They Can Be Child’s Best Friend

As I urged a little tyke dressed as a superhero to scoop more candy out of the large bowl I held out to him on Halloween night, I assured him my dog, Maggie, meant no harm.

I felt I had to say that because Maggie, standing beside me at the front door, was growling.

Then I looked at Maggie. She wasn’t watching the child. She was growling at the adult standing about 30 feet away at the end of our sidewalk. Even as the youngster ran back to his father, Maggie kept an eye on him. I think she was concerned about the child.

Maggie was the subject of last week’s column, in which I urged adults to remember that dogs – even the gentlest of them, like Maggie – can succumb to instincts such as guarding their food and, in the process, hurt children.

One reader reminded me an important part of my advice should have been to educate little ones about how to behave around dogs. How right she is.

A variety of behaviors, ranging from touching a dog’s food bowl to pulling on his ears, seem harmless to toddlers. But to the dog involved, they can be threats that have to be dealt with.

Don’t blame the dog. He or she can’t help it. But for heaven’s sake, teach your children there are certain things you just don’t do around a dog. If you don’t know what they are, read up on the subject – whether you own a dog or not.

But here’s the thing: A good dog is a wonderful thing for a child to experience. My daughters, now grown, were blessed by having known a collie named Lad. He’d have died fighting before allowing anyone to harm them.

Once, when one of them was little and had misbehaved, I decided a very mild swat on the rear end was called for. I raised my hand into the air, and that was as far as I got.

Lad came through the air, grabbed my forearm in his mouth, and took me down to the floor. His teeth never broke my skin. He just stood there, his eyes sending a message: “Not with my kid, you don’t.”

You have to be careful when dogs are around children. And not all dogs want to be friends with kids. But Lad, and now Maggie, have convinced me that some have an instinct for befriending and protecting small children. If you can find one of those for your household, you’ll be giving your child a gift he or she will remember for many years.

Myer can be reached at: