Can a dog be trained to be 100% safe around all children, no matter what the child does around or to the dog? I get these inquires in some form or fashion about once a year…
Usually a mom calls me to ask me to train their dog to tolerate whatever type of abuse their child is doing to their dog. The dog is already acting defensively with the child at this point, growling or snapping or even biting.
First, let’s start with the child. There is NO child that is “old enough to know better.” If they did know better, then they would be adults and wouldn’t need parents. You have to assume that children need mindful parents who supervise the set ups between their children and any dog. Further, kids are curious about how everything works, including wanting to know how bad things work. Kids will do dumb things in the home, we all know that. I once got a good shock because I put my finger into a light socket with the lamp plugged into the wall. I was curious, and found out the hard way. Kids, likewise, will try things with dogs, even things you’ve forbidden them from doing. Therefore, not only supervision is required, but active and purposeful teaching is required. Instead of turning on that Disney cartoon about animals, show them some real footage about how animals hunt and fight in the wild. Teach them about how animals think and behave, especially when important resources are involved, or if the animal is harassed or injured. If you keep sheltering them from reality, then you aren’t doing them any favors. Yelling at them, or just giving them rules, isn’t the same as teaching. For example, teach them if they encounter a dog that isn’t part of the family… to stop, NOT TOUCH the animal, walk away, and to go get an adult to supervise the next steps (meaning asking you for permission). Untrained kids walk up to dogs like little Frankensteins, they don’t stop, they do touch (often inappropriately), they don’t leave and get their parents, and something bad happens. In the home, they also don’t have any training about what to do with the family dog, and parents let the kids be the dog’s tug toy, and wonder why the kids get scratched up or bitten.
Next, let’s talk about the dog. A dog is a dog, not a stuffed animal, not a cartoon character like Bambi, not a punching bag, either. Dogs are predators, pack oriented social animals, and territory guarders. Predators hunt for things, including that sandwich on the floor, and will sometimes guard their “kill” from a kid trying to get it back. Predators are social animals, like people, with feelings that range from happy to upset, irritated to calm, and so forth. They have individual personalities and individual relationships with each person they know, and no relationships with people who haven’t been properly introduced. Dogs guard territory from intruders, including kids they don’t know who have entered the home, or certain parts of the property, without proper introductions. Dogs need training and adult supervision, and the younger the child, the more training and supervision both the dog and the children require. Dogs that can’t be supervised need to be separated from younger children, and that includes making sure the child can’t get to the dog. Dogs will react defensively, or fearfully, to improper handling, and that can result in a dog explosively attacking to stop the pain or other threat. No amount of training can make a dog into a goldfish. It’s a dog. Get used to that idea.
Lastly, let’s talk about the parents. Dogs aren’t capable of making adult human decisions. Good parents don’t take revenge on dogs who were forced to do defensive dog behaviors as a result of what their kids did to the dog. Dogs make dog decisions, human adults must make the entire situation safe for everyone involved. Parents can’t make a dog “childproof”, meaning instead they have to supervise and train all involved in order to make the situation safe for the child. Parents can’t think they can bluff their kids with punishments and nagging and avoid actually teaching kids about dog behavior, generally by putting themselves, the dog and the kids into a professional dog training class together. Parents who won’t do this shouldn’t get a dog. Parents who won’t do this are ultimately to blame for what happens when kids and dogs are put in unreasonable imminent danger. Parents can turn their child’s natural temptations into good life lessons, or ignore their curiosity and let the kids learn life lessons the hard way.
Kids aren’t going to grow up to be good and responsible and healthy adults if their parents completely mismanage their interactions with dogs during those years. Dogs can’t be made childproof. Give up on that idea. Don’t be a lazy parent. Don’t let your kids suffer because you don’t do your job teaching them to live in the real world with animals. Good parents do whatever it takes to teach kids how to be good with dogs, because one day they know they might not be there, the child will be faced with someone’s dog, and something bad might happen. You get a dog, you then take on the responsibility, both morally and legally, to manage your kids and dogs safely and humanely. If parents can’t do this, then they have no business ever having a dog, or letting their kids be around any dog (good luck with that).