I’m going to give you two scenarios:
Matrix is a ten-year-old shepherd cross. She lives with 2 children, ages 4 and 2. Matrix doesn’t much like the children: she growls if they get too close, and has even snapped at them for playing near her. Whenever her owners leave the room, they call her with them because she can’t be trusted.
Max is a four-year-old terrier cross. He lives with one child, age 2. He loves children, and his child loves him. They play together and adore each other. Max can be trusted with children, and has never shown any aggression toward them, no matter what’s going on.
Which of these scenarios is better?
Matrix’s parents realized they had a problem, and they called me. We taught Matrix to leave when the children walked up to her. Her owners still call her with them when they leave the room, in case a child trips and falls on her, and when friends come over to play she takes a rest in her own room, protected from the children, with her toys and her bed.
Since Max didn’t have any problem with kids, there was no reason to call a trainer. (I do know Max, as he was in training for leash manners, and I saw him around his boy. There was no doubt they loved each other.) When Max’s boy tried to give him a hug one day, Max was trapped, unable to escape, and nearly crushed by a child much larger than he was. In a panic and hurting, he snapped to get away. The boy went to the emergency room, and Max was put down.
Small dogs and dogs in pain are at great risk from children. My dog, Cash, is 110 pounds and loves kids. That said, if one of them lays on him, he’s too big (and too fit and young) to be hurt by it, and he’s big enough to get away. Most dogs don’t have that ability; most dogs are either too small or too old to escape like that. If your child is too young to understand that they need to be gentle and never hang onto a dog that’s trying to leave, then they’re probably too young to be left alone with the dog. What will your dog do when it’s trapped and hurting? Grab your dog’s leg when they’re walking and refuse to let go, or grab them around the neck and lay on them. Whatever they do, imagine if they did that while your child’s face was next to theirs, because your child was giving them a hug.
Most dogs that bite are already aggressive. Once pushed to that point, they’ll bite more easily the next time because they learn that it works. This bit of truth is wrong, though, when small children are involved. A trapped, hurting dog will bite even if they’re not aggressive. Calling your dog out of the room with you takes two extra seconds, and ensures that your child won’t hurt your dog — and can, therefore, save your dog’s life.
I would like to say this doesn’t happen often, but this winter alone I know of two dogs — friendly, sweet, child-loving dogs — who were put down after biting children who hurt them, trying to hug them. Is a hug worth your dog’s life? Please, teach your children to be gentle. Teach them to let go when the dog leaves. And until they’re old enough to remember to do so reliably, call your dog with you when you leave the room. It could mean the world to your family.