Schoolyard Dogs Redux: Should Parents Train Kids How To Act Around Dogs?
Do parents have an obligation to train their children how to act around dogs, just as dog owners should train their animals to be polite and obedient?
Jodi Marcus, adoptions coordinator for a dog rescue group in Woodbridge in Prince William County, says yes. Marcus responded to my Sunday column about the face-off in Bethesda between dog owners and parents who want to protect their children from dogs on school grounds by inviting me to train my children so that they know how to behave around dogs, even if they have no intention of ever living with or near a dog.
Here's Marcus's argument:
"All children, even those who do not live with dogs need to know how to act around dogs. I would love to see a program in all the school systems addressing this issue. Dogs should all have obedience training that is reenforced throughout their lives. Our kids were raised with dogs and so are our grandchildren. No one was ever bitten or hurt because they all knew the rules and knew those rules were strictly enforced. Dogs are an integral part of many families' lives and they are not going away. We all need to work to make human and canine lives interact harmoniously."
I liked Marcus right away because unlike many dog owners I've heard from this week, she immediately granted that many dogs really shouldn't be taken to school grounds:
"I see the problem as twofold: parents do not teach their children how to act around dogs and the dog owners do not train their dogs to be polite citizens. You mentioned two instances of dogs jumping on children. This is bad doggy manners. All dogs should go to obedience class as puppies, repeat as teens and again as adults; what they learn should be reenforced every day of their lives. If a dog is not used to being around children, then that dog should not be taken to school grounds until it has been trained and sensitized to kids. If a dog is rambunctious around children, the dog should be left at home when walking kids to school and attending school activities."
But initially, I wasn't too impressed by her suggestion that parents should train their children to behave in certain ways around dogs. I wrote back saying that I have not taught those skills to my kids, in large part because I wouldn't have the foggiest notion what to tell them. "Like most non dog owners, who are, after all, more than two-thirds of the population, I have no clue how one is supposed to act around a dog, nor do I care to know. And I see no reason for my children to know, unless they decide someday to buy a dog or live with someone who prefers a dog."
But Marcus persisted. And she scored some points:
She passed along ASPCA data showing that fully half of all American children are bitten by dogs before their 12th birthday, so perhaps it makes sense to take precautions against that danger.
And I have to admit that my instinct would be to do exactly what the ASPCA says not to on its list of behaviors that lead to dog bites.
Still, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that the responsibility to protect against animal attacks should rest with the parents of children who've done nothing but make their way to school, rather than with those who arrogantly choose to inflict their dogs on school kids at drop-off and pick-up.
Marcus gets the last word in our exchange:
"We teach our children what to do if strangers approach and act strangely. It is part of teaching them to be safe. I feel the same way about dogs. Dogs should be on leash and under control. Sometimes they are not. They escape from their yard or they have irresponsible owners who have not taught them their manners."
So: Should parents who have nothing to do with dogs--like the vast majority of American adults--feel obliged to teach their kids how to protect themselves against the animals? Or is that the primary responsibility of those who own dogs?
By Marc Fisher |
May 21, 2008; 12:55 PM ET
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