My dog-savvy four year old son is sitting next to me on a park bench finishing his ice cream cone when he notices a couple walking towards us. The man is walking a well mannered, calm leashed black and white adult dog, the woman carrying what looks to be a three to four month old puppy. Excited, Jack politely says “excuse me, can I pet your puppy?” To his surprise, the woman coldly says “no” and continues to walk, the man not even acknowledging that Jack had interacted with them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for dog owners telling children they cannot pet their adult dog, but a puppy? Get over yourself lady. Let me break down it down for you from a dog trainer’s perspective why she truly missed a great opportunity in not telling Jack YES.
- Most dog bites to children from adult dogs are a direct result of the fact that puppies had little to no exposure to children during puppyhood. Allowing a young child, especially one that is seemingly polite, to interact in a positive way with your young puppy teaches your puppy that children are nothing to fear. If you have treats with you, encourage children to feed and interact with your puppy appropriately. I don’t really care if you like kids or not, because I’ll tell you what you won’t like: a lawsuit because your dog bites someone’s kid someday because you failed to socialize it with children.
- Children get trained through positive reinforcement also. By allowing a brief interaction with her and her puppy, she would have been reinforcing a child’s good behavior in asking before even attempting to approach either of her dogs. I still can’t tell you how many children I see that just start going up to dogs, which is dangerous. They seemingly have no boundaries in approaching an adult dog. Rushing unfamiliar dogs with unknown socialization history to children is very risky. It only takes a few seconds for a dog to become uncomfortable in an unsolicited interaction with a child. If a child rushes to approach you and your dog, I give you full permission as a mom raising a young child to tell that kid NO! You need to firmly say “Excuse me, I did NOT give you permission to come up to my dog. Stop right now, he could hurt you,” or “STOP. You are now allowed to pet other people’s dogs without permission, you could get hurt.” Even a young child like mine would clearly understand these two messages if delivered by a stranger. I want you to use the word hurt because not every parent is going to educate their young children about a dog’s potential to bite. That word may not be in that kid’s vocabulary regularly.
- When you don’t live with small children yourself, small kids are actually really hard to come by. When I was in my 20’s raising dogs, I was hard pressed to find kids to interact with my puppies short of waiting around outside schools at let out time or finding ice cream shops with dog friendly patios. You don’t realize how many children you don’t have in your life until it’s too late and your dog is unfortunately terrified of kids. So, if you have the opportunity to allow your young puppy to meet children, you should be jumping at that opportunity. You want a stable, well socialized dog don’t you? Then you must find children. Lots of children. As much as you can. And balloons. And loud noises, and all the other things that pups need to be socialized to ensure you don’t have an insecure, fear-aggressive adult dog. Here’s the socialization checklist I use when I’m raising puppies for clients to make sure I cover as much as I can during puppyhood.
Jack couldn’t believe this lady didn’t say yes to him. He looked at me in disbelief and then hung is head briefly, discouraged. “It’s OK Jack. She doesn’t realize what a kind boy with puppies you are. I know you are feeling sad but we will find another puppy for you to meet soon.” I watched the lady walk away, continuing to carry her puppy down the almost empty street. Don’t get me started on why she wasn’t walking the puppy on a leash, because that’s a whole different topic!
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