Make the most of your next dog-child encounter
“Do you want to?” “You ask.” “No you.” “No you!” I can hear some of the neighbourhood kids whispering to each other.
“It’s okay,” I say. “They are very friendly. You can pet them if you want.”
The neighbourhood kids always seem to be intrigued by my dogs Tara and Freckles. Freckles is especially popular because she is so unique looking. In addition to being a husky and having freckles on her snout, Freckles only has one eye.
People are naturally curious.
The small group of kids approach and ask if they can pet my dogs. I thank them for asking to reinforce that, at least in the urban North American context, you should always ask an owner’s permission before petting their dog.
I let them know that they can pet the dogs, but Freckles only likes to be petted by one person at a time and prefers to be petted on the side where she still has her eye. I remind them to let the dogs smell their hands and then gently pet them on the head. The whole time that the kids are interacting with the dogs I watch to make sure that the dogs are comfortable
“What happened to her eye?” the oldest kid asks.
I get this question all the time.
I explain to them that we don’t know. We adopted Freckles from a local dog rescue network. We do know the dogs were seized because of neglect. I explain that the dogs’ basic needs weren’t being met.
“That is so sad,” says one of the girls. I cheer her up by reminding her that Freckles is in a good home now and very loved.
I take the opportunity to ask the kids what they think dogs need to be happy. I hear “food,” “water,” “a dog house,” and an enthusiastic “tooooys!’”
I let the kids know that all those answers are great and that dogs also need vet care, exercise, and to be able to express their natural behaviours, like playing with other dogs, chasing things, barking, and yes, playing with toys (even it means carrying a stick around). These needs are discussed in more detail in IFAW’s Animal Action “Cats, Dogs, and Us” educational packs.
For Freckles, expressing her natural behaviour means running around (especially in winter) and socializing with other dogs. Her breed is well adapted to the cold and she just goes bananas after a fresh snow fall, and she LOVES playing with other dogs.
Whether you are a professional educator or not, I encourage all dog and cat owners to take a look at IFAW’s educational materials to ensure you make the most of your next dog-child encounter.
Every time a child interacts with an animal, it’s an opportunity for a little humane education!
P.S. If you are wondering about Tara, you will learn more about her in a future blog!