Pet Owner Advice: Animals And Children

Safety tips for bringing a dog into a house with kids. Information on training pets to be safe with a child.

When a neighbor's adult son recently returned home, he brought with him his constant companion. Not a wife or a girlfriend: this was the kind of companion that said "Woof!", had four legs, and was of the hairy variety. Not a huge fan of dogs, my neighbor's biggest concern were the younger children in the household. They'd never had a dog, so she was a bit wary of her children's behavior. And this particular dog had had no exposure to children.

Part Pit Bull and part German Shepherd, his cross breed raised concerns as well. Nowadays most any parent hearing the term "Pit Bull" automatically imagines their children being seriously wounded by such an animal. According to a representative of the local ASPCA that is simply not true.

"It's a partial myth," he explained. "Yes, they can be trained to be vicious dogs, but are far more likely to show aggression toward other dogs rather than to people."

My neighbor found that through utilizing some steps suggested by the animal shelter, they all made an easy transition from a pet-free family to one with a dog.

1. Don't allow children near the dog when he's eating or chewing on a bone.

2. Don't allow the dog in the children's bedrooms.

3. Don't allow unsupervised play without an adult present. This should be continued for a few weeks.

4. Teach the children to remain calm in the dog's presence. An excited child often results in an excited dog!

5. Any child visitors to the home must be introduced slowly, without loud voices or sudden movements toward the dog. An adult should be present for the duration of the visit, or chain the dog outside or in a pen. This also should continue for a few weeks until the dog's personality after an adjustment period has been observed.

6. Make certain the dog is neutered--and the younger the better! This affects their temperament, and a neutered dog is far less likely to be a vicious dog.

7. With an adult present, spend lots of time petting the dog on the head, face, and mouth. This teaches the dog that the mouth is not just for biting and eating, and also helps him to be more affectionate.

8. Establish a fairly set routine as to when the dog is walked, fed, and let outside to be tied to a lead. As with children, dogs also respond well to structure.

The neighbors have completed their transitional phase, and are now completely in love with their son's dog. The dog has learned to be gentle, yet playful, and in fact is even quite protective of the children.

One more suggestion from the ASPCA is an especially important one if you choose to integrate a dog into a family with children.

"Choose an older dog from a shelter," they explained. "They generally make the very best pets."

Often times older pets are overlooked when prospective adoptive "parents" visit the animal shelter, in favor of puppies. They should bear in mind that older dogs are usually people-oriented and almost always are house-broken. These can be two additional pluses when integrating a dog into a new household.

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