We have a family dog. She has been around a while but was my first baby so when we added a new addition in the form of a human baby it got me to thinking…
As I walked my lovely old girl today in the drizzle I started to reminisce about all the places we have been together, how many walks there have been and wondering how many will be left. I got Molly when I was 19 and she was 7 months old. She already had her name and was being sold as she was unwanted – my gain! She licked me to death, jumped all over me and I knew straight away I needed to have her. The poor little thing lived outside in a concrete run, she stank to high heaven, she was crawling with fleas and her hair had never been tackled – she is a Border Terrier and they do not shed their coats, they need to have them hand stripped as a new coat will just begin to grow underneath.
I saw to all these issues straight away and also got her microchipped. She became my baby, my best friend and she came almost everywhere with me. She was full of beans and we would walk for miles and miles. She still adores swimming and will jump into every puddle, river or pond she comes across.
She was there for cuddles after my Mum died and we even took her to the chapel of rest so she could also say goodbye. She licked my Mum’s face then laid down on the ground and looked so sad. She understands so much, I swear she is nearly human.
Children and Dogs
When I fell pregnant I understandably had worries. How many stories do we hear in the news about children and dogs? Dogs attacking children, dogs becoming jealous and changing in behaviour, dogs being put to sleep for lashing out?
Knowing this was, of course, a worry but whilst I was in the hospital, recovering from a c-section, it gave my husband the opportunity to take items of clothing home with him for Molly to smell. I was in for 3 days so it meant she could get used to our new baby, Jake, and his scent before he actually came home.
Molly was 12 when Jake was born and I can honestly tell you that she sulked. She refused to sit in the living room with us – believe me we tried and tried to reassure her with cuddles, treats, keeping her toys out and not letting the baby paraphernalia take over too much of the home too quickly. Instead, she chose to lay in the hallway on the rug, feeling sorry for herself. She never paid much attention to him, but I never left them alone together in probably the first nine months. We gave her attention as usual, she had her normal walks and we kept her routine exactly the same. Yet I did feel guilty and I did have concerns she would change as she had been my baby for all those years and now I had brought home a real one.
By including Molly in walks, taking her on visits with us and carrying on as normal as possible we made break a through and she finally forgave us!
Luckily she has always been a very obedient dog, she has never shown any aggression towards people or children and she knows her place. Having worked with animals in the past I understood how important these areas were when I got her and I spent time building a good relationship, training her and letting her know that I was in charge.
Building a Relationship
Even when Jake began to move about and discover what she was by touching her, she remained well behaved. I ensured that he didn’t pull at legs, ears or her tail and I always repeated the word ‘gently’ to him when he stroked her. Little things make such a big difference and it swings both ways with dogs, they usually only react badly if something happens that they don’t like. Children should never be allowed to pull a dog around, sit on them or put their hands or head near their mouths. Dogs should be reassured that everything is ok and you should talk in a voice they respond positively to. The environment needs to be calm and still have the dog’s bed and toys out, so they do not feel like they are being pushed out.
Jake is now 2 and he absolutely loves Molly, who is now 14. She may not like to admit it back but if he’s not here she is on alert and looks at every car that goes past, indicating to me that she does really care and that she misses him. He can now hold her lead and help to walk her and he always calls out ‘come on Molly!’ So it is very clear to her that he is also here to take care of her.
There’s Always More to a Story
Whenever I hear of these stories where a dog has turned I always wonder about the back story. All we are told is that a dog has bitten a baby, but to me, there must be a reason why. Children and dogs should be able to live together. The problem for me regarding pet-owning is that anyone can do it. You don’t have to know anything about a breed or species and you can walk into a shop or answer an ad and in a flash, you could own an animal. Each breed of dog is different, each has different qualities, common ailments, temperaments and needs. A young dog needs plenty of walks to wear them out but when a new baby comes along, I do wonder if the walks suddenly vanish due to the owners being tired from sleepless nights? Dogs still need stimulation and attention but do their toys get thrown to one side or even thrown out to make way for baby toys? Are they banished to their bed because attention-seeking is now seen as bad behaviour? Are they pushed away each time they approach the baby on the floor? Are mealtimes varied because parents are too tied up with caring for their new little one so forget? So, now change the scenario from dog to person… You suddenly get ignored, you don’t get taken out, you are told off for speaking, your belongings are nowhere to be seen, you are sent to your bed, you are hungry and no one is feeding you. Now how do you feel? Would you lash out, get angry, throw things or shout? How does a dog react? It gets angry and it bites or growls- the only way it knows how to communicate that emotion.
For me, the solution would be that every person who wants to buy a pet should be required to pass a course – a little like an NVQ. This would ensure that those who really do want an animal know exactly what it needs, how to care for it, how much exercise is required, what the diet should be and so on. Knowledge is key in preventing any more incidents, some people blame the owners and some blame the dogs, for me, it’s a bit from both sides, it is a relationship, it is both parties responsibility. After all dog and man are meant to be best friends.
Children and dogs can most certainly live happily and safely together but it takes responsibility from the adults to ensure that this happens.
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