Parents vs. Dog People: It’s Time to Call a Truce

Maybe you saw this title and were immediately irritated because it’s SO WRONG. There is no “war” between parents and dog people.

You’re right, but as a longtime animal rescuer and (relatively) new parent, I can tell you that when the two groups are in conflict, it’s extremely hard to reach a compromise. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard dog owners complain that their dogs are being demonized because children don’t respect boundaries. I’ve heard from parents who are outraged that dog owners blame their children for dog bites. So rather than attempt to mediate after the fact, here are some things that I hope we can all agree on –  a treaty, if you will.

A baby pets and kisses a German Shepherd that's sticking its head through a doggy door
When it’s good, it’s very, very good.

We, The Dog People

  • We promise to keep our dogs contained. We won’t let our dogs run loose, and we’ll make sure fences and doors are carefully closed. Yes, sometimes things will happen – the meter man might leave the gate open, or a nearby barbecue might lure an ambitious dog from the yard. Our job is to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We can post signs reminding people to keep the gate securely closed. If we have dogs who try to escape when someone is delivering pizza, we can gate them or make sure that someone holds the dog. I’ve had to shove my dog into a closet to make sure she didn’t attempt to intercept the pizza delivery and leave town. I felt guilty, but it kept her safe during the short time it took to complete the transaction, and it also ensured continued pizza delivery to our house.
  • We won’t dismiss your concerns. It is extremely distressing when you are approached by a strange, excited dog who is off-leash. We will not brush off your concerns by saying, “Oh, but he’s friendly!” when your child is suddenly face-to-face with our dog. We will get our dog away from your child immediately, and acknowledge your concerns respectfully.
  • We will train our dogs. We will make sure that our dogs know commands like sit, stay, and down. If we can’t accomplish all of those things (some dogs are far harder to train than others), we understand that we must train ourselves to manage our dogs in all social situations.
  • We will become experts on our dogs. We’ll know if they are getting overexcited. We’ll know if they take treats gently, or if they are likely to take off the giver’s hand in their enthusiasm. We’ll know where they like to be petted. We’ll know when it’s best to just remove our dog.
  • We will pick up after our dogs. Not scooping is disgusting, and we know better. No matter how inconvenient it is, we’ll make sure that our dogs do not leave waste in public spaces. We might even indulge in some light shaming if we are aware of other dog owners who don’t follow this basic rule of good dog ownership.
  • We will not make excuses or blame. If our dog misbehaves, we’ll own up to it. We are the responsible ones. We won’t blame children for acting like children.

We, the Parents

  • We won’t compare our love for our children to your love for your dog. We might be overwhelmed by love for our children (most days), but we won’t presume that it surpasses anyone else’s love for their animal companion. We won’t bristle or get outraged when people refer to their dogs as family. How they feel is how they feel, and we aren’t psychic.
  • We will do our part to keep our children safe. We will teach them the basic rules of dog safety. We’ll teach them to ask before they pet a strange dog. We will wipe the frosting off their faces before we let them around a beagle. We will remind our children over and over and over again.
  • We will educate ourselves. We will know if our dog is showing signs of stress. We’ll be alert for growls or air snaps. If we are really ambitious, we’ll learn about breed tendencies. For example, we’ll know that there is a good chance that, when faced with a group of children milling about purposely (i.e., what we humans call playing), a Sheltie might take it upon herself to herd them into one place.
  •  We will respect dog owners’ requests. If someone asks us to get our child away from their dog, we will do that IMMEDIATELY. We’ll make sure our child doesn’t wander back into the dog’s orbit. If they tell us that the dog only likes to be petted on the head, then we’ll make sure that’s where our kids pet them.
  • We will pay attention, pay attention, PAY ATTENTION. No matter how nice it is to have a conversation with a pleasant grownup, if there are unfamiliar dogs and children around, we need to monitor it closely.
  • We will not make excuses or blame. If our child misbehaves, we’ll own up to it. We are the responsible ones. We won’t blame dogs for acting like dogs.

We, the Humans

  • We will take a step back. If we don’t want to see pictures of friends’ children or darling dogs on Facebook, then we will stop looking at the pictures. We’ll stop making snide or negative comments comparing dogs and children.
  • We won’t force it. Our dogs and children aren’t required to interact. When in doubt, we’ll just avoid the situation.

This last one is something I’ve learned from years of experience.

  • We will use “The Cup.” Some dogs have soft mouths, and will take treats daintily from the giver; others will chomp with great enthusiasm but little precision. Since children are often nervous when giving treats to dogs, don’t have them hold the treat between their fingers. Have them make a little cup with their hands and let the dog eat the treat that way. Just humor me on this, seriously. It makes a big difference.

Published by

Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is https://twitter.com/GobezMoretta.

9 thoughts on “Parents vs. Dog People: It’s Time to Call a Truce”

  1. People also need to teach their kids to LISTEN to the answer to “Can I pet your dog?” I have a people-eating basset, and once a kid came and asked, and I said “No, he’s very shy” and he kept coming! I firmly repeated NO, and started body blocking/herding Beast away, and kid STILL kept coming. Fortunately, his Mom heard and came and pulled him away, but it was a very scary moment.

    Also, teach kids not to run or take food into off-leash areas. Both are guaranteed ways to create chaos and get the kid jumped on by multiple dogs.

  2. I really love to see that (small) children aren’t afraid of dogs, but I definitely don’t want to be the person that gives them a trauma because my dog thinks she can run them into a corner. As so often, it’s all about boundaries.

  3. It’s definitely a thing! I was once in a situation where I was asked to mind a stranger’s dog, a pit bull mix, and her puppies while the owners were kayaking. (Long story short: we were all gathered for free kayaking in the NY Harbor.) While I did that, a woman came up and asked me to tie the dog up because her nine-year-old son had recently been bitten and was now afraid of all dogs. I eventually tied up the dog, who immediately freaked out because she was too far from her puppies. Five minutes later another woman came by and told me to untie the dog because what I’d done was cruel. Luckily the dog’s people came back at that point, leaving me free to kayak (dog- and child-free!) while everyone discussed their respective issues.

  4. This is nice and a good idea … but people often don’t abide by even basic needs, and that goes for both sides. From my years as a kennel girl, I’ve arrived at a point where I’ve simply taught Juniper Junior that when it comes to dogs: if he doesn’t know it, don’t go near it. Likewise, I’d prefer it if people I didn’t know kept their dogs away from us. Really though, whilst I can teach my child about how to keep safe, I feel it’s ultimately up to the person responsible for the dog to ensure that (in public, at least) people can remain safe.

    1. I’m a dog walker and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people (of both the little and big varieties) come right up to the dog/dogs that I’m walking and stick their hands in their faces. 99% of ‘my’ dogs are super friendly so it’s not a big deal and the other 1% are kept far from strangers but sometimes I just want to be like, ‘uh, could you maybe NOT do that’. It’s so frustrating. Particularly because if anything ever did happen due to human error, I know I’d be the one getting screamed at :-/

    2. Sometimes you just have to be rude to keep people away from those dogs. The exterior really throws some people. With my Chow Chow, I’d warn them and they’d respect it right away because of the breed rep; unfortunately, with the shiba/chi mix I fostered, they thought cute=cuddly and I barely avoided some bad issues.

  5. This is actually a thing apparently and there are some good tips here. As a dog and kid person (3 dogs, one human kid) I think it is imperative that you teach your dog to be a model citizen and your child to keep their distance until they get the okay from the owner.

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