Society Pet Partners and Therapy Dogs International. To reach Mary you can email:, or call the Care First Animal Hospital Oberlin location where Mary frequently teaches day-schoolers at 919-832-3107.

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