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Children and Dogs

Veterinarian Reviewed on April 3, 2013 by Dr. Janice Huntingford


Usually, dogs and children cohabitate quite easily and form close, loving bonds,but because children and dogs can be unpredictable, there are some things to remember if you’re bringing a pet into your family. There are certain behavioural issues to consider as well as what kind of dog is most suited to family life. In addition, there are some lessons you can teach your children to prevent possible problems with biting or aggressive dogs.

What Kind of Dog

Not all dogs will interact well with children just as not all children will interact well with dogs. Typically speaking, there are some breeds that are more suitable, especially if you have children under 6. A medium sized dog, like a Labrador for example, will be less scary for small children. Small dogs should usually be avoided because sometimes young children are too rough and this can cause the dogs to bite. Likewise, large dogs that have been trained for hunting or guarding might have a more aggressive character and should also be avoided. Also, you’ll want to give puppies some time to adjust to their new home life before you play with them too much. Careful supervision of puppies with children is recommended to make sure your kids are gentle with the young pups.

It is important to carefully consider the implications of dog ownership before getting a new dog. Many parents decide to get a pet so they can provide companionship for their children but also because their kids beg for a dog. While dogs usually make excellent members of the family, you should consider grooming and exercise requirements, the temperament and trainability of the breed, as well as the maturity level of your kids. The whole family needs to be committed to caring for their new pet.

The Dog/Child Relationship

When most people consider the relationship a child will have with a dog they think about the great friendship that will form. In most cases, dogs and kids do form strong bonds with few problems. However, it is important to remember a dog’s mentality when you first get a pet. Dogs are pack animals. They rank members of a family according to their dominance and submission. For examples, most dogs will quickly identify parents (or adults) as dominant over them and will behave as a subordinate, by following commands for example. Dogs may not, however, view children as dominant. In the family dynamic, children are also subordinate to adults and dogs can actually pick up on this. For this reason, dogs might not respect a child’s commands or even his/her presence. In fact, dogs usually rank children as equal or lower to themselves in the family hierarchy and as a result some problems ensue.

Dogs will sometimes growl at children when they are near the dog’s food and toys. This behaviour is meant to warn the child to stay away but may be scary, especially for young children. In addition, if kids don’t heed these warnings, aggressive behaviour may follow. For this reason, it is especially important to be aware of how a dog approaches family relationships.

Health Issues

There are some health concerns that become important if you have a dog and small children. One obvious example of course is rabies but there are some other health issues. For example, children can contract worms (roundworms and hookworms) from dog excrement so de-worming your dog is very important. Fleas and ticks can become a concern. There are a number of flea and tick products (including collars and medications) that can be used to prevent your dog from getting fleas and ticks.

Finally, allergies are an issue to consider.  Some children may have allergies to your dog’s fur or pet dander and as such may require extra medical attention. However, recent research has shown that children who grow up in a household that has a pet have fewer allergies growing up.

There is a lot to consider when introducing a dog to your family!

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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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