Posted tagged ‘pets’

Toddlers and dogs

January 18, 2009

A question from Sophie about dogs: “Do you have any recommendations on how to discipline a 14 month old who is continuously abusive to the dogs in his home? We are having serious issues with our son literally attacking and hitting our small dogs. He laughs and giggles if we say no in a firm voice. We aren’t sure if he is old enough for time out? We are scared eventually the dogs will fight back or he will really harm the dogs (the dogs only weigh 9ish pounds). Thank you!”

Another dog question! That makes me wonder what ever happened to Beth and her doggy wishes. Hopefully her parents won’t see this post and change their minds!

You’ve really got two issues here: how to teach your child to behave with the dog, and how to keep your child safe. At 14 months, I’m not sure you can rely on discipline strategies with your son to make sure that he doesn’t get hurt. Even a 9 pound dog can give a child a nasty bite, especially on the face. So even once you’ve implemented the teaching part of the plan, you’ve still got to ensure that your son doesn’t get attacked by keeping him and the dogs under close supervision.

Teaching a toddler how to behave with a dog isn’t very different from teaching a toddler other skills. Use a combination of these tools:

  • Modeling—be good with the dogs yourself, and show with your actions how you treat animals with respect.

  • Positive reinforcement—give your son good feedback when he does the right thing. Your positive comments should be immediate and very specific. Since your son in so young, you probably won’t find it helpful to make a more elaborate positive reinforcement strategy like a sticker chart. Just positive comments and affection to reinforce good behavior should help.

  • Punishment—you shouldn’t tolerate cruelty, which includes hitting people or animals. Review the action plan for stopping aggressive behaviors in this post, and follow those directions whenever he strikes one of the dogs. Do it immediately, with no warnings or count-downs.

Even with all of these teaching steps in place, you’ll need to be careful. A dog who feels threatened will bite, and even your little dogs could really hurt your son. Until he’s old enough for you to depend on his judgment and behavior, he should not spend unsupervised time with your dogs.

Further reading

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Advice for a child who wants a dog

December 13, 2008

Beth asked, “I want to get a dog, but my mom doesn’t want one. She says a dog will make my allergies worse. What kind of dog is best?”

Far be it from me to stick my neck out into a family discussion….a dog can be a lot of work, and it’s really up to your parents, not me. On the other hand, I like dogs, too. So maybe I can help!

Dog allergies are not common, but they can occur. The allergies are usually to dander, which is essentially dried dog spit that sticks to the dog’s fur. So picking a breed that’s less licky and has less hair is probably a good idea for allergic families. If you’re feeling especially brave, you can even volunteer to get a blood test to see if you’re allergic to dogs. If the test is negative, that might help convince mom.

Your mom is also worried that the dog is going to end up being a lot of work for her. So you need to prove that you’re going to take care of your new pet. Begin by taking care of yourself and your room, and your other things. See if you can get your mom to let you “volunteer” to do some pet-sitting on your own. A dog is going to be a big responsibility, and mom isn’t going to agree to this new family member until she’s convinced that you’re going to be the one to take care of it.

The Obama family is looking for a new dog, too. I’ve read that they want to get one from a shelter. That’s a great idea, and you can get a really cute and friendly mutt that way. Another avenue to think about is working with a dog rescue organization. These are non-profits that provide “foster homes” for homeless dogs so they can learn good doggy manners. They also can find out what kind of family would fit with the dog—does he like children, or other animals? Some rescue organizations are for specific breeds, or only smaller dogs. Ask your mom to help you use an internet search to find local dog rescue organizations and shelters in your area.

Please don’t go buy a dog from a pet store. Unfortunately, many pet stores get their dogs from inhumane “puppy mills.” There are plenty of wonderful dogs at shelters and rescues that need a loving home. If a shelter dog is good enough for the President, it’s good enough for you!

Let me know how it works out!