Raising Dogs And Children Under One Roof
By Thea Churchill Robson
"Momma to three great kids and their happy dogs"
I'd like to say "Oh yes, of course, my children are NEVER left unsupervised with the
dogs!" but the fact of the matter is that it happens. Do I worry? Honestly, no.
I have three children; a 12 year old, a 2 1/2 year old, and a fourteen month old. The
oldest helps with training and feeding - when we took Agility class he worked with Gaia.
Because Oskar is so exceptionally bonded with me I worried greatly that he would be
jealous when the middle child was born - especially as it took a few months for my oldest
son and Oskar to accept that they were both "my boys" when Oskar came to live with us
- Oskar wouldn't even acknowledge my husband much less pay attention to his
commands. It was very much a look of "Why is this man trying to order me around
Mom?" every time. He eventually caught on that I wanted him to listen to my husband,
and when he started doing so they developed a bond of their own. I did the standard
getting Oskar accustomed to small children thing (he did great with that), the setting up
of the baby's gear months in advance and talking to him about what it was. After the
baby was born I made sure to involve him in things like feeding time, allowing him to
cuddle next us on the couch. And when the youngest boy was born, both Gaia and
Oskar accepted him and doted on him as they did the other two children.
When middle child was just over four months old we adopted Gaia and she as well
proved very tolerant of the baby patting at her and loving her up clumsily. She adored
my oldest son from the start, though she had decided that my husband was her person.
My sister was over visiting shortly after Gaia came to us and was amazed that when she
told Gaia "No no, that's a baby toy, not yours!" Gaia came over and put it in the baby's
lap then got one of her own! I will often look into the romper room (cordoned off by a
long safety gate to keep the cats out and children contained) and see that Gaia has
leapt in and is cuddled down on the couch between the toddlers, or that Oskar is on the
built-in bench under the picture window bird/squirrel-watching with the children.
Are the children appropriate with the dogs 100% of the time? No. Middle son has
body-slammed Oskar with great glee, both babies have used the dogs as step stools to
get on the couch, they've fallen on them, they've grabbed their fur. BUT my dogs know it
is not their place to correct the children, so when they don't like it they move away -
that's it, just simply move away. Do the inappropriate actions happen often? No. They
are rare, and the children are gently corrected by us, shown how to properly pet/hug the
dogs, and the dogs are praised for their good behavior with the children. And we also
often have the little ones give them treats; Oskar and Gaia are both exceptionally gentle
mouthed and know how to take a piece of cheese from a proffered chubby toddler fist
and make the child laugh from tickly whiskers and slimy tongue while doing so. The dogs
learned from us first; hard grabby mouths do not get treats.
Why has this worked so well for us? All I can think is training and constant reinforcement
of that training coupled with a lot of love and a lot of praise for good behavior. Is it
breeding? I cannot say for sure, though I tend to lean towards "no." The man we bought
Oskar from claimed that his breeding pair were from his parents' kennels that bred
mainly SAR dogs for the NYC & surround area PD's.! In Gaia's case I don't think it's
breeding, I think it is the constant training & reinforcement, coupled with just being lucky
to have a girl with a gentle temperment - she really was a good fit to us and vise-versa.
My children and our dogs are very much a part of one another's lives; it's been a very
positive thing and through reinforcement, praise, occasional correction and a lot of love
it will continue to be.
Caleb and Oskar doing some bird watching.
Raising a companion animal for children also
includes making sure that the dog will accept all
animals in the home.
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