Thursday, 8 May 2008

Kids and dogs: playing happy families

Much of the time, when children and dogs are mentioned in the same sentence, it's in a negative way, when the media reports on rare animal attacks. But millions of households across the UK know that children and dogs can have a wonderful relationship, and a pet is an unparalleled way of teaching children responsibility and respect. Remember, a child should never be left alone with a dog but that doesn't mean they can't play together and form a strong attachment.

To celebrate all the families doing such a good job, I've been pootling around the Internet and blogosphere looking for interesting or funny family tales. One search resulted in this very sweet list of More Than 10 Tips for Dogs written by young Erin who has clearly understood the principles of dog training: "If you are good you get treats but if you are bad, you get in bad situations."

People and dogs have something in common, after all; they're both constantly learning and they both like positive reinforcement. One woman even advocates taking tips from animal behaviourists to improve all your relationships, leading to more than one headline suggesting you train your husband as if he were a dog!. As good parents and pet owners, we take responsibility for teaching children about dogs and vice versa. But sometimes we need help with that, and that's where projects like Dogs Trust's Learn With Dogs come in. The work of our Education Officers, who have made 2,000 visits to schools in the past year alone, the website provides resources and fun pages for teachers and young people learning about how to be an excellent dog owner.

Around the world, all sorts of creative projects are going on to help take advantage of the amazing bond that can exist between children and dogs. In Denver, in the US state of Colorado, the local Glendale community has set up a reading project for children who lack literary confidence. Having met a four-legged-friend, they choose a story and read to the dog, who revels in the attention and provides a non-threatening, uncritical audience for the struggling reader. I wonder if they only read shaggy dog stories?!

From offering emotional therapy to providing potential physical health benefits, there are some very good reasons for having a dog in the family. Owning a dog is always a huge time and energy commitment, and ensuring both children and pets are safe and well at all times can be tiring. Still, a great majority of families would tell you that it's very much worth the end result.
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