Miles and Children

I recently posted an article about my thoughts on Welsh terriers and other high prey drive dogs with children. Since doing so, I have been asked to describe what Miles is like with children.

Miles and Children


Background
Since he was old enough to venture safely outside, Miles has had exposure to many different experiences, and he has met all different types of dogs and people. We live in a busy urban neighborhood, and are constantly out and about. Thanks also to many road trips, Miles has had experiences in a great variety of settings: farmland, woods, cities, mountains, and so on. I have worked hard to train Miles since he was little and provide him with a full life. He has received constant positive training, and has turned out to be a great adult dog. So how is Miles with children, given all of these factors? Well, to begin with, Miles has a classic Welsh terrier personality, and very strong prey drive. If you haven’t already, please refer to my article on Prey Drive.
Good Experiences with Children
Miles meets children on a daily basis, because of our urban life. He has never had any reason to fear children, and has always naturally absolutely loved them. He is always ready to greet them with a wagging tail, and has never been anything but careful, gentle and sweet with them. If a child doesn’t know how to approach Miles but wants to say “hi,” I gently tell them to approach slowly and let them know that they can give him a nice scratch under the chin. Children are often very appreciative of any tips to getting safely to say “hi” to a new dog friend. Encouraging them to pet him under the chin is a great way of avoiding rough pats on the top of the head. Some dogs really don’t like this. Miles just finds it awkward. I also warn children that Miles likes to give kisses. If they seem nervous, we back away. If they seem okay with it, Miles daintily kisses their cheeks. It can be quite a cute sight to behold!
Prey Drive with Running Children
If children are running fast, Miles’ prey drive kicks in automatically and very strongly. Left to his own devices, he will chase them as fast as he can. Despite his friendliness, this sort of intensity can be very frightening for a child. Nothing is more terrifying for a little kid that a dog running at them full speed, especially if the dog is growling (as a Welsh terrier does during play)!

If Miles is leashed and a child runs by, again, left to his own devices his reaction will almost always be to let out a growl suddenly, which is his way of expressing frustration that he cannot join in on the fun. Welsh terriers are very vocal, and most people don’t know that a growl can just mean that they want to play. I don’t blame parents for being worried about a dog that is going nuts on-leash, staring at their kids and growling! When Miles is on-leash in a public setting and I see children running around, instead of just tormenting him and waiting for him to growl with frustration, I work to keep the majority of his focus on me through positive training exercises. It is all about distraction, and offering positive alternatives. If you are going to have a high-prey drive dog in your care, it is your responsibility to help them relax in such situations, and be safe. Punishment for such behavior is not only useless, it is cruel. If I know in advance that Miles is going to be around children, I bring little treats to reward him heartily for his self-control. He only wants to play, but not getting to can be very frustrating. It is my job to help distract him and alleviate some of his stress.

Large Groups of Children on the Street
Miles loves kids, but if a group of them descend on him when he is on-leash, no matter how well-behaved they are, he usually gets a bit worried and overwhelmed. Because he is well-socialized, he isn’t reactive in such situations; meaning, he doesn’t jump to a mindset of, “There is trouble! I must defend myself!” Instead he just looks noticeably worried, and it is clear he’d rather not be the center of attention to such a boisterous group. We run into this situation a lot since we live near a school. Everyone wants to give the cute dog some love, but, sometimes, too much attention at once is just too much. Since Miles is well-socialized, his gentle hesitancy is actually obvious to children. I’ve never had a group of kids not recognize that Miles is overwhelmed. They always smile and slowly move away, or come to say “hi” one by one, which makes Miles very happy.

Miles and Babies
Miles has never had a baby in our home for longer than a few hours. We’ve had three home visits with babies, and we probably meet a baby in a stroller on the street once every few days. During these meetings, regardless of his age, Miles has always been extremely (and abnormally) gentle. It is as if he knows how delicate and precious babies are. He loves meeting babies on the street, and is very pleased, curious and careful when they are in our home. I feel comfortable allowing him to meet babies under my watch. Even if they are a bit erratic with him, he has always been gentle. But again, he has never been around babies longer than a few hours, so my experiences and comments are limited.

Miles and Children
{  When he was two years old, Miles was in complete awe of baby Vinny }
Welsh Terrier Play Style
Miles has been trained to play nicely with people, to my level of comfort. He knows not to bite too hard, he knows to go get a toy to chomp on and offer for fetch if he is getting too excited. I do let him play-mouth me when we are playing freely, meaning he is allowed to open his mouth as long as he is very gentle. That is a personal choice. But even at his most controlled, happy play for Miles still includes some level of head-swinging, spontaneity, and the occasional accidental Welsh-human body collision. Oh and if you don’t know them — Welsh terriers often growl loudly when they are having fun! When he is running free, Miles is a powerful and sometimes noisy little guy. His solid muscular body can practically knock me over if our paths accidentally intersect! With less space indoors he is a bit safer, but does tend to compensate for lack of space by leaping energetically around.

As I said in the last article, Welsh terriers have HUGE teeth, which can easily cause minor injuries even when both parties are relatively calm. When Miles was about a year old, we were watching tv together. Suddenly he leaned in to give me a kiss on the cheek, I moved slightly, and BAM a black eye was the result. (Sort of like watching my friends at middle-school dances!) Anyway, Miles wasn’t running around, and he wasn’t even trying to do something over-the-top. I suppose things like cheek kisses could be trained out of a dog, but all in all, if Miles was a family dog, I’d want him to be with a family who allowed him to have some freedom to be a terrier. As I mentioned in my article about Welsh terriers and children, only families that can handle the exuberance of a Welsh terrier should bring one into their lives. They are not dainty dogs. They are not perfectly obedient. But if you don’t mind a bit of rough-and-tumble, they sure are FUN!

Miles and Children
{  Crazy Welsh terrier Miles growling and happily playing!  }
Home Situations and Visits
If we are going to visit a home with a small child, I keep Miles on his leash, and am prepared to focus closely on him and offer him treats for good behaviour. Miles was not raised in a home with children, so he is not used to sharing or being in a small space with them. Any visit with a new child is going to be extremely exciting for Miles, so I come prepared. I think if Miles was to live with a child, he would be less excitable over time because their presence would be part of his routine. Anyway, during visits with new children, Miles is extremely interested in their shrieks and movements, and would like nothing more than to jump on them and lick their faces wildly and affectionately. This sort of crazed rough doggie affection is not safe behaviour for a small child. So I always keep an eye on Miles, and keep visits controlled and relatively short. Spending more than an hour or two in close proximity to a new small child is way too stimulating for Miles, who not only has not lived with a child, but is also a full-on Welsh terrier. He is drawn to movement and noise, and wants to play with a child the way he plays with a dog. So to keep things fair for Miles, I keep visits pretty short.

Miles and Children
{  Miles showing enormous self-restraint from being too
excitable while spending time with a fun toddler  }
Prizes: My Biggest Concern
I have gotten Miles to the point where he will give up 99% of “prizes” if I ask him. Prizes are things like trash, food and other exciting or tasty things. This has not been easy, as his natural inclination is to guard the prize with all his might, and destroy those who challenge him. He tends to find it very unfair to have a prize taken away, after all, if he found it first, it should be his! It has been very clear to me that nature can be stronger than nurture in a Welsh terrier or similar breed. Natural behaviours are not always safe for dog-human relationships, and require understanding, patience, and effort to alter. For centuries Miles’ ancestors were expected to spend most of their time seeking out, hunting and killing ferocious prey. That sort of expectation leaves some Welsh terriers with an ingrained sense of toughness and survival. You don’t exactly want to suddenly “snap out of it” and take time to think when a badger can turn their head and rip fatally into your jugular. In the past, Welsh terriers had to “do,” not “think” in the heat of the moment.
Through positive training (Please refer to my article: Setting the Right Pace in Stressful Moments) and resilience, I’ve worked to get Miles to the point where I can break his focus and calm him down when he gets a hold of a prize. But I would be concerned if Miles was alone with a child, he got a prize, and the child tried to take it away from him. For this reason, I would not leave or trust Miles alone with a child. My primary concern is that if challenged for a “prize,” he might not snap out of a frenzy with someone who is less experienced to react in the right manner to dissipate such a situation.
My Final Thoughts
Every dog is different. Some Welsh terriers are docile and lazy. But others still have a natural sense of their working-dog history. Miles happens to be a very pure Welsh terrier. By nature, he loves, lives, works and struggles to the fullest of his ability. Given that he is an example of a well-trained pure Welsh terrier, hopefully this article can help give an honest picture of what Miles is like with children, given his nature, his set of experiences, and his training. And again, I will emphasize that Miles has not and does not live with children. If he did I could probably offer more information on this topic! But this is what he is like in general with children, and the concerns I would have about him being alone with children.

2 comments on Miles and Children

  • Ben Sampson

    Emma, my wife and I are strongly considering a Welsh Terrier as our latest family member. We are both experienced dog owners and have had dogs our whole lives. Our last family member was an English Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He was the most wonderful dog. I have also owned German Shepherds. We loved the aspects of the terrier that Kalan had. Although he was not a full terrier, he still had many challenging traits. The only reason we are considering getting another Stafford is that I have to move for work and we are worried that we will be moved to a location that does not allow his breed. The main reason I am contacting you is that we have a one year old son named Kayden. We are wondering what your thoughts are?

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