The positive result of teaching kids how to pet dogs

I believe we need to remark and reinforce the behaviors that we like whether in training, or in life, like Pinball’s and Indy’s progress together.

Pinball guarding a pair of scissors. Note the whale eye

In Please Don’t Bite the Baby, I talk about Pinball being sensitive and affectionate, but also being the real accident waiting to happen given his willingness to bite when guarding a resource.

Regardless of Pinball’s issues, I was determined to make his relationship with my son safe and happy not only because of my desire to let Indy have the dog he loved in his life, but also because of my own personal attachment to Pinball.

Being at the shelter the day Pinball was born, and then nursing him through parvovirus, left me feeling a deep responsibility for him. I wanted to help him be the happy-go-lucky safe dog that he was when he was a puppy.

Pinball puppy smiling
Puppy Pinball smiling

When Indy was younger, he and Pinball spend a lot of time managed or separated because of Pinball’s mercurial nature and the propensity of small children to not always follow directions around dogs.

In Chapter Six of Please Don’t Bite the Baby, I talk about the importance of teaching your kids how to pet a dog because all children who live with or interact regularly with dogs need to learn this skill – the earlier, the better.

“Showing your baby how to pet the dog gently is as important as teaching your dog to be happy about your baby. Younger children will not have enough motor control to pet your dog gently. Consequently, many dogs get hit, pulled, poked, or a combination of all of these instead of the snuggly petting they are used to from adults.

When a young child is petting a dog, an adult needs to be next to and almost between the dog and child in order to guide the child’s hand as he or she tries to pet the dog. I usually keep my hand at or hovering just under Indy’s hand so I can slip my hand between him and Boo instantly if things go wrong.

Mommy guiding Indy petting a very happy Pinball. Photo credit, Auntie Jill
Mommy guiding Indy petting a very happy Pinball. Photo credit, Auntie Jill

Petting a dog is a great motor skills exercise for toddlers, but it is not something they can master until they develop more.

Be prepared to be attentive to this petting for a couple of years until you see your child has the appropriate motor control and skills…”

There are more details on teaching children how to pet dogs in my book.

It was a happy day when I could take Indy and Pinball outside and watch them run around the yard, joyful and safe, and an even happier day when Indy reached out to pet Pinball gently and politely.

I know Indy loves Pinball because he says so, and I know Pinball loves Indy because he follows him everywhere he can. And, even with this great affection they have for each other, their time together will still be managed with me nearby, and there will be more hurdles to come, but for today, they are both happy around each other.