Thursday, July 10, 2014

Petting the Dog

As an owner of 2 small basenjis and one small kid, I'm often the recipient of the question, "How do the dogs get along with the baby?"  My general answer is that they get along well, and that we're trying to teach the baby how to be respectful of the dogs.  It's a bit of a daunting task, given that our son is only 10 months old, and up to this point most of our baby-dog intervention efforts have centered around making sure the baby doesn't poke the dogs, or invade their personal space while they're resting on the couch, or bother them while they're eating, or startle them by touching them on the behind.  We try to foster good interactions by showing the baby how to pet the dog nicely, praising both baby and dogs for tolerating the act.  I often wonder how much of this is actually sinking in for the baby, but hey - we've got to start somewhere, right?  And I do think that it's teaching the dogs to be more tolerant of the baby, by allowing them to get up close with him without being poked at. 

Reef patiently allows Declan to pet her

Declan stares in wonder at his buddy Biko

Very often in rescue, we see dogs that are turned in as being "not good with kids," who realistically were just never allowed to appropriately reject unwanted invasions ("pets" or "hugs") into their personal space.  A lot of humans, and in particular young kids, don't recognize the signs that a dog shows when he does or doesn't want to be petted.  In teaching my son how to pet the dogs, I'm trying to also pay attention to the dogs' body language when they're around him, which would indicate to me whether they're comfortable with the interaction with the baby.  Here's a fantastic video I found which demonstrates what dog body language looks like when he doesn't want to be petted:

While I know that it's going to be a long road to teach my son how to respectfully pet the dogs, I also know that paying attention to their body language and signs will definitely go a long way towards making sure that they're comfortable with the interaction as well.  Right now they just merely tolerate the baby, which is fine for now, but one day I hope to be able to answer the question "How do the dogs get along with the baby?" by saying that they're best friends, and knowing that the dogs truly think so too!    

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