Are Ridgebacks good with Children?

Originally authored by Barbara Sawyer-Brown, Kwetu, reg.
Reprinted from the RRCUS website

Ridgebacks love most children. I say "most children" because no dog appreciates rough treatment. No dog likes children who treat them cruelly.  I always warn people that when little children get "cranky" they will fight. When puppies and dogs get cranky, they will bite. I tell people that if their children bite, so will the dog. Raising a puppy is not unlike raising a child. Just like training your children to behave, you must make your puppy understand that although you love him, he will have limits. And just like your child knows that if he does not follow these limits that you have set, you will still love him, but you will not be in a very good mood, and your puppy will want you to be in a good mood. He was born with an innate desire to please you, so you are already "one step ahead" before you begin!

Like your children, a puppy will learn best through positive training methods. If your children are wild and uncontrollable, your dog will be the same. Now I am not suggesting that children act like "little angels" at all times. I know better--I have raised three. But even though "kids will be kids" so they say, you should be able to get them "under control" occasionally! Yes, Ridgebacks do well with children that are under control and have been taught that a dog is a living thing, that feels pain and sadness just as they do.

The thing that drew me to this breed, over thirty years ago, was that I had three young children at the time. I needed a dog that would be tolerant of them and a good playmate for both them and their friends. The "and their friends" part was important, as I wanted my children to be able to bring their friends home to play and I did not want to be worried that a dog would hurt the friends, especially if he saw the children and the friends roughhousing. Although I wanted a dog with protective instincts, I did not want those instincts to be so strong that the dog would attack a child that was fighting, or appearing to do so, with my child. There had been a scary article in the newspaper about a dog that saw "his child" being tackled in a game of football in the back yard, and crashed through a picture window and attacked the other child. The Ridgeback is not that kind of guard dog!  Yes, this breed is good with children. but if you have children there are special rules that should be followed.

First rule is to never allow your child to crawl into the dog's crate, with the dog. The crate is the puppy's private place, a refuge from the World, and this also means a place to escape from the children! (Don't you sometimes wish you had such a place?) When the puppy runs away from the children, indicating he has had enough play, respect his wishes. A cornered dog has nowhere to escape, and he may bite.

Second rule is never allow the children to carry the puppy. If the puppy falls...or jumps out of their arms (puppies have no fear of heights) he will break his leg or legs! And if this happens, not only will your heart be "broken" but your bank account may be depleted, because you will be spending more time at the Veterinarian's Office than you care to pay for! His little leg will have to be reset several times each week, due to how fast a puppy's limbs grow. If the child MUST have the puppy on her lap, have her sit on the floor, and not the couch. This will also teach the puppy that he should never sit on the couch. Remember how I explained that an invitation for just one time, is an invitation for life and this cute little cuddly baby will one day be an 85 pound bed hog? This applies to all furniture, not just beds. If you don't want an adult Ridgeback on the furniture, don't let your puppy Ridgeback on the furniture!

Another rule: If the dog runs from the child (to the safety of his crate or simply to another room in the house), DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT ALLOW THE CHILD TO CHASE AFTER THE DOG! The dog has responded properly. He has let the child know that he does not desire to play (or be teased) and has removed himself from the situation. He could have reacted by biting but he chose to simply leave the area! Do not let the child corner the dog. The child must be taught to respect the dog's privacy. In the case of a toddler, this might mean the parent actually picks up the child and diverts its attention to another activity. (I have dealt with two year olds and understand they do not refer to "the terrible two's" without reason!)

Not a rule but good common sense: Even if you have been promised by the children that they will be responsible for the care of the puppy, they will not, and it will be up to you to make certain that the puppy is fed, that the puppy has a clean bowl of fresh water at all times, that the puppy is walked and the puppy is trained and the puppy gets good and loving attention, even if the children get tired of playing with the puppy. An old adage says that there's nothing like getting a dog to teach parents responsibility.  It is unfair to both the puppy and the child to expect the child to do these things. This is not a toy that can be stored on a closet shelf. This is a real live baby dog! Like a real live baby, he needs YOU! His meals should be on time and at that same time, every day. His walks should be regular, and without getting proper socialization he will be damaged for life. This is too serious to allow this upbringing to be done by the children!

Teach your child to keep his face away from the dog's nose, especially with puppies who will play by hitting you with a paw. Even if you have been diligent about keeping those nails cut, and walking him every day, which wears down his nails, those claws are sharp and can easily scratch. Also, when that cute little puppy is licking your nose, he may decide to take a little taste! Lick, lick, nip! Not only does this HURT but that scratch could scar and you don't want your child's pretty little face scarred! And never leave the dog with a new baby, a single child or a bunch of children, unattended. Remember that although the dog may be the most gentle dog in the world, it is still an animal.

When children fight, they hit. When dogs fight, they bite! Common sense should direct you, here. And speaking of common sense.... I wish the people whose dog "nipped" their young daughter's face had used some common sense. The night before the bite occurred they had witnessed their 6 year-old daughter crawling on the floor towards the sleeping puppy and she shouted "Boo!" when she got face to face with him! The puppy awoke, with a snarl. The breeder of that puppy was out of the country at the time, so they contacted me to ask if they should destroy this FOUR MONTH OLD PUPPY because of "bad temperament." The people should have been alerted by the puppy's warning snarl that this type of behavior was risky! The puppy was placed in a new home, shortly thereafter when the breeder returned home from her travels.

I always tell people that the behavior of their children is a good indication of how their dog will behave. Recognizing the fact that "kids will be kids," if your children are never under control you can expect the same with your dog, as training a dog is not unlike teaching a child. Both must be done with rewards! (We love you but we have set limits for you and if you do not follow these limits we will still love you but we will be very unhappy with you and we are in better moods when we are happy!)  Parents should never let the children and the puppy "roughhouse." Puppies play like this together, and learn about their place in the pack this way. It is a natural extension for a puppy to see his new family as his "pack," and the children as his littermates. You do not want a puppy that sets himself up as being higher in the pecking order than the children. This kind of behavior may be cute when the puppy is younger, but can be downright dangerous when you have a full-grown dog that sees the children as its subordinates. Your breeder will have studied pack behavior and will be able to tell you more about this than can possibly be covered on a web page. Listen carefully, and if you have any questions, please ask them, or call your breeder if you think of something later.

New parents should realize that if they treated their puppy like it was their child, before the arrival of the baby, it should not be abandoned just because they are adding a human child to the household. The dog should not be locked away from the baby. If the dog was treated to two walks a day, he should still get those two walks a day. Short on time, now? Then make it shorter walks! But the important message to get across to the dog is that the baby will bring more enjoyment to the dog's life, not cause him to be treated like "a dog" after leading a life of being spoiled! (It is very easy to overindulge this breed!)

I have always thought that it was a lucky puppy that went to a home that included children in the household. After hearing the excuse (too many times) "A baby is coming so we must get rid of the dog," I have changed my mind. Children and puppies can be a joy together! But it takes the common sense of the parents and a good deal of training, of both the puppies AND the children.

Best Buddies!!