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.
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.