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SPCA Paws and Claws

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Dogs and children: What to watch for

By Maria Devine

This month we are trying to help two beautiful young cats find their forever home. These young sisters are about a year and a half old and were found homeless and pregnant in a parking lot in Ocala. Both girls were wonderful mothers to their kittens, and most of the kittens have been adopted. Now it’s time for the moms to have a home of their own, too. The moms are currently being fostered by a dedicated cat rescue volunteer, but she can’t keep them. She has, however, had them spayed, microchipped and vaccinated so that all you have to do is give them a home. Both girls have adjusted quite nicely to the litter box and inside life, and adore their foster mom, who showers them with belly rubs. They also remember the kind woman who first helped them out in the parking lot and show her affection when she pays them a visit. But because of the way they started out in life, they are still afraid of strangers. Therefore, they need a patient person or couple, perhaps retired, who has the time to socialize them further and get to know each other slowly. It’s preferred that the sisters be adopted together, but if that can’t be done, then separate caring homes are fine. Just remember that the girls warmed up to their first friend and then their foster mom, so they will to you too, but they just need time to adapt. They’ve both already been through a lot in their short lives, and they’ve showed resilience and adaptability and are just yearning for continued care and affection. Please don’t let their future be back to the parking lot. They’ve come such a long way already, won’t you lead them the rest of the way? To meet the sisters, please call Arlene at 352-875-9761. If you’ve always wanted to lend a hand for the homeless cat overpopulation, now’s your chance to make a difference.

Teaching your dog and kids how to behave around each other

Ah, dogs and children: a match made in heaven, right? Well, it can be, but only if you take the time to teach each to respect the other, and to supervise their interactions. I’m going to share with you some tips from the ASPCA website on how to accomplish both. There is a lot of good advice if you’re raising a small puppy, and even more if you’re adopting an older dog from a shelter or foster care. One mishap can make that dog unadoptable in the future or lead to unnecessary euthanasia, so let’s all learn to be responsible from the get go.

Children are on the receiving end of half of all the dog bites reported in the U.S., and the family dog accounts for one third of these. To make sure this doesn’t happen in your house, you need to actively manage your dog’s and child’s behavior and not passively assume they’re meant to get along like magic. Before you get your dog or puppy, teach your child the proper way to gently pet him. You can practice on a stuffed animal. You can also explain that it’s not acceptable to roughly poke, hit, or jump on the dog, or to pull his tail or ears. While some dogs may tolerate this behavior, many won’t. And in an instant, an otherwise saintly dog can bite in anger if he thinks he’s defending himself from harm.

If your dog loves kids, but is overly rambunctious around them, you need to start out with basic obedience training, as well as training to curtail jumping up, mouthing, nipping and play biting. The ASPCA website has articles on all these topics. The main thing you have to immediately teach your dog or puppy is that he should never put his feet or mouth on a child. A good way to do this, in addition to obedience training, is the time out. If your dog mouths or jumps up on children to get more attention, you’ll find that the removal of that attention is an effective tool for teaching him that these behaviors are inappropriate. To use a time out, first monitor your dog’s play with your children very closely. The moment your dog puts a paw or his mouth on a child, say something that means he made a mistake, like “Too bad!” or Time out!”. Use that same phrase in each instance so your dog understands what you mean. Right after you say that phrase, immediately walk your dog to the nearest boring room, put him in the room and close the door. The area should be dog proofed and devoid of people, toys, food or chews. Count to 30, then let your dog out and give him a chance to misbehave again. If he puts his paw or mouth on your child again, repeat the time out. If your dog tries to run away when you say “time out”, you may want to put a light leash on him when he’s playing with your child while you’re supervising, and then grab the leash to walk him to the boring room. You may have to do this many times but it’s worth it. However, if your dog doesn’t misbehave again, give him lots of praise and treats because you have to reward him for doing the right thing.

Another way to teach your dog to control his impulses around children is through the statue game. If your dog is really excitable, keep him on a leash at first. Explain to the kids beforehand that when you say the phrase “Go wild” they should start running around, waving their arms and jumping up and down. Watch your dog carefully as the kids run around. When he starts to get excited, tell the kids to “Freeze”. When the kids are frozen in their poses like statues, ask your dog to sit. When he does, you or the child standing closest to him can give him a treat. Then start the game over by telling the kids to “Go wild” again and repeating the entire process. When your dog gets the gist of the game, he’ll most likely sit as soon as the kids freeze. The freezing will become his cue to sit. From this time forward, you can tell all the kids that interact with him in real life to freeze if he starts to get too rambunctious in play. Be sure to always reward him if he sits in response, so that he knows he’s being polite.

When you can’t supervise your child and dog, crate or otherwise secure your dog in another area of the house perhaps behind a baby gate. Teach your children to never go into the dog’s area unattended. They should be taught not to put their hands or fingers inside the crate or baby gate.

So far we’ve talked about dogs who generally love children, but are rambunctious around them, or are defending themselves from a physical attack. There is another type of dog, however, who doesn’t like being around children, usually out of fear, and we’ll deal with this next. Most dogs like this were not socialized to young children by the time they were 4 months old. To them, children are frightening creatures who move unpredictably in a herky-jerky fashion, who have scary high pitched and loud voices. Sometimes the dog has been socialized to children, but is genetically timid with them. Other dogs have been traumatized by a child or children in the past and generalize this fear to all children. A fearful dog will either try to run away and hide when a child approaches, or instead act aggressively by lunging, growling, or snapping to try to get the child to go away. Never buy or adopt a puppy or dog who shows fear or aggression just being in the presence of a child. With help from a trained professional, you can work to desensitize your dog to visiting children or children you meet on the street, but it is a slow and difficult task. When children are visiting, confine your fearful dog to a crate or safe area and give him a favorite toy such as a stuffed Kong to occupy his time. Keep control of your dog on walks and do a u-turn if you suddenly encounter a child. Never punish your dog because that will intensify his fear. Also never lure your frightened dog to a child with treats.

The ASPCA’s final word on dogs and kids is: “if you are planning on adding a dog to your family and you have small children, choose a friendly, confident dog or puppy with no tendency to guard food or toys, who doesn’t mind being touched everywhere and who loves children as much as he does adults.”

If you need our help or would like to join us or our foster program, please call us at (352) 362-0985 to find out more.

Until next month remember: “Pets are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole”.