All in the Family: Kids, Dogs, and Keeping the Peace!

by Lynda Adame

The greyhound boys and baby Oli; note the larger human in the lower left corner watching over the setting.

If you’re reading this article, odds are you already own a greyhound (or two) and your greyhound either spends time with, or will spend time with, children. The intent of this article is to provide an overall set of guidelines on greyhound/child interaction from the perspective of an aunt and a placement representative for a greyhound adoption group. I don’t have any children at this point in my life, but I do have two young nephews who interact frequently with my dogs. As an adoption representative, I see both good and bad situations that arise from greyhounds living with children.

Good Situations

People who understand dog behavior and child behavior create good situations. They gain this understanding through life experience, attending training classes, reading books, and talking to others with dogs and children. The people in these homes monitor the interaction of the dog and child, and teach both the correct ways to interact with one another. They know that dogs are not humans in fur suits, but are an entirely different species, with their own language and behaviors.

Bad Situations

People who do not understand dog behavior create bad situations. They do not have adequate information about child and dog relationships and behaviors, and even worse, they do not supervise the child and the Greyhound. This basic lack of understanding usually results in the dog being returned to the adoption group, or even worse, euthanized by angry parents. Parents often underestimate the amount of time and energy it takes to own a dog while raising young children. Some humans have a complete misunderstanding of dog behavior. I hope to provide some education in this article so more homes can avoid bad situations.

Be Proactive

If there are children in your future, be proactive. Start adjusting the household schedule and the dog’s schedule prior to bringing the child home for the first time. This gradual adjustment will help alleviate the dog’s stress when the child finally arrives. Keep in mind the dog will still need attention and care once the child joins the family. He will want to remain a family member, be included in activities, and spend time with the rest of his human pack. If the child is an infant, bring a blanket home first to familiarize the dog to the baby’s scent. Introduce the dog and the infant slowly and with constant supervision, allowing the dog to thoroughly sniff the baby. After the initial introduction, you can begin to desensitize the greyhound to life with a toddler. Parents must work with the dog in a hands-on way. They should touch or grab the dog’s ears, handle its muzzle and feet, work with the dog so that it will expect and accept the kind of attention and handling that a toddler will give it.

If the child is walking, use exercise pens, baby gates, and crates judiciously. An exercise pen, also called an ex-pen, is an expandable (mobile) wire fence system designed to restrain dogs. Use ex-pens and baby gates to separate dog and child when an adult cannot adequately monitor their interaction. Baby gates can also give the child privacy from the dog or keep the dog from the child’s room or toys. Ex-pens are available in different heights; baby gates are not. To keep a dog from jumping over a baby gate, mount the gate higher in the doorframe or purchase two baby gates and mount them one above the other. Another way to separate dogs and children is to use a screen door or a Dutch door on the entrance to the child’s room. A crate can become a safe or child-free area for the dog — a place to which the dog can retreat when it’s had enough of the child. Most important to the child’s welfare, he or she should be taught never to bother the dog when he is in the crate and never to go into the crate with the dog.

Growling and Other Unpleasantness

When the child starts to walk, you will probably encounter growling from the dog. Growling is a normal and common way for dogs to warn each other to back off. The growl may or may not escalate to a snap or bite. In my house, dogs are never allowed to growl at humans and I will instantly reprimand the dog if he is caught growling. This reprimand consists of my putting on a dramatic verbal display, standing very tall with hands on hips, looking the dog in the eye. It’s important to let the dog know that the child is above him in the pack structure; hence the dog is not allowed to growl at the child (or adults, for that matter).

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

It is imperative that the child doesn’t startle the dog awake by tripping and falling on him while he is sleeping or resting. The toddler may inadvertently hurt the dog and provoke a reaction. Greyhounds sleep deeply, often with their eyes open. Teach the child to call out the dog’s name and be sure the dog is awake before approaching him. Greyhounds are used to being awakened when activity begins in the kennel and are not used to being awakened by touch. Some newly adopted hounds exhibit “sleep aggression.” They become frightened or disoriented and snap if disturbed when sleeping. The adage “Let sleeping dogs lie” definitely applies in a house with small children.

Love or Dominance?

Young children like to smother a dog with kisses and hugs and from a dog’s perspective, this can look like a scary display of “in your face” dominance. If the dog sees this type of behavior as a threat, a warning snarl or bite can ensue. Adding to this misunderstanding between the species is the fact that children are at eye level to the dog and do not understand the importance of never staring a dog in the eye. Teach the child never to stare at the dog and do not allow the child to hug the dog until the pack order is set. Confining or cornering a dog is another invitation for disaster, especially when a toddler is doing this. Obedience training for the Greyhound is a must.

Training will help teach an inexperienced dog owner the best way to interact with a newly adopted greyhound and will reinforce how to continue training the dog when at home. Both child and dog require a knowledgeable adult to teach them the correct ways to interact with one another. Most important, obedience training helps bond the dog and the human.

One of the most important commands for a greyhound to learn is “stay.” More on that later.

Training the Child

Train your child as well as your dog. The child should learn to respect the dog’s space or bed. Teach your child not to approach the dog while he is lying down unless an adult gives the child permission. Pulling on the dog’s ears or harassing the dog should not be allowed. A dog will take only so much (even a Greyhound) and if an adult does not step in to stop such harassment, the dog will take matters into his own paws. In dog terms, taking matters into his own hands usually means walking away from the child, but, if pressed, it can mean a growl, snap, or bite. An adult should always intervene before things escalate to this point.

How do you know if your dog is reaching his limit? Closely observe the dog’s body language and actions. A stressed dog will pant, yawn, or lick the lips or nose, and he will often stare into space with glassy eyes. The body language will be stiff and still. A dog about to attack will have flattened ears; the tail will be held straight out; and the lips will start to pull back. The dog will tell you when enough is enough. Despite all the training you give your child, the responsibility rests upon parents and their vigilance in reading canine body language.

Between Four and Seven Years of Age

For children between four and seven years of age, the same basic rules apply; only now the child is mobile and old enough to understand some concepts and participate in caring for the dog.

You still want to monitor the dog and the child’s interaction. Please do not let them sleep together in the same bed. This can confuse the dog, who may begin to consider the child as a littermate. Dogs have every right to discipline a littermate.

Even a four-year-old is capable of feeding the dog breakfast and dinner that an adult has prepared, as well as giving all treats that the dog will get throughout the day. An adult must monitor these sessions and restrain the dog until the child has set the bowl down and given the dog the “release” or “break” command. Being the giver of food helps reinforce that the child is above the dog in the pack order.

The parent should physically move the dog off any spot that the child wants. The dog mustn’t be allowed to push the child out of the way. The dog must learn to wait until the child goes in or out of doors (or the car or the yard) before he can enter. Be especially sure to teach the child that the dog can and will bolt out of any open doorway, as children are the likely culprits when a dog escapes the home through an open door. The child must learn to use the “stay” command as much as the Greyhound must learn it to obey it.

Teach the dog a command (sit, down, or stay) and this will be the way the child begins to control the dog and takes a higher pack position. The child will issue the command before meals and treats, or randomly throughout the day.

Can a Child Walk a Greyhound?

No. Please do not let a child walk a greyhound, or even hold a leashed hound all alone (no matter how much begging). On the Greyhound-l email list, a couple of bored physicists figured out that when a greyhound takes off at a dead run, chasing after something of interest, he exerts 228 pounds of pressure on the leash as well as the arm. One way to allow children the pleasure of walking your greyhound is to attach a second leash that you, the adult, hold onto.

Ease the Transition with Understanding

Bringing a new child or a new dog into the home is both wonderful and stressful for all family members. Just as you will be stressed and sleepless, so may the dog. Understanding and preparing for this will help ease the transition and build a solid foundation for one big happy family.

Resources:

Childproofing Your Dog, by Brian Kilcommons

Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson

ALPHAbetize Yourself, How To Help Your Dog Regard You As Leader! Pamphlet by Terry Ryan

Editor’s Note: We use the masculine gender for simplicity when referring to our canine companions; we love our girls just as much.

CG  SU 99

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This article and any photos or artwork contained within may not be reproduced or reprinted without express written permission from the author, artists, and/or photographers. 


Discussion

2 thoughts on “All in the Family: Kids, Dogs, and Keeping the Peace!

  1. I am grateful for the collecting of greyhound articles this grouop has gotten together.

    Posted by Seth Lawrence | April 7, 2010, 3:20 PM
  2. That’s right–Greyhounds are beautiful and friendly–but are dogs. They like older people more than young kids–they should be fine with anyone over 10.

    Posted by Eric Hasselwander | March 1, 2010, 9:35 PM

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