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Babies, Kids & Cockers


A question I hear frequently is: "Are Cockers good with kids?" My answer is "Yes, a well-bred, well-trained and socialized Cocker is a good family pet." Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and purchasers need to understand that the environment that the puppy is going into, coupled with training and socialization after the purchase (or the lack there of!) will impact how a Cocker puppy will fit into your household. This holds true with any breed of dog. If you take a young puppy home and allow it to run wild, it will not be a fit companion for a child or an adult. It is extremely important that buyers with children make a commitment to do some basic obedience training with their puppy so that she can learn how to be a good companion for her new family. It is also imperative that the puppy AND the children in the household learn how to respect each other.

Making your puppy into a well behaved dog is only part of your challenge if there are children living in your home, or if you have regular visits from children. Your children, especially younger children that have never owned a pet, must learn how to interact correctly with a young puppy or even an older dog. The children will not necessarily mean to do the dog harm, but young children especially can view a puppy as a "toy" and can inadvertently hurt the dog. This is why no child under the age of 8 or 9 should ever be left alone with a puppy or strange dog.

Supervise regular playtimes for your puppy and children and encourage the children to think of the dog as a human family member that has a right to privacy, consideration and loving attention. Explain to the children that when the puppy is tired and wants to sleep, they must respect the puppy's need for a nap. They must leave the puppy in its crate, undisturbed, so that it can rest. Also make it a rule that they are only allowed to get the puppy out of the crate with adult knowledge and supervision.

Remember to teach your child how NOT to play with the puppy - no tug-of-war or rough housing; no running from the puppy or encouraging it to chase anyone; no chewing on shoes, pants, fingers or other objects that are not puppy toys; no teasing; no interaction that encourages growling or other aggressive behavior.

The following link, Safety Tips, will take you to a page of dog safety rules that you can teach your children.  There is a link on the Safety Tips page for a printable page of these rules which may be helpful in teaching your children to interact correctly with dogs.

Another child issue that needs to be addressed is bringing a new baby into a home with canine pets. Unfortunately, many people don't address this issue before the baby arrives and this can cause real problems. Usually a pet dog will take to a new family member just fine if they are introduced correctly. However, there can be problems if the dog's whole life and schedule are turned upside down and no one takes the time to introduce and nurture a relationship between the dog and the new baby.

An important step in assuring a smooth home-coming for the new human baby is to be sure your dog has a good understanding of and can consistently perform a number of obedience commands. Do this training well before the baby comes! "Sit", "Down" and "Stay" are an absolute must.

Your next goal is to socialize your dog with as many babies and small children as possible BEFORE the birth of your baby. Visit friends and relatives with small children and infants and ask to bring the dog. Walk through the park or neighborhood and ask to introduce your dog to as many infants and children as possible. (This assumes that your dog does not have an aggression problem and would not be a known risk to any child or adult.) If your dog has an aggression problem or has shown aggression to children before, you should seek veterinarian and/or professional trainer assistance to help you modify your dog's behavior well before your baby is due.

A de-sensitization tool that you can use before the baby arrives is a tape of baby sounds. Have a friend, relative or neighbor record baby sounds that you can play in the baby's room or wherever the baby will be staying when it comes home. This will help the dog become accustomed to the noises it will be hearing when your baby gets home.

So that the dog doesn't associate the baby's home-coming with major changes in her life, make necessary adjustments in the household routine well before the baby comes home. If the dog's feeding or exercise schedule will need to be changed, do so as far before the baby comes home as possible. If the dog will need to sleep in a new location, get this accomplished as soon as you can. If you are intending to start crating the dog for the first time or you are going to be putting the dog back in a crate at night after she has been used to staying in the bed, you will need to start this training at least a month or two before the baby is due. The dog is likely be quite unhappy over being put into a crate if she's not used to it and having an upset dog in the house with a newborn baby and exhausted parents is a sure-fire way to make everyone crazy.

While the baby is still in the hospital, bring home a baby blanket or article of the baby's clothing that will smell like mom and baby. Lay this in the baby carrier or other baby seat where the dog can sniff it and get used to the new smells that go with all babies.

When you bring the baby home, set the carrier in the floor and ask the dog to "sit" or "down" and "stay" nearby. Pet, praise and give the dog some treats for being good. Be lavish with the cookies! You want the baby to be associated with really good things happening to the dog. Let the dog sniff the baby while you continue to pet, praise and feed her cookies. Continue this treatment as you pick up and hold the baby.

Over the next few days, continue giving the dog extra attention and special treats while you have the baby with you. Continue letting the dog sniff the baby and try to limit your interaction with the dog if the baby is not present. Set a feeding time for the dog so that the baby is with you. By making lots of good things happen to the dog while the baby is there, she will want to spend time with you AND the baby. Since the times without the baby are nothing special, she will quickly associate the baby with only good things.

When the dog needs to go outside, put her out and THEN pick up the baby. You don't want the dog to think that good things are going on after she's made to go outside! Should the dog sniff, mouth or pick up a baby item, don't scold. Just give the dog her own toy or a cookie and wash the baby's item.

I know having a new baby at home is exhausting and nerve-wracking, but don't throw the dog out into the yard or start locking her in the garage or basement. Even temporarily. You must introduce the baby and dog immediately and teach the dog exactly what you expect. The dog needs to remain involved in the daily family life so that she can feel connected to the new human family member. If she's suddenly deserted and ignored instead, she will associate this with the baby. If you let that happen, you may never be able to repair the damage. Also, if she doesn't learn from the beginning that the baby won't hurt her, she may end up being afraid of the child as it grows and gets more mobile. This could lead to disaster down the road.

As the baby grows and begins to move around on its own, be sure to supervise so that the baby doesn't accidentally pull hair or ears or poke little fingers into eyes or mouth. Continue to watch closely as the child gets bigger to be sure the dog and child don't have a problem. Once the child gets to be 5 or 6 years of age, you can start to work with them on how to care for the dog. Ask them to help you by putting down the food or getting water. Let them help with the dog's bath and blow dry. This will help make the child feel connected to the dog and will help teach them responsibility as well. Just don't LEAVE the care of an animal up to a child as they tend to be forgetful and are easily side-tracked.

Suggested Reading:

Child-Proofing Your Dog  by Brian Kilcommons


If you have any questions or would like more information about Cocker Spaniels,
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Copyright Sandcastle Kennels 2004

Last revised: January 03, 2006