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Corgis and Children

One of the most common questions we hear is: Are Corgis are good with children? The answer is, "Yes, but..." We have seen a number of answers that don't really go into enough detail and can create a false sense of security. It is important to understand how normal child behavior can interact with herding instincts.

How Bites Happen

Over 95% of dog bites are to children under age 5. The majority are to the child's face. When a dog bites, the consequences are severe — for both the dog and the child.

Most often, it was not the dog that did anything wrong nor is the problem an aggressive dog with temperament problems. More likely, the problem is that many normal, everyday behaviors that small children exhibit are behaviors that excite the prey drive in a herding dog and may cause any dog to feel the need to defend itself. By understanding these, you can work with the child and the dog to prevent unfortunate mishaps.

Little children often thrust their faces right down into a dog's face. They shriek and make loud noises. It is typical of a child's play. In dog language, these are assertive and threatening behaviors and a dog's natural response is to protect itself. It is also common for small children to chase a dog. If the dog is feeling backed into a corner as a result, it will protect itself the only way it knows, and this can mean a bite. I have witnessed this type of behavior many times with "good kids," including my own relatives.

Here is a true story: Recently my two-year-old nephew visited. I have an extremely submissive and mild female Pembroke Welsh Corgi. She is very small for a Pem, only 17 pounds. I can't imagine her ever biting anyone. She is extremely affectionate and loves to be held and cuddled.

My nephew was chasing my little Pem. I asked him to stop as I could see it was upsetting the dog. Finally, the little boy chased my dog underneath the dining table. Trapped and with no escape from the child, she was genuinely upset and afraid. My nephew leaned down toward her and thrust his hand out at her face. She growled (which she never does) and snapped at the air to warn him. She could easily have bitten him. I have never seen this dog even get close to snapping at anything.The boy's father took no notice of it.

I pulled my nephew out from under the table. I pushed my face into his and told him sternly that there would be no more chasing the dogs or he would be quarantined to a crate himself. I wasn't nasty, but I was clear.

Many people would say that the child was just being a child. He was just playing and "doing nothing wrong." True enough, but he could easily have been bitten, had I not been right here. It all happened in seconds.

The Herding Instinct

Corgis are herding dogs. As such, they are wired to chase anything that moves. In order to get sheep or cattle to go where they want them to go, it is instinctive for a herding dog to nip at the heels. From the dog's standpoint, there is no difference between a running sheep and a running child. It is moving, so it is fair game for herding.

If a dog nips at the heels of a running child, it often scares the child. In response, the child typically runs faster, and often cries or screams. In response, the dog gets excited and chases all the more. It doesn't mean that the dog is a bad or aggressive dog. It is just a herding dog, doing exactly what it was bred to do.

Better Breeds for Children

Herding breeds are not as tolerant of a typical child's behavior as as say, retrievers or spaniels. These breeds do not have the same instinctive desire to chase and herd. A Corgi or any sort of herding dog is probably not the best choice for families with children under 8 years old. I would choose a spaniel for that situation.

Not a Breed for Novices

The Corgi is also not always the first breed I'd recommend to most novice dog owners. Some sources go even further, flatly recommending against Corgis for new dog owners.

In my experience, much depends on the personality of the owner. As you have probably read, Corgis do not think of themselves as small dogs. They haven't any idea that they are small dogs and will "test" continually. If you have a hard time telling a dog "No," then a Corgi is not the right dog. Herding dogs are looking for the owner to be the pack leader; to set the rules and administer them consistently. If you don't do that, you will have less than a pleasant experience with a herding dog as a pet.

I say all of this not to scare you or to imply that herding dogs are not nice dogs. They are wonderful, smart, loving, happy animals. They love people and get along with them very well. But is is important that you understand how different breeds think and conduct themselves and that you honor that, regardless of what breed you ultimately bring into your home.

Part 2: A Letter From a Dog Owner

I know of a couple that is having plastic surgery done on their 2 year old girl because they felt bad about returning a dog that "only snapped at them when they tried to take his food away." The little girl made that mistake and almost had her whole nose bitten off. The dog was not a corgi, but nonetheless, the dog should have been put in another home before this happened. No one can watch a dog and a two year old 24 hours a day.

This post caught my eye because I have a 2-year old — and a 5 month old PWC. I have read posts on this list previously from breeders who state unequivocally that they won't place dogs with families with toddlers.

With a couple months of puppy under my belt, I can finally "come out" and say I'm confident, so far, that I've made a good decision. At the same time, it's not a decision to be made lightly.

My husband and I both work out of the house, so my daughter gets lots of one-on-one time, and the pup, who is usually here in my office when I work, does too. We also have to consider that in some cases, people adopt dogs as childless couples, then start a family later. In those cases, even careful screening before placing a pup isn't enough to ensure the dog doesn't become a problem later.

If anyone with a toddler is thinking about adopting a puppy or dog and asked me for advice, here's what I would say.

  1. Don't fall into the trap of romanticizing the kid-dog bond. Dog bites are the leading cause of facial disfigurement in children. Your job is to lower the risk that your dog will bite your child to the absolute minimum possible. That will take work, attentiveness, and a commitment to learning everything you can about dog behavior and training.

  2. To find the right pup, work with a breeder who has placed dogs with families with kids. Be specific on what temperament and behavioral tendencies you will need in a dog, to fit your family. For example: soft mouth, mellow disposition, very people oriented.

  3. Don't skimp on puppy management tools. Crates and baby gates are a must for times when you need to keep your puppy and your toddler apart.

  4. Before the pup comes home, educate yourself about dog behavior so you know the warning signs of potential behavioral problems. You need to be able to "read" your dog for signs that it is stressed, anxious or feeling physical discomfort or pain.

  5. After the puppy is home: this is no time to "be an optimist." If you observe any behavior that looks troubling, such as food or toy guarding, take it very, very seriously. Consult with a professional immediately.

  6. Commit to training. And understand a few things about "training." First, it is a 7-days-a-week commitment, not a once-a-week exercise. Second, the goal is more than mastering specific behaviors, like "sit" and "stay." It is helping to shape a dog's overall temperament, its general response to its environment. Third, unless you have plenty of experience in training dogs yourself, you should be enrolling your pup in training classes, starting with puppy kindergarten. Fourth, not all trainers are of the same caliber. Before you bring the pup home, you need to educate yourself on dog training approaches and locate a trainer you can trust.

  7. Never, ever leave a dog and a toddler unsupervised. Toddlers love to experiment with rule-bending when you are out of sight. So that is exactly when they'll try the thing you've told them not to do. See Rule#3.

  8. Realize that this is about training your kid, too. Find positive activities that will reinforce kindness and other appropriate behaviors. My toddler plays fetch with our puppy. I stand by to click and treat when the puppy relinquishes the toy to my daughter so she can throw it again.

  9. Watch your toddler for signs that he or she is feeling stressed or pushed aside by the pup. Puppies can demand a lot of attention, and that can definitely make a toddler feel displaced and jealous. Dedicate special one-on-one attention to your child if needed to reassure your youngster that he or she is still your first priority.

  10. Remember what the child development experts say: Kids don't have the ability to conceptualize others' needs or feelings until they are at least 4 or 5 years old. So don't even bother trying to "explain" that the puppy has needs! Just find ways to make the puppy "about" your child. "We need to take the puppy out to go pee. Will you help me train her by treating her when she goes?"

  11. Commit to socializing your dogs with people of all ages, "looks" and ethnic backgrounds. Take your dog to lots of public places, especially during the critical first months. Reward the dog for behaviors that you want, like sitting to greet people or watching calmly as kids run around a playground.

  12. Ditto for socializing your dog to other dogs. The only time I've ever been bitten hard enough to break the skin was when I accidentally got between two dogs that were not getting along, and caught a bite that Mud, a terrier mix, intended for the other dog. So personally, I see dog-to-dog socialization as another key element in making sure my toddler is safe with our pup.

— Kirsten Mortensen
Rochester, NY

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