Teaching Kids “Dog Literacy”

Just as important as making sure your dog can be trusted around babies and children is teaching your children how to interact safely with dogs. Cambridge’s Adria Karlsson of Click ‘n’ Treat offers training services geared to families with children.

dog & baby together
dog & baby together
Babies & Dogs Can Be Best Friends -- with Training

In a previous life, moving to Paris when the first of my three children was a month old would have been great fodder for a mommy blog – if only the Internet had existed in 1988. Back then, I knew even less about parenting than I knew about dogs when I launched this blog a little over a year ago as a way to keep busy during a stretch of unemployment. Time wasn’t the only thing I had on my hands – I also had a new puppy. I needed an organizing principle for my writing, so I stretched the old adage “write what you know” to fit my circumstances. In addition to teaching me how much I still have to learn about dogs, one of the benefits of hanging up my virtual shingle as a dog blogger has been the real-life connections I’ve made through Cambridge Canine with bona fide dog experts.

For example, I recently had the pleasure of meeting Adria Karlsson, an MSPCA trainer and fellow Cantabridgian. Adria holds graduate degrees in behavior analysis and elementary education and taught children with dyslexia before launching her Click ‘n’ Treat training business and blog. She had emailed me after noticing a link to Cambridge Canine on Wicked Local-Cambridge, and one Sunday morning we walked around Fresh Pond with our dogs. Rounding out our slow-moving pack were Adria’s husband, their two young sons (7 months and 22 months), and my friend Adele and her two dogs. Adele is a child psychiatrist, so our walk-and-talk bounced back and forth between child development and dog behavior.

Among the training services Adria offers are sessions geared to dog families expecting a baby and those with small children. Her blog also offers dog safety tips to new parents, such as why wearing a front-facing infant carrier may inadvertently frighten some dogs into aggression.

child with golden retriever dog
My first dog, Juno

Just as important as making sure your dog can be trusted around children is teaching your children how to interact safely with dogs. Walking Eddie near my neighborhood playground, I am often approached by parents asking if their toddler or young child can pat him; I appreciate that they ask first, but it always make me a bit nervous if they tell me their kid “really loves dogs.” This is a sign the child may need to be “un-magnetized,” a potentially dangerous condition Adria writes about in another post:

“Think about a compass that always points north… a magnetized baby can usually be found hurtling towards any dog they see, while screaming “doggy” and charging in for a pet and/or hug.”

Likewise, approaching a dog too tentatively – for example, extending a hand for Eddie to sniff and then suddenly jerking it away and squealing – can be just as risky. Knowing how to approach an unfamiliar dog with the right balance of calm and confidence takes practice – many adults never quite get the knack of it, and then they wonder why dogs act standoffish, even aggressive, around them. “I guess your dog isn’t very friendly,” they’ll remark, blaming Eddie when, in fact, they’ve unwittingly sent him mixed messages. Adria told me she is developing a curriculum that could be used in schools to teach children good – safe – habits around dogs. Dog literacy may never make it onto MCAS exams, but in my book it’s a life skill every child needs.


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