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Children and Dogs in Your Family! Expert tips from Michael Baugh from Rover Oaks Pet Resort!

Posted Dec 20 2010 11:47am

With this morning's sad story of a local child losing their life, our resident dog training expert, Michael Baugh director of training and behavior at Rover Oaks Pet Resort offers some insight into the special relationship of children and family pets. Here is what Michael has to say:

"I was startled and saddened today to hear the news of a family dog who killed a 3 month old baby in Houston.  These incidents are extremely rare (many more children are killed in household accidents every year).  It’s that rarity and the fact that they strike such a profound emotional chord in us that these incidents come to the attention of mass media.  It’s a very personal tragedy for the family involved.  It’s also personal for those of us who love dogs, and for those of us dog lovers who have children.  We all take notice.

Fewer than 20 children in America are killed by dogs every year.  Most are under the age of 3 months.  However, many more children are bitten by family dogs every year than are ever reported.  The vast majority of these incidents involve minor or no injury at all.  What do these contrasting facts mean for us?  First, there is no call for mass hysteria or panic.  Second, we should all be conscious of the unique and sometimes tricky relationships our children have with our dogs.

It should come as no surprise to you that I feel very strongly about solid training for our dogs and responsible parenting for our children.  Dogs who are taught simple manners with reward-based training enjoy a tighter and more responsive bond with their people. It follows naturally that people learn to better read their dog’s emotions and can predict the dog’s behavior (good or bad).  Parents who raise their children in the same way (with loving, reward-based learning) can teach them manners, responsiveness and respect for the family dog(s).  In both cases, the responsibility for safety and family harmony falls squarely on the shoulders of the adult humans.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to raising children and dogs.  Some of them may seem like common sense, but they are worth repeating.

  • Young children and dogs should never be left alone, unsupervised by an adult.  Never.  
  • Children should be taught to cross their arms and stand still (like a tree) if a dog shows any non-social behavior.  The child can then ask the adult in attendance for help.
  • Puppies should be taught from a very early age that babies, toddlers and children are safe and fun, regardless of their erratic behavior and the strange sounds children make.  Puppies should be fed by hand and loved-on generously around these young humans.  Puppy classes are ideal for teaching this.
  • Dogs should be taught basic reliable obedience cues: Name Recognition, Come, Sit, Down, Stay, and Leave it.  This should all be done in a friendly, reward-based manner.  Older children should participate in training with adult supervision.
  • Owners with a dog(s) should consult a trainer or behavior consultant if they are expecting a first child, the sooner the better.  A qualified professional can help the expectant parents prepare their dog for the new baby.  He or she can also help identify, and perhaps remedy, any pre-existing aggression issues. 

We never want to point fingers and blame a family whose hearts have been broken.  They’ve lost a child, and the bond they had with their family dog is shattered.  None of us expects horrible things to happen.  That’s what makes them so shocking and sad when they do happen.  I’m reminded of what my mother used to say: There, but for the grace of God, go we.  These sad and shocking incidents are guide posts for the rest of us.  Shame on us if we don’t learn from the loss.  These things are preventable.  Take care, and use caution."

Houston Dog Trainer, Michael Baugh CPDT-KA is the director of training and behavior at  Rover Oaks Pet Resorts . to learn more about  training services  at  Rover Oaks , email him at !


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