So now that Pud is past toddling and into full-speed constantly, I can offer this bit of advice for other families with service dogs and pets: toddlers get tiresome and annoying for animals, no matter how much they adore each other. Be sure to have crates/safe places for the animals to use to get away from toddlers and teach the toddler to respect their rest-time and private space. We talk a lot about what different sounds and types of body language mean and how we should treat our dogs.
The thing is, Pud is never mean to them. He’s just too much sometimes, you know? Too much excitement; too much having to be on guard to make sure he doesn’t step on or trip over one’s tail while he’s suddenly ripping through the house; too much loving; too much noise; too much unpredictability. This is great fun sometimes, but just like mom and dad get worn out, so do the pups.
Solution? Crates made even more inviting and cozy and permission plus positive reinforcement for retreating to the crates when it looks like he’s getting to be too much.
Plus, we let our dogs growl. We have never told our dogs that they can’t give warning growls, bark, or vocalize when they need to. This is crucial, because those vocalizations are sometimes the last resort to say “hey! I don’t like this!” before biting occurs, and as much as our dogs love the baby, they are still dogs with teeth and instincts to defend themselves. Sadly, toddlers are so busy sometimes that they are completely oblivious to the fact that they are stepping on a toe or pulling hair and that it hurts or getting too close with that broom they’re waving wildly… And they certainly aren’t always paying attention to body language clues that their dog friends are stressed out enough to feel threatened.
I point this out because I recently read an article about a service dog that was left alone in the yard with a visiting 6 year old, who was bitten and died. Highly trained, highly socialized, but in a sticky situation without the handler to intervene (huge mistake on part of the handler, sadly, but s/he probably got lulled into a false sense of security with the idea of his/her fabulous, friendly service dog being “safe”). Being good with kids doesn’t equal “safe” because kids aren’t logical and predictable.
We supervise the dogs and Ian. They are happy to snuggle next to him for naptime (and are safe doing so) with me in the other room, but during playtime, dogs or baby or both are within eyesight or separated with physical barriers (crates or gates). It just isn’t worth what could happen, even as amazing as they are with Pud 99.9% of the time. It’s the 0.01% that we have to prepare for- the day that all the wrong factors collide- all it takes is one tired, clumsy baby and one tired, overstimulated dog… And I’m not just saying that the dog could hurt the child but also that the child could hurt the dog (or ruin its training…).
At least Pud is learning some important life skills and applying them to other animals: we approach unfamiliar animals slowly after gaining permission from an adult and offer a flat hand to sniff, then use gentle hands to touch. While at the zoo, I saw him attempting to use this strategy of offering his outreached hand to the polar bear that pops up to check him out through the glass. I praised him and then explained that he can’t ever touch bears- so hopefully, if we ever encounter one in the wild, he’ll “make like a tree” instead…