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New dog? How to keep your children out of harm's way

Family
My eight-year-old has being trying to convince me for the longest time to get him a puppy. For every reason I give him not to get one, he gives me 10 more in favour.

Bringing in a new dog or puppy changes the dynamic of the family environment.

Here, animal behaviourist Dominique Kuhlmann shares her tips on how to keep your children and pets safe.

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BEST FRIENDS: Man's best friend has good days and bad days like we do, teach your little ones to respect their space. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Common sense

If you've got animals in your house before you have kids, your dog might be apprehensive about new things. Dogs learn by association and learning things that have a positive experience will ultimately end up being something that they enjoy later on.

New addition to the family

Try not to let them out of their routine too much – you don't want the dog to associate that their lives have now changed so much because of a baby. Give them a treat for positive reinforcements.

Naughty doggie

Never punish your dog for growling. If you're punishing your dog, it learns that it's not allowed to growl and hasn't been taught alternative behaviour. It will go straight to biting.

Safety first

Never leave your children alone with your dogs. Always be aware of them and their body language – dogs can say that they feel uncomfortable in the way they look and respond, eg: wide eyes and pointed ears.

Child-friendly breed?

Breed and genetics are just a small part of animal behaviour. Their temperament and personality is moulded from the day they are born, where they are born, how they are born, what their relationship with their litter is, etcetera. Just looking at a breed isn't really always the best idea. An animal that is not too hyper-active would be a good choice around kids, and dogs that have not had bred into them the motor pattern of chasing.

A child's best friend

It's a good idea to have dogs and children grow up together – the more that dogs are exposed to when they are younger, the more at ease they are with those things.

Puppy training is also beneficial because:

  • It sets up training
  • It gives a method of communication
  • No form of punishment like aversive stimulus, eg choke chains
  • Positive reward based training

* Dominique Kuhlmann is a member of the Pet Food Industry Association for Southern Africa and a qualified animal behaviourist.

Ten quick safety tips:

  • Never leave children unsupervised around dogs.
  • Do not hug or kiss dogs.
  • Do not approach dogs that are on their own.
  • Never stare a dog in the eyes.
  • Never try to take something away from a dog.
  • Never interfere with a dog when it is eating.
  • Leave dogs alone that are resting or sleeping.
  • Teach your child about canine body language.
  • Never tease or taunt a dog.
  • Always ask for permission to pet or play with a dog.

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