Keys to creating safe interaction between kids, dogs

Animal behaviorist helps parents avoid problems

Published On: Nov 20 2012 01:01:11 PM EST   Updated On: Nov 20 2012 05:00:00 PM EST
PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -

In August 2011, Veronica Owen introduced her first born to her first baby -- daughter Rachel came home and met the family dog Romy.

Doggie and daughter have become fast friends, but as Rachel begins to grown, Owen herself has growing concerns.

"As Rachel has become more mobile, she is more curious as to what Romy is doing," said Owen. "When she see's Romy's tail wag, she wonders how it wags so she grabs it and pulls it sometimes."

Dog trainer and animal behavior specialist Susan Claire gave Owen some initial guidance and returned in the fall of 2012 for a follow-up visit.

"Just as you would prevent a baby from getting into poison or running out into the street, so you would also prevent the baby from harassing the dog or injuring the dog or provoking the dog because it's equally as dangerous," said Claire.

Active supervision is vital when it comes to avoiding potential problems.

"The parents shouldn't be on the phone, texting, watching TV, on the iPad half watching the situation and only reacting if there's a problem," said Claire.

Active supervision allows parents to catch warning signs from the dog before there's trouble.

"If a dog flicks its tongue, if it is averting its gaze or if it gets up and shakes off, these are all signals the dog is trying to say it's stressed and uncomfortable and needs space," said Claire.

Claire said parents also need to watch their own child for signs of trouble.

"I've met dog owners who think their pet should just take whatever the child dishes out. That is flat out wrong and just asking for trouble," said Claire. "If you see your toddler running full steam ahead at the dog, you should step in and stop the child before he or she lands on the dog, smacks it, or pulls its tail."

Even something seemingly innocent like a child giving a dog a hug can be extremely dangerous.

"People have to understand that dogs view face-to-face contact as a sign of aggression. That's why so many kids get bit in the face," said Claire. "They grab the family dog by the neck in an effort to give it a hug or kiss and the dog feels cornered and trapped and responds according to its own nature."

When it comes to space, Claire said kids and dogs each need to have their own safe spot that can be created by either a distraction with toys or physical separation.

"A baby gate is a parent's best friend, and really it's a dogs best friend. It creates a quiet zone for each of them to enjoy time alone," said Claire.

Claire showed Owen some new dog toys that can keep Romy occupied and entertained while Rachel is playing with her own toys.

"I don't want there to be a confrontation where one or the other gets upset and bites or smacks the other," said Owen. 

To reach Claire, go to: www.playtraindog.com.