Jesse and James

I have been a animal lover all my life. I remember since earliest days as a little girl how I used to spend all my time outside with the dogs playing with them, falling asleep in front of the television with them even sneaking them into the bedroom and making them comfy on my bed when my parents were not looking.

Nothing has changed, maybe the fact that I now have a 11 month baby and a home of my own. I still love dogs and have two Jack Russell’s they both sleep in the bed, they get fed chicken breasts (the girl-dog Jesse, loves fish so we give her that instead) and new toys every week. The boy-dog James is my everything and follows me everywhere. The point that I am trying to get across is that our dogs enjoy priority in our house and we look after them like children.

Recently Jesse, the long legged Parsons Jack Russell snapped at our 11month old baby and bit him in the face. This was a huge wake up call to me. From day one when we brought Sam home, she has been a tad over protective of the baby and she really made it clear people were not welcome near him especially when they came close to the baby or entered the room where the baby was. We thought this was really sweet and she would never bite him, this is obviously not the case when it comes to animal behaviour and growing infants.

Jesse with Sam the day we brought him home

According to celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan, this behaviour is created when your dog thinks that he is the “pack leader” and feels that he needs to establish leadership the pack especially when there is a new up and coming member and his job is to protect the “pack” at all costs (this includes protection from your innocent braai-guests and mother in law).  Dogs feel superior to baby’s and toddlers as they are still bigger than the child so they want to show their superiority to the child.

James with Sam a few months later

Here is how to train new behaviour patterns and set boundaries;

You need to do is to teach your dog that you are the pack leader to start with. The first thing you need to conquer is to walk your dog properly (yes its that simple) this to dogs mean that you are all walking together in a “pack”. Your dog will ALWAYS remain the pack leader of your home and life if you can’t control him on a “pack walk”. Your dog will aim to walk in front as its duty is being the pack leader and he wants to protect you and lead his pack. This needless to say is a very stressful job and a huge responsibility for your furry friend.  And note your dog will never be fully stimulated after a walk if this is the case and you might mistake his behavior for hyper activity where it is actually lack of stimulation.

  • When going on a walk, make sure your dog is walking next to you or behind you.
  • Never let the dog walk out of the doorway first. Let him sit and wait before putting the lead on, walk out the door first and “lead” him through the doorway.
  • When your dog starts sniffing and wee-ing where ever she wants to pull her back in a short upwards tug.  Make sure you are not pleading and negotiating here.  
  • You need to be the one in charge with cool calm assertive confidence. Don’t shout scream and go crazy on your dog. It all boils down to great leadership. Dog’s can “feel” when you are unsure and not secure in your roll as a pack leader.  
  • Don’t reward your dog for walking properly the reward is a slack lead.  Reward your dog with a meal after a walk but make sure you are in control even when you get home.  Walk through the door first let the dog sit remain calm until you take the lead off.
  • When your dog charges other people and other dogs ask him to sit and at the right time break his attention by touching him firmly. The key is timing. Don’t wait until your dog is “zoned” in already because this will already be too late.
  • Never let your children get near dogs while they are eating, sleeping or attending to puppies.

At home the general rule is not to leave your children and your dogs unattended. Animals are unpredictable and there have been countless injuries and fatal injuries where people tough their animals would never hurt a baby/child. This is not a chance worth taking.  You never know what might trigger a bite. Dogs don’t generally like when humans bring their faces into close proximity to theirs, especially un-expectedly. Children don’t understand boundaries early in life and I am talking out of experience, I have been bitten quite a few times by our dogs as a child. I am one of the lucky ones that remained unscarred but this is not a chance that you should take.

Humans often treat dogs like children and don’t understand that we are actually creating behavioural patterns that will harm our animals and not help them in the long run. By giving animals boundaries you are making them feel safe and secure as they are safe under their pack leader’s leadership (your leadership)

Teach kids from an early age how to work gently and compassionately with animals.  Teach them with your guidance and example.  The key is stay consistent with your message to your children, don’t allow kids to pull ears and tails the one day and laugh at them and tell them its wrong the next day.  This might also trigger uncertainty and insecurity with your animals.

Perhaps I won’t ever stop spoiling my dogs and feeding them chicken breasts and all that jazz, but one thing I have learned is that animals are animals no matter how much you love them nothing changes this fact. By giving them guidance, teaching them good behavior and setting boundaries you are not being cruel or unkind to them, you are actually giving them the necessary tools to be the best friend and companion they can be, to you and your family.


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