Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Toddlers and Dogs

By Christina VanGinkel

Visiting with friends the other evening, I watched as their toddler ate her evening meal, all the while their family dog sat by her side waiting for any small piece of dropped food. Midway through the meal, when the toddler was obviously done eating, the remainder of her meal slowly made it piece by piece into the waiting dog's mouth fed to her by the toddler her self.

Growing up with dogs and the owner of four of them my self, I was not really bothered by this. I know though that it might have offended some, and alarmed others. The fact alone that the dog could have potentially bitten the toddler was one thought that crossed my mind, but just as quickly left. The dog had been with the family through all of their children's birth, and this toddler was number three. She was as mellow as a dog could be, and at the same time, she was the type that could be very protective of the family if needed. She was trained impeccably, and listened to both of the adults in the family without question. She had been through obedience training too. Still, a dog is a dog.

I decided to ask a few other friends what they thought of this practice, and if they had ever allowed something similar. What I heard actually frightened me, but the frightening part had nothing to do with my original friend's toddler feeding her dog.

As I talked to a few people, several friends responded that while they frowned upon feeding their dog at the table, either themselves feeding it, or one of their kids, they could often recall their dog sitting patiently nearby while a toddler or young child was eating, in hopes that some tidbit of food would be dropped. They said they never really were bothered by the fact, though would tell their dog to go lie down elsewhere if company was dining with them. I told them that it was not that part that bothered me at all, and thanked them for sharing their experiences.

Then, talking to a friend of a friend, as we had all met for coffee to discuss some other subject having nothing to do with toddlers and dogs, we nonetheless got on the subject. When this person told me that she would never have allowed it, that her dog would probably have bitten the toddler on the first piece of food being offered, it struck me what was so frightening. It was not the fact that my friend's young daughter had been feeding the family dog, it was that so many parents do not take the time to assimilate their pet when they bring a new baby home. Here this mother was telling me that she was fearful that if her child had fed the family dog, that the dog would have bitten him or her. What type of family dog is this?

If you have a dog, and then bring baby home, it is necessary to understand what your dog is feeling. The dog might have been ruler of the household for however long you have had them, and then all of a sudden, you bring home another member for the pack. This can cause problems, especially if the dog feels that they are the leader.

With my original friends who I had dinner with, there was not doubt in that dog's mind that the adults, my friend and her husband were the pack leaders, as silly as that might sound to some. Their dog listened without hesitation to them, and had always been treated with love and kindness by the family members. They never let any of the children pull on her, kick her, throw toys at her, etc. Sure, the occasional teething ring or pacifier had landed on her head as each child went through the infant stage, but they were quick to be taught never to be mean to the dog. She was an important a part of the family unit and deserved to be treated with respect. In return, they expected no less from the dog. With the dog in question fourteen years old, I think they had raised both her and their three children up with all the keys in the right locks if you know what I mean.

As to the acquaintance who would have been fearful of her dog biting her child, I cringe when I think how the dog might act if she is accidentally tripped on, or an ear were tugged even gently by an over zealous toddler.

If you plan to have both dogs and children, take the time to consider all the aspects of raising both, and raising both together. In addition, if there are any problems or issues that arise, remember that even if the dog was there first, your child takes preference.

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