My opinions on the subject of children are very popular with breeders, shelters, rescues and others who know the following bite statistics. According to the CDC in Atlanta, 70% of all dog bites in this country are to children. 50% of that number is to the child’s face. Almost half of all dogs surrendered to shelters or rescue organizations, involve inappropriate behavior around children.

However despite these figures many parents continue to be almost belligerent about their right to bring a dog into a home with children under 6. The media has exacerbated this problem. “Lassie”, “Rin Tin Tin”, “Beethoven”, “Benji”, 101 Dalmations”, and of course “Eddie” from Frasier. Now Eddie was probably the closest to realism. Eddie was hard headed, adorable, in-your-face and out for himself. That’s a Jack. But other dogs are not presented with such realism. Take the Border Collies from “Babe”. Who wouldn’t want one of these intensely smart and sensitive creatures?. Which they are if you do a lifetime of training, exercising and socializing.

NOTE:  There are a couple of exceptions to the “no dogs in the house with children under 6” rule:

  • You plan to adopt a puppy and you have the time and energy to teach the children from the very beginning to respect the puppy and treat it gently at the same time you are training the puppy.  Children should be included in the training process so everyone is on the same page.  Take time to get to know the breed you are considering to make sure they are good with children.
  • If you already have a dog and are expecting a baby the dog will have time to adjust.  The dog smells the baby throughout the pregnancy and accepts the new arrival as a member of the pack.

I had a woman call me recently about a Border Collie puppy she had just purchased from a breeder in our area, A breeder we know sells extremely unstable dogs. I had 3 of this breeders dogs in my school in the last year and all had aggression issues. It was pretty much a situation of anyone with cash could get a puppy. Now, I have worked with Border Collie Rescue for years and they are NOT dogs for families with young children due their intense herding and protective instincts. They are working dogs, not pets. My own Border Collie was a rescue and he runs 30 classes a week with me after being bounced out of 4 homes. He even works with Deaf Children as a Therapy Dog. For me, he is perfection. But not for everyone. And he clearly is an exception to every rule of being a Border Collie. Plus I provide him with the ideal Border Collie home.

Anyway back to our lady with the Border Collie pup from the shady breeder. She bragged to me on the phone that she has 3 small children and almost every breeder in the state had turned her down (duh….they were trying to tell you something)…till she found this one guy. Everyone had told her that these dogs were not right for her home environment, but she knew more than everyone and KNEW she could have a Border Collie in a home with 3 toddlers. I never got past the puppy orientation with her. In training and explaining dogs for twenty years…here was a woman who was convinced she knew more than me, the good breeders and most of the continental U.S.  Never promise to do anything with a dog you have NOT done before.

She went down in flames. The dog nipped all three kids in the first three months and the poor thing ended up in rescue. Note* I did not take her as a client, past the orientation. If someone is following their own agenda I will not allow my name to go with it. Particularly when a child’s safety is at stake. Since she appeared to know more than anyone, I saw no reason to take her money.

This is just one of many examples. SO, I will say this and I stand by it: Children under 6 and dogs are NOT a good mix. A child’s’ lack of structure around a dog, mixed with the intricacies of a dogs culture and pack structure, spell potential disaster for both child and dog. Now this is not to say that children cannot be TAUGHT to be safe and co-exist properly with a new dog. I do seminars on Dog Safety in schools regularly. When a dog enters the house, the rules for children MUST adjust so that everyone is teaching the dog the same things. Like the parents not wanting the dog to jump on guests and yet the kids favorite game is chase me, chase me, then tackle me. Not very clear for the dog.

The problem appears to lie at the feet of the parents in this case. There is a bizarre notion in this country that a sign of a dog’s temperament is measured by the amount of torture he will endure by the children in the family. I have had people actually brag about how “good” their dog is, because the kids climb all over him, pull his ears and hang on to his tail. Last week, while doing our Read to Dogs Therapy program, I had a toddler do a flying leap on my Doberman who was laying down listening to a child read to her. The toddler’s mother came running up and apologized and chastised the child by saying, “you can’t do that to this dog…only our dog at home”. This child is a bite waiting to happen. If he had not jumped on a well trained Therapy dog…he would surely have been bit. Parents…read this next sentence carefully….DOGS ARE NOT TOYS FOR YOUR KIDS.

I cannot tell you how many parents have sat in front of me with toddlers and a dog. I have explained that the dog is not the only one that needs structure for at least the first 6 months. The next part of the conversation invariably involves the parents lamenting on “how many times” they have told the children to behave around the dog. This usually cracks me up. I always follow up by asking them if their children play with matches, run in the street, play with their computers, or light the stove?The answer is always “NEVER”. Then the parental light bulb goes on and the parents realized their ability to stop certain behaviors by their kids is completely in their hands.

People often ask which dogs are best with kids and my answer will always be the same. The dogs that are best with kids are the dogs in a house with kids who are best with dogs. Kids who are structured, listen well and old enough to communicate with a dog, are ideal to make this situation work.

Adopting a dog is such a special thing to do.  Its like getting married, having a baby, going to college…a special event that requires work, patience and love to support the process.  There are SO many dogs out there looking for you.  So take your time and find that RIGHT one!