Dogs “Not Good” With Children
By Jill Kessler-Miller, Grad. Cert., CPDT
I received an email the other day from a rescue group picturing dogs available for adoption. Three of the five dogs were described as “not good with children.”
Let me be clear: This is unacceptable.
There is no breed standard in the world that allows for aggression with children. If you were a farmer, hunter, rancher, a small business owner, or even just “a wife and mother,” you would never keep a dog that wasn’t good with your family. In the days before shelters, the dog would be shot or killed in some other manner, and thus children were safe and, consequently, those dogs were removed from the gene pool.
Whether you like children or not, the fact is the world is filled with kids and they are everywhere. Whether you like it or not, they come first, whether in the eyes of the law or morality. Placing dogs with the public that are nervous, fearful or aggressive with children is inexcusable.
Even the guard dog breeds that are aloof with strangers are all known to be excellent with children (Akitas, Boerbels, Rottweilers for example), as well as herding breeds that are busy and suspicious of strangers (German Shepherds, Border Collies, for example).
When people or organizations start making excuses for this aberrant behavior they both diminish their reputation and their ethics, not to mention opening themselves up to liability that lasts a lifetime and can be financially devastating.
Some rescues believe dogs should not be placed with children under a certain age. This is, in my opinion, ridiculous. If the parents are supervising and guiding appropriate behavior of both the kids and the dog, it should not be a problem. If the temperament of the dog is sound, then the dog should be able to live with children.
An unsound dog placed with instructions of how to manage the problem (crates, baby gates, closed doors) is setting up both the dog and the adopters for failure. Management fails, accidents happen, barriers are left open, often resulting in children scarred for life, both physically and emotionally.
Public shelters are under tremendous pressure to lower their numbers of euthanasia, and these unsound dogs are often being handed out to private rescues who, in turn, place them in unsuspecting/unknowledgeable homes. How do I know? Because I see these dogs in my work. I talk to animal control officers. And while the “humaniacs” are crowing about how dogs are being “saved” (are they really?), the general public, who opens their hearts and homes to these dogs, are being ill-used and put in danger.
I have owned and known dogs that were not around children until they were adult dogs, and were absolutely lovely with them. I’ve even known dogs who didn’t like adults but liked children. How can this be? Because the nature of dogs calls for kindness and affection towards children. It is not enough for a dog to merely tolerate children, unless you and your dog live a lifestyle where they are not frequently encountered. But if you have children around, or you live an urban environment or a densely populated building, then you want a dog that enjoys their company, even to the point of seeking them out over others. Once you’ve seen a dog light up with delight when they see children, you’ll never miss it again.
So how do I know when a dog is good with children? It’s actually not that difficult if you are observant of body language in dogs. What does the body language of a dog that enjoys children look like? Happy! Excited! Joyful! They plaster themselves onto the children, bring toys to engage, dance around with glee. They do not hide behind adults or furniture, shake with nervousness, run away, tremble, snarl, stare with a hard face, growl or show their teeth. If you see this in any dog, back away and give the dog space. And do not bring it into your home.
Do not tell yourself (or your adopters), “Oh, he must have been abused by a child.” Not only is this most likely not true, it is glossing over unsound temperament. Many dogs are stepped on, ears accidently pulled or tails grabbed and they do not bite. Because the nature of dogs is forgiving. And an intelligent dog can see that it’s a child with no malice, and perhaps even recognize some stupidity in their behavior—and adapt.
The subject of parents supervising their children and teaching them appropriate behavior (“No, we don’t sit on any dog, ever”) is another subject, and a fair one. But the entire burden cannot be placed upon the adopters (or buyers); a dog that is not good with children is no good for anyone. It must not be placed or sold. Abusing people who are opening their hearts and homes to such a dog is unethical. And, it confirms the old wives tale t hat you must “raise a dog yourself from a puppy.” Which is also untrue, and often not wise for some situations (such as senior citizens).
It is time for some rescues (and some breeders) to step up to the plate, and reconcile ourselves that there are some dogs that cannot live in our society. If the rescuer cannot or will not take on the responsibility of keeping this type of dog in their own home, then the dog needs to be put down. As a friend of mine says, “If I can’t promise you a good life, then I promise you a good death.”
Placing dogs that are not good with children? The answer is no.