Supervising Pets and Children

At a recent professional meeting, Jennifer Shryock, CPDT and Ellen Mahurin, M.A., ACAAB described Jennifer’s parent education programs for dog owners expecting a new baby (Dogs and Storks™) and those for toddlers and dogs (Dog & Baby Connection).  Elements of those programs are common to others, including Our own “Preparing Fido.” 

One of the critical elements of parenting both babies and pets together is appropriate supervision.  One of the things we liked most about Jennifer and Ellen’s presentation was a discussion of the different levels of supervision that parents can provide.  Everyone agrees that adult supervision of pets and babies is necessary, but few have described what that actually means in terms of parental behavior.

Jennifer’s categorization describes five levels of supervision based on the adult supervisor’s behavior.  That got us to thinking about what the elements of proper supervision are and how we can make parents aware of the quality of the supervision they are providing.  We think most parents believe that supervision merely means that either they, or some other responsible person, is present when their child and pet are together. It’s not that simple.
Parents or other adults can evaluate the quality of their own child/pet supervision at any time by asking themselves the following four questions”

1.  Is someone physically present such that there are “eyes on” the child and pet at all times (not around the corner or just in the kitchen)? If not, are the child and pet safely and securely separated from each other by a physical barrier (behind closed doors, dog in a crate or x-pen, child in a crib or playpen)?

2.  Is there a plan to deal with potential distractions (someone coming to the door) and emergencies (the stew on the stove has begun to boil over) so that child and pet aren’t left alone together, even for a moment?

3. Is full attention being given to the child and pet, without the supervisor being distracted with text messages, phone calls, TV shows or reading? Full attention provides the safest environment for both pet and child but is difficult to achieve.  It’s actually quite difficult for anyone to devote their full attention to watching pets and babies without doing ANYTHING else, for any considerable length of time – it’s physically and mentally taxing!  With this in mind, it would be better for parents and other caregivers to take turns supervising or to limit the supervised interactions to just a few minutes and then separate pet and baby using one of the methods mentioned in Question One.

4.  Is the supervisor proactive in preventing unsafe interactions between pet and child, or is it simply a case of reacting to unwanted situations once they have begun?  When a toddler approaches a sleeping dog, does the supervisor recognize the danger and proactively redirect the child BEFORE she reaches the dog, or reactively wait until the toddler is pulling the dog’s tail to intervene? If the supervisor finds herself reacting to more than just a few unwanted situations, then interactions needs better planning and/or the supervisor needs to be better at recognizing unpleasant emotions in the dog.

Thinking ahead, anticipating undesirable interactions and taking action before they occur represents the highest level of supervision and prevents many potentially dangerous situations from arising.

To be proactive and provide the safest supervision, parents must be able to recognize when their dogs are anxious, fearful or stressed during interactions with their child and be able to prevent these reactions as much as possible.  Our DVD “Canine Body Postures” teaches people to recognize canine emotions and to know what dogs are communicating through their body language.

It’s not uncommon for pets to be startled by the sounds babies make, including crying, screaming, and even loud sounds of excitement.  Prospective parents can accustom their pets to these sounds using “Preparing Fido™” – a CD full of high quality recordings of actual baby sounds.

Our DVD “Helping Fido Welcome Baby” provides a complete set of plans to both prepare and introduce a dog to a new baby.  Purchase all three products so that you – or someone you know – will be fully prepared to create the safest and most satisfying family relationship between their dog and their child.

Just click on the product names in the preceding paragraphs to learn more about them and to purchase.

As a final side note, these same questions can be asked to evaluate other supervised interactions between pets in day care facilities, at dog parks, when new pets have been introduced to each other or where there are conflicts between pets.  We’ll talk about those situations in a future article.

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field