Kids and hounds – manage it right

by Sue Tofful

Sue Tofful is the:

  • adoptive mum of two greyhounds, Marcus (9) and Lucy (8),
  • mum of daughter Lauren (8),
  • step-mum to Alex (almost 17) and Nic (21).

Sue emphasises she’s not a dog behaviourist or trainer, but a mum who’s used common sense. She says integrating a dog into your family involves three things: vigilance, consistency and commitment.

Greyhound Rescue is constantly asked ‘is that hound kid friendly?’ Instead, parents should ask themselves – ‘are my children dog-friendly?’

I and my children had many things to learn! Rescue greyhound Marcus was wonderful around my daughter, Lauren, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. I began a gentle process of retraining Marcus to ask to get on a human’s couch or bed.
Lesson learned: kids and dogs sharing couches and beds is not advised unless it’s on your terms.

We then adopted greyhound Lucy. This dog had also been sent back from an earlier home after an issue with a child. Meanwhile, daughter Lauren had developed dog savvy, but Lucy’s issues were a little different – sleep startle and resource guarding (protecting toys, food, etc). I committed to working through it. In particular, when Lucy behaved in an undesirable way, she was firmly told off, and then ignored.
Lesson learned: do not reward unwanted behaviours in your dog by giving them attention, always correct it. Always supervise your child around dogs.

Lauren has learned she must never approach Lucy if she’s asleep on her bed or anywhere else. And Lauren knows that is not negotiable. She asked me sometimes if she wasn’t sure. Much time has passed with no further problems. Greyhound Lucy has become a wonderful addition to our family. When other children visit, we ensure they know the right behaviours. Here are some pointers and rules I’ve followed to ensure ‘dog-friendly’ kids and ‘kid friendly’ dogs.

Things you should do

  • Be consistent – don’t accept the wrong behaviour in dog or child and if you do, don’t then be annoyed when it’s repeated!
  • Use verbal tone (your growl) to reprimand the dog, NEVER hit or kick your dog.
  • Teach your children to only pat a dog that is awake and only if the owner says you can. The best place to stroke any dog is around the ears, not on top of the head.
  • Allow your 3+ years old kids to feed the dog, carry its bowl, make the dog wait and/or sit before putting the bowl down.
  • Feed dogs after kids (where practical) and ensure your dog waits before it’s allowed to eat its food.
  • Always supervise children when they are around a dog.
  • Reward good behaviour from your child around a dog.
  • Reward all of the hound’s good behaviour with treats, time and again.
  • When walking the dog, keep it at your side, correct pulling and reward good walking. Encourage your children to walk the dog the same way, supervised of course.
  • Teach dogs to stay, come and sit (if you can!) or attend formal training sessions.

Don’t allow kids to do these things

  • Lie on the floor at the dog’s level, lie on the dog’s bed, or, lie on top of the dog.
  • Walk around the house holding food.
  • Scream and/or run away from a dog.
  • Encourage the dog to chase them.
  • Poke or pull a hound’s eyes, ears, tail, mouth or private parts.
  • Play tug/toy games with caution, without supervision.
  • Tease a hound in any way.

Things to avoid

  • Avoid if possible playing rough and/or loud games in proximity to the hound.
  • Avoid allowing a dog on beds and couches used by your children.
  • Don’t allow the hound to push ahead of you or kids through doors.
  • Never take food a dog is eating away from him/her.
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