Dog training is essential for the well being of a dog but it is also essential for the people that encounter them. A bad encounter as a child can result in years of fear.
I have walked dogs thousands of miles over the last fourteen years. Most walks have been uneventful and very enjoyable. But there have been times that a neighbor’s unleashed dog or a wandering cat has added a little excitement; a sudden cloud burst has made some of the miles quite unpleasant; and on several occasions, uneven pavement has sent me tumbling to the ground–but I have never let go of the leash!
Long experience has made me very cautious of some situations, especially involving children.
Children Need Training
Some dogs, especially small ones, do not enjoy being pet by children. Kids are unpredictable; they move suddenly, they can be loud in their excitement and they can try to hug the animal, which is a potentially dangerous situation. When I can’t avoid an encounter, I tell the adult with the child that the dog is not mine and I do not know how the dog will behave. Most understand and agree it is best the child leave the dog alone.
I have learned that many people never teach their children to be cautious around a strange dog and how best to approach them.
An Old Man’s Terror
Many years ago, I glanced up from watching a dog named Jack as he sniffed a pile of autumn leaves to see an older man of slight stature who had just rounded the corner. He stood frozen on the sidewalk, arms hanging stiffly by his sides, extending slightly outwards. His mouth formed a big ‘O’ and eyes were wide with what I could only interpret as terror. He was also watching Jack.
Jack was a short-haired, pointy-eared, 50-pound dog of mixed heritage and wouldn’t have hurt a fly. He would have ignored the gentleman, had he even noticed him, because Jack was not a dog that craved attention from strangers. Although I doubt knowing this would have lessened this poor man’s fright. I hustled Jack away in search of an equally aromatic pile of leaves on the opposite side of the street.
As someone who loves dogs, it is very disturbing to see someone react this way to them. These creatures can be so loving and gentle but I can understand a person being frightened, especially if there has been a bad experience with a dog in their past.
As Parents Watch …
Even dogs that have gone through training can react negatively if they feel threatened by the way a person comes up to them and tries to touch them.
It is always disturbing to see a child quickly approach me with his or her hands extended to pet my dog as the parent casually watches without comment. I have owned an extremely affection dog but I always felt obliged to stop a child and explain how to approach him. Bad experiences can often be avoided if we understand how to interact properly with these animals.
How to Approach
People need training as much as the dogs. First of all, a child should be taught to never approach a strange dog, especially if unattended by its owner. Assuming the owner is present, the child should first ask permission to pet the dog. It is important that they understand that the answer they may receive may will be no and it is not because the owner is trying to be mean to them. Like people, some dogs may have had bad experiences interacting with children and may no longer trust them.
If the answer is yes, the child should slowly approach the animal, from the side if possible, with an extended fist. They should be told that they should not look the dog in the eyes because looking straight into a dog’s eyes can be a little scary for them. It is a sign of aggression on the part of the child.
The dog should be allowed to sniff the back of the hand before the child tries to touch the animal. Wait until the owner indicates it is okay to pet the dog and then slowly reach out and pet the dog on the side of the face, under the chin, or on the chest. Dogs do not like to be petted on the top of their heads.
As a precaution, the child should get into the habit of keeping his or her face away from the dog’s face. They will likely avoid only a good licking but it is better to be cautious.
Always be Watchful
No matter how friendly or how much training a dog has had, circumstances may arise that may make the animal uncomfortable. If there are any signs of unease (ears are being put back, there is growling or whimpering, the dog is turning his head or backing away, etc.), the child should be told to quietly and slowly back away from the animal.
Training to Prevent Hurt Feelings
One day when I was walking a dog that was not my own, a beautiful, curly haired young girl about 6 years old came running towards us with a big smile on her face, arms outstretched to hug my small, white, fluffy companion. As she came close I said, “Please, stop. I’m sorry, but my dog is afraid of people.” Because the dog was small, it was more likely to be fearful of children. I had no concrete knowledge that this particular dog had any problems dealing with kids, but I didn’t want to take a chance.
Although I tried to explain further, I felt so badly when she turned away crying and ran back towards her parents. But perhaps in the future, she will not be frozen like a statue on the sidewalk at the mere sight of a dog sniffing a pile of leaves.
Dog and people training is always needed.