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Children and Protection Dogs

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Whenever someone with children begins to shop for a protection dog, the safety of their children should be a top priority. Unfortunately, it is often common practice for some trainers to simply placate clients with the answers they want to hear. This applies to all subject matters, including their dog’s suitability for a home with children.

The statistics regarding dog bites in the United States are disconcerting, to say the least.
4.7 million people are bitten by dogs in the U.S. every year, seventy percent are children under the age of ten, over sixty percent are boys, and a whopping eighty-seven percent are white. Of the 4.7 million, 30,000 require reconstructive surgery.

Nearly half the children in the U.S. have been bitten by a dog by the age of 12. To make matters worse, when children get bitten, it will generally be in the head, neck, or face, with approximately fifty-five percent of the bites being to the cheek or lips.

I am certainly not trying to scare you away from dogs, I am in the dog business after all.

Family Protection Guard Dog
However, I want you armed with the facts, so you can protect yourself and your family. Knowing the statistics allows us some insight into how and why children are bitten, which allows us to take preventive measures. As someone once said, “Knowing is half the battle”.

If you have children and are in the market for a security dog, there are several things you need to know and a few more things you absolutely must do and demand from the trainer.

First and foremost, the process of pairing a security dog with a home with children should begin with selection. If a protection dog is to be utilized in a home with children, the trainer should perform thorough and exhaustive evaluations of the dog’s suitability to work with and around children. These evaluations should be a primary concern. The purpose of a security dog is to protect you and your family, not place them in danger. After a suitable candidate is selected, you should allow your prospective dog and children to interact, in a controlled manner and environment, BEFORE making your final decision. This way you can head off potential problems while under the supervision of a canine professional. A professional trainer should also be able to give you tips on HOW to introduce new people to an individual dog, in the safest manner possible. If they have done their job, selecting the dog, properly, they will have a good feel for the dog’s personality. It would definitely be better to know your prospective protection dog is not tolerant of your thirteen-year-old son, prior to spending $15,000.00+.

If the trainer is unwilling to accept the risk of allowing the dog to interact with your child(ren), under their supervision, that should immediately throw up red flags.

We also believe any children that will interact with the dog, especially in an unsupervised manner, should be a part of the training process. This way your children can learn the proper way to interact with your new protection dog and your new dog will learn their place in the family hierarchy. Once again, if the trainer refuses, at least ask questions. The only reason a refusal could be acceptable is if the trainer is concerned about other dogs housed at their facility or similar liability concern. The trainer should, however, offer an alternative solution, such as training at a different location.

We believe, and experience has proven, ideally, a majority of the dog’s training with you and your family should take place in and around the areas the dog will be utilized. Furthermore, unless you are dealing with a large facility, with multiple trainers, there is no reason other dogs at the facility should not be safely secured during YOUR training sessions. These solutions should eliminate most safety and liability concerns.  If the trainer is still hesitant or outright refuses to include your child(ren) in, at the very least, training sessions that are directly related to your child(ren), I would advise finding a new trainer.

Now, let us address the statistics.

Children are most frequently bitten (61% of the time) when they come in contact with the dogs food or possessions.

If you have read my previous articles, you will already know that good protection dogs have a balance of drives that include prey, fight, play, and defense. Now that does NOT mean there are absolutely no other drives present in the dog, but we will stick with these, and level of possession, for the time being for simplicity’s sake.

Level of possession is easy, the more possessive the dog is the more likely they are to bite when you come in contact with their possessions. This does not always occur out of a form of aggression (though this is certainly an issue with some dogs), but also due to extreme excitement, being so focused on a toy or item that human skin becomes collateral damage.

We solve this issue in our training by teaching the dog they do not have possessions, but that they are allowed to play with SOME of OUR possessions under certain circumstances, at times dictated by US. One of the ways the dog EARNS the PRIVILEGE of playing or interacting with OUR possessions is by focusing on tasks we desire them to complete. In this way we can help eliminate incidental bites due to the previously mentioned causes. Making your children a part of the training process will go a long way towards teaching both your children and new dog how to interact with each other, this includes when playing with toys.

What about the dog’s food? Quite honestly, there is absolutely no reason for you or your children to come in contact with your dog’s food AFTER they are in possession of it.

I advocate a nothing for free mentality with dogs (they have to do something for you, prior to getting something they want, even food; ie sit and wait, etc). However, I DO NOT advise putting your hands or other objects in your dog’s food, excessively interacting with your dog, or their food bowl, AFTER you have given them possession of it, other than to remove the food bowl after meal time.

I am sure many of you have seen these types of “tests” or “evaluations” on television shows, where someone uses a fake hand to play in a dog’s food, while he is eating. Many dog rescues and dog pounds use this “evaluation” to judge a dog’s “food aggression”.

In my humble opinion, this is a ridiculous “evaluation”. I do not want anyone to play in my food while I am trying to eat, and it is beyond unnatural for a dog. In a wild canid, pack hierarchy dictates who eats what, and when. Now, once a dog is in “possession” of their meal, no other pack member is going to play in it, this WOULD instigate an unnecessary confrontation.

Nearly half the children in the U.S. have been bitten by a dog by the age of 12. To make matters worse, when children get bitten, it will generally be in the head, neck, or face, with approximately fifty-five percent of the bites being to the cheek or lips.

While not true in one hundred percent of the above cases, a majority of these incidents are likely harmless incidents. Well, harmless from the dog’s point of view. You see, one of the biggest things people seem to forget about dogs is that dogs are, well, dogs. Dogs often play AND discipline other dogs with their mouths and teeth. Dogs do not, as you know, have hands with which to interact with their environment. Humans, unfortunately, lack the tougher skin and other protections around the neck and other areas where dogs have a tendency to ”grab” one another.

To us, a bite to the face or neck is horrifying, but if you think about it, it is perfectly natural for a dog. Not only are these children likely “nose to nose” with the dog, the perfect height to put their face directly in line with the dogs teeth, but dogs routinely bite other dogs on the neck and muzzle in discipline, while playing, and to move younger pups to safer locations.

This is yet another reason the selection process is so critical and why we include the children of the home, who will ever be left unsupervised with the dog, in our training programs. Your security dog MUST learn how to interact with every member of your household and those lessons must be reinforced. In addition, everyone in your home needs to know how to interact with the dog and what to expect from the dog. Anyone who tells you differently is misleading you. We are dealing with an entirely different species here. While I would love to romanticize the endearing natural love and understanding between man and dog, the safety, security, and welfare of our clients and their families are too important to wax poetic.

How does prey drive affect a dog’s suitability for a home with children?

Touch back on my previous articles for a definition of prey drive, if needed.

Prey drive can be a bit trickier than level of possession in SOME circumstances.
The best “rule of thumb” is to teach your children not to play games of chase with or around working dogs with high prey drive. While not always the case, this can trigger a chase and capture reaction in a high prey drive dog. This instinct is one of the things used by some trainers to build certain behaviors in a protection dog. As such, it is possible to trigger a conditioned response from security dogs trained using these training methodologies. This scenario is best avoided.

Defense Drive:

Once again, you can find a solid definition of defense drive in previous articles.

A safe general rule is, the higher the dog’s defense drive, the more likely the dog is to bite when in an enclosed space, an area they consider “their territory”, or when cornered. The smaller the area, the more likely it is the dog will bite. Teach your children they should never “force” themselves on any dog, ever, period, especially a trained dog with any real degree of defense drive.

This is another area where your trainer’s evaluation and selection skills can mean the difference between benefit and liability. I have actually had trainers attempt to sell me fearful dogs that displayed defense drive when there was no option of escape as solid protection dog candidates. This has occurred out of both ignorance and deceit, neither reason reduces the potential liability or jeopardy one of these dogs could place your family in.

Fight Drive:

I would suggest that you not allow anyone to engage in horseplay with your personal protection dog. This can teach your dog bad habits, cause confusion, and is generally dangerous. While it may be perfectly harmless with some dogs interacting with certain people, it is not something I would suggest. This is a working dog with a job to do. While we recommend that you integrate your protection dog into as many facets of your life as possible, for the most usefulness, we also stress that your security dog is a working dog, not a pet.

Some teenage boys seem to be predisposed to roughhousing in every situation possible, I know I sure was. The concern with a high fight drive dog and roughhousing, beyond the aforementioned issues, is that these dogs generally enjoy “testing their mettle” in combat. If a dog like this perceives someone’s horseplay as a threat, or a challenge to fight, they will respond how they have been trained to respond. This is a good place to mention, roughhousing between two people (perhaps your teenage son and his friend) could possibly be perceived as a threat by a security dog as well. It is extremely important to address all of these types of scenarios in training. It is paramount to learn and understand how your protection dog thinks and responds in day to day life.

Some final thoughts:

Two-thirds of the dogs who bite a child have never bitten a child before and 25-33% were the family dog.

While certain breeds are stereotyped as aggressive there is little published scientific data to support those stereotypes.

These statistics show us that we cannot protect our children by simply avoiding certain breeds AND that we cannot take a laissez-faire attitude because we have become comfortable with a certain dog or think “it can’t happen to us”.

Essentially, we must do our due diligence to protect our families. If we know our son likes to tease dogs, it is probably not the best idea to leave him alone with our new security dog, unsupervised. If we recently purchased an anti-social asset protection dog for the family car lot, it is probably not the best idea to send our fifteen-year-old daughter to grab something from the office for us. If we have a family with small children, show up at the trainer’s, and he tries to sell us Cujo, we should probably walk away.
Keep in mind, these are general guidelines. Dogs are individuals and every dog has its own personality. These statements may not apply to your specific dog or situation.

A properly selected, trained, and deployed canine can be the most versatile and greatest asset for the safety and security of your family and your home. Unfortunately, those looking to make a quick buck outnumber the true professionals and an oversight, whether by ignorance or design, in the selection, training, or deployment of a security dog can have disastrous results.

Do your homework and stay safe.

2 Comments

  • Deb Pearl says:

    Thank you for all the information about security dogs. I know that my cousin has been interested in getting one for their family. That is good to know after a candidate is selected you should allow the dog and children to interact. I think that would be a great way to make sure that the dog loves the kids.

  • Mrs. Pearl,

    Glad I could help. You would be amazed how many “trainers” will not allow children any where near their “protection” dogs.

    I have always found it curious that something that is most effective the more integrated into your family and life it is, is often the least so.

    Stay safe,
    Epischer

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