Play-Dates: Making Sure Other Children Are Safe With Your Dog

Last updated on September 2nd, 2019 at 07:45 pm

Dog wants to be with childYou probably did quite a bit of work (maybe even before you brought your new baby home), to ensure the relationship between your baby and your dog was cultivated and nurtured into a beautiful lifelong friendship. But now, time has passed, and following the natural course of events, they are ready to establish friendships with other children.

You may have met some other parents at the park, or if you work and your child is in daycare, they may have already made some friends and you have met some of the other parents, and decide to get together for a play date. But there are a few very important things to be aware of here before making plans to host this at your house to ensure that other children are safe around your dog, and I will give you some advice on a way  to ‘test the waters’ without putting any child in danger.

To start off with, there are three very important questions you must answer:

  1. What is the breed (or the dominant breed if your dog is a mix) of your dog?
  2. How protective is your dog over your child?
  3. Does your dog tend to be a bit on the skittish side?

The first question is important because there are certain characteristic traits that each breed may have that may tell you what to expect in a given situation. But also please note that I said “may”.  Although knowing the breed of the dog can help you anticipate some possible behaviors, it is important to remember that most dogs have not ‘read the book’ on themselves, and therefore, do not always fall to ‘type’.  This is why questions two and three are equally important. You have to know your own dog’s temperament to ensure everyone’s safety.

Going back to the first question; here are some examples of why the breed of the dog matters: Some breeds, what people have termed the ‘bully’ breeds, such as the Rottweiler, Pitt, Akita, Rhodesian Ridgeback, German Shepherds, and several others, despite the general public’s fear of them, are usually great with children…. Where the problem comes in, is that they are great with ‘their’ children… the one’s they have accepted into their pack. But often they are mistrustful of ‘strange’ children (ones they don’t know) and the biggest problem; they do not understand how children play:

Prime Exampleyour young child is playing with a toy and another child takes it, and now they are arguing over it. Remember, dogs are instinctual animals, so they rely heavily on their senses, not rational thought. What you observe: two children learning to share and work out disagreements. What your dog observes: (sound) shouting or crying (sight) your child posturing and ‘guarding’ what is theirs. (smell) humans secrete different odors that dogs can detect for fear, stress, anger, sadness, happiness, etc. (I am sure you have heard the term “They can smell your fear a mile away”)

Now I want to add that I highlighted some of the breeds that people, in general, can be nervous around, but ANY dog can go into protection mode if they perceive their pack member in danger. And any dog that tends to be skittish is usually not a great candidate to be invited to the play date. Remember what I talked about in earlier articles…. Fearful dogs have two vices…. Fight or flight. If you are lucky, they will choose the latter, but I think it is better to remove them from the situation to avoid them having to make that choice at all.

So, how can you ‘test the waters’ on how your dog will react while keeping everyone safe? One way I have found that works well is to start on neutral ground (somewhere other than your dog’s home, where his job is to be the ‘protector of the realm’.) This is a two adult exercise, so please do not attempt to do this alone… you cannot be in two places at once.

The first step is to find a park where the children’s playground area is fenced in. There does not necessarily have to be a closed gate, but a fence needs to be there. Now plan a trip to this park with two adults, your child, your dog, and plenty of treats. handler holds dog at parkThe adult working with your dog needs to be the one with the strongest authority over him… the un-challenged pack leader.  To make the explanation of this exercise a bit easier, going forward, I will refer to this adult as ‘the handler.’ Double-check your dog’s equipment (leash and collar) before doing this as well. Do not trust a leash that has been previously chewed or that is frayed in any way, or a collar that could easily slip off.  Hint: If you typically use a Flexi leash®, now is NOT the time to use it. You need something with guaranteed control, not something that may or may not lock when you need it to.

Once you arrive at the park, the handler remains outside of the playground, behind the fence with the dog and the second adult brings the child in to play with the other children. Make sure your dog can see your child, but be aware that you don’t keep calling the dog’s name to make sure he is watching, as this will confuse him and make him want to come to you, and you will not know whether his reaction is stress from being away from the child, or not being able to come to you when called. Now comes the important job of the handler…. Watching. There are many ways to tell your dogs reaction long before they actually act. Body language is a clear give-away as to what they are feeling.

Here are some simple signs that can tell you your dog’s stress level:

Relaxed:

  • Ears forward
  • Mouth open with normal panting
  • Looking around at many things
  • Follows commands easily

Stressed and Reactive:

  • Ears back
  • Excessive panting
  • Pacing
  • Whining, crying, or barking
  • Scruff up on the back of their necks
  • Excessive yawning
  • Stare locked on your child
  • Difficulty following basic commands

If he starts to whine and cry as the child is walking away, a good way for the handler to tell the extent of the dogs reaction is by giving some commands. A dog that is very stressed and reactive may have a difficult time following even basic commands, such as SIT, DOWN and STAY. If he follows the commands easily enough, treat and praise.

If you had some mild difficulty (i.e. he is ‘locked in’ on your child and not listening), try refocusing him by simply walking him around in a few circles with some basic commands and plenty of praise and treats.  If you see him start growling at the other children and you have a difficult time refocusing him, I recommend walking further away, giving him a few commands that are treat-worthy so you end on a positive note, and try again another time (just try not to wait too long in between these sessions.)  Repeat this exercise as many times as it takes until your dog becomes relaxed and non-reactive consistently .

If your dog is aggressively growling at other children, trying to lunge, or exhibits behaviors that are very concerning, I would suggest not trying this exercise again until you consult with a professional trainer. *A good resource to find a trainer near you is the International Association of Canine Professions (IACP). Click on ‘find a professional’ and then enter your zip code for a list of local trainers. 

If your dog was relaxed (non-reactive) the entire time, it is a pretty good indicator that they may do well during play dates, but as an added ‘protection feature’ at the first play date after this exercise is successful, have your gates up, and the dog on a leash the entire time.  Remember, the handler’s job on that first play date needs to be focusing on the dog, regardless of how well it is going. If the adult in charge of the kids needs assistance, ask one of the other parents to help… you never know what action may set off the dog’s reaction, and things can go south very quickly, so now is not the time to ask the handler to help put out snacks.

I will end this with two last thoughts: The best defence is a good offense.

  1. Don’t over-react, but be vigilant and aware. And if neither of you is 100% convinced that you can handle any reaction, it is OK to start off using a muzzle. It is humane, and ensures the safety of everyone around.
  2. And lastly, as I always stress, no matter how great it is going, the children should ALWAYS be supervised around the dog.

An added bonus: You may have other parents there that have no experience with their children interacting with dogs. If they are nervous about there being a dog in your home, they will be impressed with the measures you have taken to ensure their child’s safety.

Hearing Loss In One Ear Can Cause Speech Delays

Last updated on September 2nd, 2019 at 07:46 pm

Children with hearing loss in one ear may seem to be hearing normally but may fall behind in speechMost babies are given a basic hearing test when they are born.  Usually kids don’t get another hearing test until they enter kindergarten.  A 2018 article by the Cleveland Clinic shows that hearing loss in one ear can go undetected and often goes untreated. The problem is that “these children are exhibiting speech and language delays and are at risk for education problems, including an increased rate of failing a grade, the need for educational assistance in the classroom, and perceived behavioral issues”.

If your preschooler is behind in speech or diction or seems to only pay attention occasionally you might want to ask for a hearing screening.  Being deaf or hard of hearing qualifies a child for special education.  Although that disability may not mean there are any cognitive impairments the condition may prevent the child from taking in or accessing the information being taught. Children with hearing impairments also benefit from speech therapy and other strategies.

More details on how to recognize unilateral hearing loss (UHL) in children can be found at the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), where you can also find information on testing as well as tips for helping your child hear and learn better at home and at school.

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Editor’s Note:  Links have been checked for accuracy and updated as needed

Food Allergies, a New Sibling and Hidden Blessings

Last updated on September 2nd, 2019 at 07:46 pm

Older-brother-holding-baby-sisterI remember the fear that ran through me during my second pregnancy. My first born has food allergies and at times, I really feel as if I am just unable to take another thing on. So being pregnant, I began to wonder how I would handle it if my second child also had food allergies. I would picture scenario after scenario of having to run from one to the other in just enough time to save them both. Was this my destiny, to see what else life would bring me?

But then, my daughter was born and my heart opened up even wider. Somehow, being a mother of two children became easier very quickly. Somehow, the moments that I need to split my attention are warped by time and space and I am able to just do it, with both children happy. It’s almost as if you are handed super powers when you give birth. How else anyone explain being able to take care of so much with even less time?

Then came time to try foods with my daughter- I was terrified all over again. I waited longer to give her foods that I gave to my son to make sure her fragile system could handle them better. Instead of getting the new food ready first, I armed myself with an EpiPen and antihistamine in case I needed to use them in a hurry. I made sure the telephone was close by and that my son’s diaper bag was packed up near the front door in case we had to go the emergency room. But then I realized- I wasn’t doing this out of fear, I was doing this out of knowledge and protection. I was doing this because I was a better parent than I thought I would be. And it was because my first born had food allergies…not in spite of it.

Having a food-allergic first child meant that when my second child was born, I honestly felt I was already scores past where I had been the first time around when it came to knowing what I needed to watch for. Whoever said “It was a blessing in disguise” was absolutely correct.

I tell people, always, that having food allergies is a positive thing and that there’s a reason for it, it should not be seen as a curse. The world works in mysterious ways. Little did I know that I would be taking my own advice.

But I also realized that it was not only a blessing for me – it was a blessing for my second child as well. My daughter is a better sister without even trying. As she grows up, she has the added wisdom of knowing what food allergies are all about and how to keep her friends safe if they have them. She knows why hand-washing is so important without making a fuss and that sharing foods is not even an option (which is good anyway because watching children share a half-eaten , soggy cookie grosses me out). And someday, when a mother at her school doesn’t know that a child is having an allergic reaction or what an EpiPen is, she will be able to tell them. How awesome is that? My daughter will have more knowledge about label-reading and cross-contamination than most adults and I am thankful for that.

Life truly does give you what you are able to handle. I’m not saying that it will always be easy but you will learn things about yourself that you would have never known if certain events had not happened to you. Embrace everything, both good and not so good. Someday, even you will be amazed at how your blessings have shown up in your life as well as whatever life has brought to you.

Worried About Letting Your Kids Get Dental X-rays?

Last updated on September 2nd, 2019 at 07:46 pm

Let us help calm your fears! We are concerned about radiation too, so we want you to have the facts you need to make an educated decision when it comes to your children.

We want you to know the truth about dental x-rays. Just to break it down for you, below is chart of the radiation doses you receive from different x-rays.

An annual maximum occupational exposure for radiation workers in the United States is 5,000 millirems (measure for radiation). When you spread low doses out over a period of time, it’s not as destructive to the body because it has time to recover.

High dose group includes:

  • Mammography 1000
  • Pelvimetry 875
  • Lower spine 450
  • Middle spine 347

Medium dose group includes:

  • Abdomen 147
  • Ribs 143
  • Pelvis 133
  • Skull 78
  • Hip 72

Low dose group includes:

  • Neck 52
  • Femur 21
  • Full mouth dental series (digital) less than 1
  • Dental bitewing (digital) less than .05

To put this in perspective, you would need to have 2,000 dental x-rays to equal the radiation in 1 mammogram. To reach that maximum safety dose, we would have to take approximately 10,000 dental x-rays.

On average people receive 3 dental bitewings worth of radiation a day just from being outside in the sun, around concrete buildings or roads. There are some studies produces by radiologist saying that low doses may actually reduce cancer risks. Knowing how low the dose is, let’s talk about the benefits.

Here are just a few benefits of dental x-rays:

  • Detecting hidden decay
  • Detecting the presence of a cyst or tumor
  • Determining the presence of permanent teeth
  • Detecting oral cancer problems
  • Detecting root involvement with the sinuses
  • To help determine whether or not to remove primary teeth
  • To determine if extra teeth are present

The list goes on and on. I hope you feel safe and secure when your child gets his or her next set of dental x-rays!