When Dogs and Kids Get Along, It Warms the HeartPublished August 31, 2012
There’s one quality my dogs have that really warms my heart: they adore children. When Millie is sitting up on the counter at Life on the Leash and she spots a child coming in, her little tail starts wagging and she whines so that I'll put her on the ground so that she can go see them. Olive crab-walks over to the child and starts licking knees and feet. They have such great affection for kids because they know that most children represent good stuff: play and treats.
I’ve lived with a dog that didn’t appreciate children, our beloved Boxer Sumner, and when the nieces and nephews used to come to visit we would drive him over to my parents’ house for the weekend so that I didn’t have to spend their entire visit in panicked vigilance mode. (I still blame his first deprived year spent in a crate for the socialization challenges we faced with him throughout his life.) It’s such a change of pace – a luxury, really - to have two dogs that truly enjoy the company of children. It’s touching to watch Millie sit patiently in front of a child, waiting for a pat. And Olive, who is still fine-tuning her manners, does her best to keep four-paws-on-the-floor while her little buddies scratch her head.
Their affection didn’t happen by accident. I actively worked on raising kid-friendly dogs given the number of children that pass through the store and our home. It helps that I have two particularly dog-crazy and dog savvy nieces that live nearby … I believe that they paved the way for Millie and Olive’s love of children. When they come to visit, it means gentle play, brain games (hide the toy is their favorite), a little basic obedience with ample treats, and finally, cuddle time on the couch. Though dogs don’t always generalize well, my dogs get very excited when they encounter girls about 10 years old, as if they recognize their “fun cousins” in every little girl.
Not every child encounter that Millie and Olive have is positive, though. I’m always watching when young shoppers are interacting with my dogs, so I can step in and redirect the child when necessary. Even though they love children, Millie and Olive don’t appreciate thumpy petting, or being picked up. Colleen Pelar, amazing dog trainer and author of Living with Kids and Dogs without Losing Your Mind, notes, “There's a huge difference between tolerance and enjoyment. Even dogs who adore kids will have situations that they merely tolerate. That's okay. No one enjoys everything all the time." When I see my dogs exhibiting tolerance and not enjoyment, I’ll either give the child some petting lessons (“She likes it if you scratch her here”), offer a ball to the child so that they can play fetch together (which increases the distance between them, thereby decreasing my dog’s stress), or if things clearly aren’t going to improve, I’ll remove the dog for “nap time.”
I love that my dogs see children and think, “Friends! Hooray!” It took effort to ensure their affection, but it I’m definitely getting more out of it than I put into it. How does your dog react around children? Are you happy with the interactions?