A Bullmastiff and A Child
Now I'd like to examine the question that concerns almost everybody, who is going to get a puppy - "How a bullmastiff dog would treat a child who was born or is going to be born? Would there be any problems in their relations".
A bullmastiff is a guard by nature. And hence is directed to defend each member of his troop. He possesses an easy and phlegmatic temper, which helps him stand all the tricks of little fidgets. On a whole, an aggressive behavior within a family and suppress of the weaker member are not in his way. Numerous stories from the foreign sources telling about the wonderful relations between dogs of this breed and children as well as the experience of many of my friends who keep bullmastiffs are a good evidence of my words. Therefore for many successful owners it would seem there's no any problem. But sometimes small omissions while raising or incorrect actions of the owner in a critical situation and sometimes the lack of experience may cause serious faults in a dog's behavior.
There is a lot of examples of aggressiveness of dogs of different breeds towards members of the family and even to babies. One shouldn't put the blame on innocent rottweilers and staffs. I know one charming chow that bites her little masters (a girl and a boy of 8-10 years) during their games. There are always scratches and scars on their arms but their parents regard this as nothing serious, believing that a chow can't play in other way. A lot of examples may be found in the group of toy dogs: it's no trouble for them to stick till bleeds in the muster's hand if they don't like something.
Veterinarians also have their statistic data on bites as one issue of "Friend" magazine sais. Nice American cocker spaniel is at the top of the "aggressors" poll, whereas giant guard breeds haven't reached the first ten. Such an absolutely addicted to family and children's friend breeds as labrador and retriever often get among the first.
All mentioned above means that a dog's aggressiveness very slightly depends on the breed, though no doubt a general predisposition exists. But mainly his behavior is defined by the way it was raised, the requirements we put before him and the amount of responsibility we take when approach this question.
Why only the relationship between a dog and a child is so worrying? Because an adult person is able to answer for his deeds and after all if he by taking liberties provokes the dog's guard behavior he is guilty himself. But a child ingenuousness is an inherent thing. Sometimes it happens so that a dog unexpectedly comes in contact with a child. Often kids come to us on the street and ask me - "May I stroke him?" and before the permission is given do it with pleasure. It may happen so that you just drop into the shop and when back see your dog is in the circle of kids. If a dog grows in the family with a baby their constant contacts should be under a thorough control. At the age of 2-3 years kids are used to striking everything nearby with their toys, shovels and just with hands. And what about this terrible passion to pull the dog by ears and tail?.. At 5-6 years a child enters the period of unrestrained ordering to a dog. Quite often kids are crazy about punishing or abusing their charge trying to express at least the mere power over him. The way your dog will react onto the child's deeds totally depends on you. The dog owner should clearly understand that all the responsibility of both dog's and child's actions lies on his shoulders and not justify his own omissions of raising by the breed-specific traits.
It's very important to teach the dog to tell children from adults and react conformably. The best one may do, on my mind, is to demarcate the world of people on to "adults"" and "kids" according to an age criterions. One may in very different manner explain to a puppy that all people under 13-14 years are "kids" and require a special treatment that is inviolable and he must bear everything they do and be indulgent and careful, etc. All other people upwards 15 years are "adults", and here the dog should conform to some other rules - either be indifferent without any emotions or, as necessary, may show his guard qualities and get the praise from his master. These age limits are of cause approximate and the dog will distinguish "kids" and "adults" mainly by their appearance.
One should immediately stop and punish every expression of aggesion towards "kids", even if a child has deserved to be "put into his place". And vice versa, attempt to praise the dog all the time for his kind attention to the tot and show that you like this behavior very much. Try to do so that a pup or a mature dog get pleasure every time he is contacting with children.
Using endearment words towards "kids" - "This is small, this is good, be careful with him", helps fostering a correct behavior. By your intonation the pup will soon be able to guess what kind of actions you're waiting from him. The habit to react easy and indulgently at these words will help in many situations later on. These words as if turn into a command of peaceful behavior for an adult dog and if necessary can be used when a small dog or a pup comes near.
A bullmastiff is a dog that easily comprehends your thoughts and reaction onto environment. He catches even mere tinges of your mood when he is still a pup. Therefore it's very easy to form the dog's attitude to the situation by contrasts of owner's behavior. This is especially to the point when there are no children in the family but the dog faces them outdoors. Your friendly attitude to a kid approached at the street will tell on the dog's mood at once and he will kindly take part in such contact.
The more and the closer the young bullmastiff contacts to other children the better. For instance, my Jeff one time had a real company of friends - boys and girls of 12-13 years old (a kind of a local "fan-club"). When we met on the street I unleashed him and they just played, ran around and romped. When we went for a walk in winter on a breast-band we also had to drive children in a sledge, and this pleased both them and Jeff very much.
While the pup is not too big and doesn't frighten those around him very much, you may allow all children to approach on the street, of cause if their parents don't mind. Let him do this after you give a permission, for example, after the command "Walk" or "Play" to give the puppy to understand once more that the final decision is yours. Take him as often as possible for a walk in the company of your child. And as he grows older teach him to regard all adult people on the street calmly and indifferently. If your pup is used to running up to all passers-by (this is the very thing all small lively bullmastiffs like to do), you should from the age of 4 months break this habit step by step by timely calling the pup back or attracting him by a toy.
Very many owners think that nobody except for the master should know a dog's name. In my opinion, the contacts with children is just the case when one should break the rule. If in the company of children everybody would call the dog by his name this will more bring them together (of cause, don't let the children abuse this). And vice versa it is inadmissible that other adults call your pup this way.
Make such contrasts (distinctions) between the relations "a dog and "kids" and "a dog and "adults" more frequent and the dog will soon understand how to behave himself in this situations.
Every puppy and every young dog by his psychology strives to copy his adult leader. Here the leader is a man the owner. Use this for his fostering. Show by your own behavior how he should behave himself.
If the dog comes in the family with a baby it is very important not to make difference between "our" children and "their" children. The aim of your fostering is that all children are "yours". It is good from the first months of pup's life in the house to invite kids, organize children parties teaching the pup to what will surround him for the next several years. And let their cordial relations never make you feel jealousy.
A special attention should be paid to breaking the habit of jumping on children, touching their arms and legs with his teeth during playing and also barking. It is natural that a small puppy treats a kid as another pup and will fight with him, with all his might using teeth and nails. But you should patiently and diligently stop such games otherwise the habit to bite will remain for all his life. Instead of this, offer the little fidget to tousle and bite soft toys, to bring a ball or fulfill several commands, etc. At the age of four months a puppy should know well that a rude treatment of kid is prohibited.
However your efforts of fostering should be pointed not only onto the dog. Children should also be taught how to treat the fore-legged friend. Very few adults explain to their children how to handle a dog. But the only thing you should do is to get a mere understanding of a dog's psychology and as far as possible to explain it to a child. For example, it's not too good to allow the kid to tug a pup or moreover a mature bullmastiff by the collar or the leash very often. Some dogs don't care, but some don't like this, because this is the direct expression of power and is what only you as a master have the right for. Also explain to the kid that he can't give commands to the dog. The kid may only ask but he can't insist. Unfortunately many adults very often connive at such kid's whims. Each dog as well as human is unique by his character and you must hold his individuality and personality in a certain respect.
There's no a child who can be the master of such a powerful and serious dog as bullmastiff and accordingly doesn't have the right to demand fulfillment of commands and orders from him.
Many owners brag that their dog stands everything their child does even the most painless tricks, and if there's something unbearable the dog just goes away. Of cause a bullmastiff posesses a really infinite patience but one should consider one thing - no one even a very experienced owner can be a hundred percent sure about his dog's behavior. And nobody could guarantee that one day the dog wouldn't get angry and repulse. The pledge of your success is that the dog never gets in a situation when he has to take a hard decision about his own defense.
His owner must himself take this decision and avoid unpleasant moments. One may live a happy life with a very aggressive dog that loses his temper at a mere occasion if the one behave wise enough. Respect your dog and don't try his patience for is not endless. I don't mean you must unambiguously forbid the child to do this or that - every owner should decide this by himself. Say, to drive a little kid astraddle. If this gives the same pleasure to a dog as to you, it is wonderful - why not then? If not, one must not force the dog to. In this case one should consider his wishes and take him as a full member of the family.
Many people when acquire a bullmastiff pup ask whether their 9-10 year-old child could walk on his own with the dog, when the pet will grow older. No! At least in a big town, overcrowded with people and animals. And big dog, especially such a perfect guard as a bullmastiff may be viewed as a weapon only an adult is able to manage with. A loving bullmastiff when alone with a child considers himself twice responsible for his safety and a small reason would be enough to decide he must defend the tot. Moreover, one should take into account that there are many other dogs walking around and sometimes these are not that kind and sometimes they are unleashed. The adult person is able to control the situation and avoid fights, unlike the kid. Therefore it would be better not to buy a bullmastiff at all in case if you suppose to devote only a year or two to a dog's fostering, hoping that after that time a growing kid would take all care duty and handling on himself.
Each dog during the period of maturing - in case of bullmastiff this is a three year period - checks what is permitted and what is prohibited. Be it an attempt to reject a command or testing of his power in fights or a desire to take the leading position among the family members. In wild life every animal tries to get a higher position in his troop. Your dog may try to do the same and of cause will start with the youngest in the family - with a child. This doesn't mean that he is a monster with a destroyed mentality - this is natural! But the further relations between the dog and the kid will depend only on your reaction. Leave tact alone. At a MERE attempt (this is very important) one must punish the dog so as the question of hierarchy will never emerge again. From this time the dog should always remember that he is at the last and lowest position. The peculiar feature of the bullmastiff breed is that unlike other breeds he learns the lesson from the first and for all his life and never again tries to fight for the "place in the sun" even with the babies. A bullmastiff is very smart and really noble and when finally grows up he himself always gives the superiority in this point to children.
Furthermore, one should remember about one more problem. Sometimes mature dogs begin to treat the new baby as a pup and try to foster him and teach him some sense. From this view bullmastiffs are very cunning. They may on purpose provoke an active game with a child in order to punish him for rude movements by a loud growl. They may offer a kid their favorite bone and favourite toys and then to teach a "foolish pup" a lesson if he dares to encroach on the property of the "superior". If you've noticed such teachering inclinations in your bullmastiff you should accordingly correct the behavior of the both. Probably it would be wise not to allow them to play too active games, to fight and ramp together until the child grows a little. Instead of taking the dog's toy let the child offer his own. In this case the dog will be at a deadlock and scarcely will show again his intelligence in such way. By means of such small compromises you'll preserve peace in the house and avoid useless conflicts.
From the first day the puppy gets into your house pay the same attention to his relations with children as to teaching the first commands, walking on the leash and so on. Then in the future you'll avoid numerous unpleasant situations. Everybody wants to have a well-bred and nice dog one may take in any journey, go on a visit to friends. And bullmastiff is the very dog that gives the best fit for this, and in addition protects your safety.
It is not at all necessary that you'll face all the problems mentioned above during raising your bullmastiff. But anyway it will require your constant attention, love and patience to create a harmonious relationship between a dog and a child.
Svetlana Radostina, site "My Bullmastiff"