Children & Dogs: With a Special Focus on Welsh Terriers and Other High Prey Drive Breeds

 

“How are Welsh terriers with children?”This is a question I am often asked. Here are some of my personal thoughts on the topic. Much of the following can be applied to any kind of dog, but the information has a special focus on “full strength terriers” such as Welsh and Wire Fox terriers, and other highly prey (chase) driven breeds.

Before You Get a Dog

A good breeder will be able to give you an idea of what their dogs are like in family situations. They will be able to talk you through things in advance, and, based on their experience, select a puppy that they feel will be the best match for your family. A good breeder will give you tips and advice as time goes by. This relationship is especially important if you are a first-time owner of a highly specific breed, such as a Welsh terrier.

 

A Dog Raised with ChildrenFirst of all, it is not surprising that a dog raised with (or with good exposure to) children will be far more likely to be relaxed with, and “good” with children. Children are very different than adults from a dog’s viewpoint. They emit strange noises and smells and can be very excitable. To a dog, children seem less predictable than adults. If you plan on having children later on after getting a dog, spending time with friends who do have children is a very good idea. Not only will your dog get used to children this way, but you will also get an idea of how he or she will be in an environment with children.

 

Proper SocializationGood socialization is critical for any dog – even if you don’t plan on having them around children. Situations will always arise when having a well-socialized dog is in your best interest, and also in the best interest of your dog. If you wait until you have had your puppy or dog a long time to expose them to a variety of people, age groups, and experiences, socializing them will be far more difficult. As your dog’s caretaker, it is your responsibility to find ways to help prevent them from becoming sheltered and fearful. Just remember, anything new and exciting is going to be more highly stimulating for a Welsh terrier or similar type of dog. The more routine an experience is, the better they will be. I also recommend careful supervised one-on-one time between a dog and child, over putting a dog in a situation with too many children at once, which can be overwhelming and risky.

 

Children & Dogs: With a Special Focus on Welsh Terriers and Other High Prey Drive Breeds
{  Vintage photograph of a Wire Fox terrier and little boy, circa 1940  }

Training Children

Children should be aware of how to play safely with dogs. The best way to do this? Take them with you to puppy or introductory obedience classes, and let your instructor know that you’d really like your young ones to learn as much as possible about how to treat dogs and how to play well with them. Many trainers will allow families to “drop in” on introductory classes that are already in session, before your family brings home a dog. Taking your children to dog classes is a great way to teach them, because they will be able to observe role models interacting with dogs in a controlled environment, and be able to build their own confidence. I know this idea works wonders because my parents did it with me. The sense of accomplishment a child can have learning positive training in a class can be lifelong and extremely rewarding.

The Welsh Terrier Body

Even if the dog isn’t intentionally nipping, a Welsh terrier tooth can easily snag a shirt or cause a bruise simply due to their disproportionately large teeth, their exuberance, small (sneaky!) size, and tendency to swing their heads around when excited. Not everyone would point this out, but, in my experience, this risk is a valid concern. Easily frightened children that don’t have experience with dogs should be given chances to get used to what dogs are like before one becomes a part of the family. Like many dogs, Welsh terriers will have moments of joyous romping that can result in the accidental knocking over of a small child. They may be small, but they are much more physically powerful than many other similarly-sized dogs. Some families will find this sort of sturdy little dog a great fit. Others may not. People and dogs are equally varied.

Prey-Drive Personality

First, please refer to my article on Prey Drive.

Due to the nature of their breed, Welsh terriers and other similar terriers are generally more feisty and self-directed than many other dogs. On the whole, terriers are far more likely to initially question your requests and require more explanation and work than most dogs in their training. They won’t automatically know what you want, and the first time or second time you try to communicate the behavior you desire from them they might not understand or have the patience to learn right away. They require more effort in training not because they are “dominant,” “bad,” or “impossible,” but simply because they don’t have a history of being public service dogs, or centuries of practice being docile lap dogs.

For Welsh terriers and other high prey drive breeds that come from hunting backgrounds, the urge to chase things that move is very strong. Some high prey drive dogs are able to chase and play with children without trouble. But for many others, this is a natural behavior that can be overwhelming and even potentially dangerous for a child – especially if the child becomes frightened by the dog’s excitement. Taking any sort of ongoing training class will greatly improve your ability to gain the focus of your dog, and will help your dog learn that paying attention to you is fun and rewarding. With some of these dogs, you will never be able to completely expect them to restrain themselves from chasing on their own. But any of them can be trained through positive methods to pay more attention to you, and in doing so, to also control their excitement to some extent. Really difficult cases will require you to always be ready to offer your dog a distraction that is more interesting, rewarding, or fun. Punishment is not an option for such ingrained behaviours – it is the “easy way out,” totally ineffective long-term, and most of all inhumane. Remember, over centuries we have bred these dogs to be the way they are. You can’t punish a dog for their automatic urge to chase, especially if you haven’t taught them alternatives, by consistently and thoughtfully teaching what sort of behaviours you would rather see.

Please also refer to the article Is a Fox Terrier Right for Me? The author, Lebo-Funk VMD, further discusses the nature of wiry terriers, and why some end up in rescue situations. I especially like the author’s point that you shouldn’t decide on a breed just because you grew up with a dog of that breed, as the one dog you had experience with might have been the exception to the norm. You can’t know a group of people based on one individual, so why would a dog be any different?

Tips on Training a Family-Friendly Dog

  • Before deciding on a breed as unique as Welsh terriers, read about them and be sure this type of dog sounds like a good fit for your family. Talk to multiple owners; talk to good breeders. Don’t listen for what you want to hear. Listen to what people genuinely tell you.
  • Pick a good breeder who will be able to help match you with the right dog, and help you throughout the process of incorporating him or her into your family. A decent (but note: slightly outdated) list of attributes for a good breeder can be found here. Just ignore the part about breeders having “pets.” Most good breeders have a few running around!
  • Be willing to put in a lot of time, energy, and patience in training your dog. The whole family will need to be involved in this process, which will most likely involve a lot of learning for everyone. Again, especially if you settle on a high prey drive breed, and have little or no experience with what they are like.
  • Make sure you will have the time, energy, and patience to be able to be the calm, open-minded, and consistent person your dog will need you to be. You cannot compromise on these needs with any dog, but especially not a puppy. They depend on you.
  • Never punish a dog for your own oversights. Prevention is key, as is dealing calmly and thoughtfully with any issues that arise.
  • My personal #1 puppy/new-dog training tip? You must teach your new dog or puppy in a positive way to accept treats gently. This I feel is one of the most crucial behaviors to shape early on– before you train other things, even “sit.” Be kind, be gentle, but don’t give a treat if the dog is attempting to chomp down on your hand in the process. Be patient and wait until they understand that being gentle is what is wanted of them. Do this by waiting, saying softly, “gentle, gentle,” until they delicately take the treat from your hand. Express joy when they do.
Children & Dogs: With a Special Focus on Welsh Terriers and Other High Prey Drive Breeds
{  Training Miles to accept treats gently has really paid off!  }

Rescue Dogs and Reactive Dogs

Dogs that have not had any experience with children may be greatly frightened of them, and in such cases the pairing of the two can prove difficult. With that said, if you are willing to put in hard work, and work with the right trainer – again, one well-versed with the specifics of the type of dog and that use positive methods of training – no dog is without hope. Such an undertaking requires a lot of dedication and work, and it is important to recognize from the beginning that even in the best scenario the dog may always be fearful to some degree. Safety comes first for everyone involved. We all have our limits of what we can endure and process, and how much we can change. Dogs are no different and deserve our understanding, love, and respect.

If you prefer to bring a rescue dog into your family, don’t give up. Finding the right match of dog, whether rescued or from a responsible breeder, can take time. Ideally, a dog and a family are for life. It isn’t the initial wait or cost that matters. It is the planning for a good match, and life you will share together that are most important.

My Final Thoughts

Many people say that dogs are like training wheels for having children. Regardless of whether that is a good way to think about it or not, it can be safely said that it isn’t fair to think of dogs like Welsh terriers in this way. Before you get a Welsh terrier or other highly specific dog, think about whether you have the time to get them used to being around children, and whether or not you are okay with the fact that they are most likely always going to be a more active, strong, and independent creature than many other types of dogs. This is not to say that all Welsh terriers have identical personalities (they don’t), or that they are a breed that is not good with children (many are fantastic), but do think carefully before you proceed, and think about the characteristics and the needs of such a specific type of dog. Any dog will have their quirks, and if you don’t have experience with a Welsh or other similar terrier, do extra research and again talk with knowledgeable people before finalizing your decision, especially when children are involved. If you are interested in the breed after learning more about them, the next step is gaining a support system of people who will help you out as questions arise. You owe it to your future family member to learn about their background.

Extra Thoughts from a Welsh Terrier Breeder

  • I won’t sell a Welsh Terrier puppy to a family with children under the age of six, out of an over-abundance of caution.
  • Even with older children, I urge owners to keep the kids’ toys out of reach of the Welsh puppy. Small Legos present a particular risk of choking. Whatever the home situation, the pup should not have free access to every room. Puppy-proofing is required.
  • Do not let kids play tug with the pup. It can quickly get out of control.
  • If you have a new baby and a terrier (female, in particular), the dog may feel the need to become protector of the baby vis-a-vis other dogs.
– Mary Gruber, Colorado

YOUR Thoughts!

Please comment below with any thoughts, experiences, stories or questions you may have. It would be great to create a dialogue about this topic. You may choose to remain anonymous, but please, share your thoughts. So many people want to know about this topic. I’d love to have more voices speak out about it.

 

Children & Dogs: With a Special Focus on Welsh Terriers and Other High Prey Drive Breeds

7 comments on Children & Dogs: With a Special Focus on Welsh Terriers and Other High Prey Drive Breeds

  • theanthzone

    Airedale Terriers (particularly young Airedale Terriers) and children need to be supervised. They both can get into trouble!

    Emmadale has a great temperament and surprises me daily! My mother looks after several young children. Emmadale HAPPILY says hello and goodbye to them. She'll even get involved in their playing activities.

  • Cassafrass

    GREAT article, I shall be blogging the link so others can read!

    With Border Terriers my experience has been that they are generally excellent with kids, even small ones. However they are also not as "hard" in temperament as other terriers so they are perhaps easier to begin with. Even still caution is always advised! 🙂

  • Mark Adsit

    Thank you for this article. You both write beautifully and have great insight to share! Having had a very positive experience with a Welsh Terrier who understood the difference between little people and adults, I also understand that did not happen by accident. Snickers came to me from a hobby breeder who had 3 small children under the age of 5 plus 2 aging Golden Retrievers and 2 Welsh. She was socialized from birth! I am now considering another Welsh and provably will not be so lucky to find that background again. I am already planning for that dog's first experiences with small children (none in my family unfortunately). I really like the idea of mutual training and socialization!

  • Emma (author)

    Thank you very much Mark, your feedback means a lot. Feel free to email me if you need someone to bounce ideas off of throughout the planning stage of getting your next Welsh. I'd be happy to help in any way I can. Stay in touch!

  • Allie

    My husband and I have a 4 year old Welsh Terrier, whom we love dearly. He’s energetic and crazy and his constantly wagging tail just warms my heart. I’ve never had a dog before, so I didn’t actually know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to a Welsh puppy, but it’s been a great experience.

    Now, four years later, we’re talking about having kids. I’m a bit nervous because people are so cautious when discussing Welsh & kids together. Riley hasn’t been around kids a lot, but my sister has two kids (9 & 5 y.o.) and we visit them 3 or 4 times a year and he always seems to enjoy them. He loves chasing them and being chased by them. And my niece only pulled his tail once, which he did object to, but it was startling, not violent.

    My niece and nephew are both very confident and energetic kids. He’s also been around some very shy kids (2 & 5 y.o.) who both seem to be very nervous and uncomfortable around him. They’re afraid of dogs. It seems to me, that he’s disappointed. He wants to trot up to them and make friends, but they don’t want anything to do with him.

    Do you have any tips on how we can integrate a baby into our family? Do we give him treats/praise for interacting well with the baby? He’s probably going to get a bit less attention once a baby comes, I imagine. Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thanks!

  • Allie

    Reading this post both in admiration and out of despair. My 5 year old Lakeland, who has disliked children ever since a 2 year old chased her around like Frankenstein while she was a 5 month old cowering in the corner at the time, has really had it in for them ever since. Now, screaming running things under the age of 10 really are prey to her….shes never actually bitten one but has attacked their pant legs on several occasions enough to bruise. She launchea herself at them if they come near, tho it’s the same with motorcycles and things on wheels that make noise. If she hasnt been run out i dont let her name men’s legs (never with females bizarrely). Apart from this, which is only really a worry 10% of the time (but a very stressful 10%) she’s a loving, happygolucky playgul.dog with everyone else.

    • Emma (author)

      Hi Allie! Thanks for commenting. Your Lakie’s behavior is truly the norm for any wild wiry terrier. And I am so sorry your girl had such a terrible experience early on. That is crummy for you and for her. Did you know I offer private wild wiry terrier training? If you are interested, I might be able to help you in managing and lessening these behaviors! Email me if you have any questions. -Em

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