Bringing a new dog into the family can add considerable love and fun to children's lives, especially as the child and pet bond. One way to accomplish this ideal relationship is by understanding how dogs teach children sharing and communication. Important life lessons can be learned as the children become more responsible and involved in the care and training of their dog.
Responsible habits become life lessons
Author Mordecai Siegal, in his book “The Good Dog Book: Loving Care,” says that toddlers as young as 18 months can learn early lessons about sharing and communication with their dog. He suggests that with parental assistance, young children can help unload dog food, store it, dry food and water dishes after washing, and help replace and then refill bowls again. By sharing in these tasks and feeling like an important part of their dog’s care, children quickly establish good responsibility habits.
While the dog is present, if the parent compliments a child for helping, the “praising” tone of voice also will generate a positive response in the dog. When the dog is excited and wagging its tail, the child also learns an early lesson in dog communication. In turn, the dog begins to understand that the child is a part of his family “pack,” earning status in canine social structure.
As children get older, more involved and time-consuming responsibilities such as grooming, regular dog walks and pooper-scooper duties can become less desirable chores they can do. Children benefit from knowing that their dog relies on them. Time spent together, no matter what the activity, is what forges the bond and deepens communication, sharing and understanding.
Children 13 to 16 years old can begin teaching young dogs basic obedience skills. With a planned and consistent approach to obedience training, child and dog both share in the positive results of learning good communication skills. Dogs will feel more secure in their roles, while children learn leadership lessons and the benefits of assuming responsibility.
Siblings can learn an important lesson by sharing the care of their dog with each other. Wise parents will assign each child age-appropriate responsibilities. As they work together, previously antagonistic siblings can become closer because their attention is diverted from each other and onto the dog they both love.
Learning dog communication
Learning how to handle dogs is another important part of how dogs teach children sharing and communication. Learning how to approach dogs, especially new ones, is an important lesson in safety.
Greeting the dog. Ask the owner's permission before approaching the animal. If allowed, the child should approach the dog very slowly and extend one hand in a fist with the palm down. During the approach, repeat the dog’s name in a soft tone of voice without engaging in direct eye contact. Dogs often interpret staring as aggression.
If the dog responds by sniffing your child’s hand with a friendly tail-wagging posture, permission has been given to begin petting. Most dogs prefer to be stroked on their neck, scratched under the chin or around the ears. Clumsy head “patting” is not recommended. Always remember, if there is any growling or ear flattening, immediately instruct your child to move away slowly, eyes facing the ground.
Dogs need alone time, too. Children should be taught not to interfere during certain periods of time when their dog prefers to be alone. Feeding time, individual play time with a favorite toy, and when sleeping are times dogs wish to be uninterrupted.
Child behavior that dogs can misinterpret
• Yelling, running or such repetitive actions as swinging are often part of children's play. Dogs, however, can become overly excited or even scared by these behaviors, causing the dog to chase, jump on or bark at your child. Children should learn to listen to and respect the communicated behavior of the dog by standing still until the dog calms down. Not all dogs can handle rough play and children should learn to watch for signs when to stop.
• Teasing a dog, especially a dog that is confined, will only result in an angry dog. Dogs will remember this behavior and, when released, may take it out on the child responsible.
Each dog has a unique personality and a communication style that children must respect. There are many lasting aspects to how dogs teach children sharing and communication. Most important, children who learn to live in the same house with a dog develop sharing and good communication skills that will become important life lessons.