I have two dogs. They’re small and scruffy and kind of cute. Kids are drawn to them like a magnet. They’ll rush up to them when I’m taking them for a walk, screaming and reaching out for them.
Usually, the kids’ parents are nowhere to be seen.
Yes, my dogs look cute. But they’re rescue dogs. One of them, Missy, was obviously abused in some way before she was adopted because she was very nervous and jumpy when I got her – and still is a bit now, even after socialisation classes and 12 years with me.
She’s never snapped at a child, but I can tell she’s wary of them. She’d rather be left alone.
“Here, pat this one,” I’ll say, trying to direct the kids towards my more sociable dog, Indy. “The other one gets a bit scared around people, so maybe just leave her alone, okay?”
Sometimes the kids will listen to me, sometimes not. Sometimes they’ll bark loudly at my dogs, or stamp their feet on the ground near them to try to scare them, or grab at their ears or tails.
I meet people sometimes who have big, solid, calm dogs who, they swear, would never, ever snap at a child, no matter what that child did to them. That’s great to hear. I wish I could have that 100 per cent confidence in my nervous one, Missy, but I don’t, quite. I’d rather not test her.
And yet, kids constantly run up to my little dogs. They think they’re harmless because of their size.
What worries me is this. There are obviously a heap of kids out there – maybe more in my very urbanised suburb than most – who have never been taught anything about how to approach dogs.
This is what I teach my kids. You ask the owner if it’s okay to pat their dog. You hold out your hand in front of the dog and let it come to you and have a sniff. You ask the owner where the dog likes to be patted. You watch the dog for any signs that it’s not enjoying being patted. You don’t push it.