Children and your Service Dog (or pet dog)

You have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. You have decided to obtain or train your own Service Dog (SD). And now you are deciding about having children of your own. It is a tough decision, much tougher than the SD process.

Yet, both decisions are interlocked. A SD is much more than a pet. She is neither robot nor slave; she is a working dog. Children are much more than just little versions of you. They have a massive curiosity that some dogs cannot tolerate; children move fast and sudden; they can more physical than a child your SD meets in public. If you have had your SD for a long time, you need to consider her feelings and role in the process of having a baby.

There are some tests that you can do with your SD or pet dog. One is the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) which is a simple obedience test. The other, and more important, test is called the Temperament Test (TT). The TT is used by many animal rescue organizations to determine the temperament of a stray before the animal is put up for adoption. The dog must be at least 18mos old and during the test, the handler can not speak to the dog. This test exposes your dog to a wide variety of stimuli like a pistol shot, a crazy person, etc. I believe all SDs should pass this test and I believe all pet dogs should at least be put to the test. For more information about either the CGC or the TT, see the resource list at the end of this article.

I had a wonderful dog: Zeus. He was not my SD but was still much more than a pet. Zeus was patient with the cats (would let them eat from his bowl and not snap at them, just look at me to make them go away. He was gentle, playful and the best dog ever, in my humble unbiased opinion.

On one visit to them, when my nephew Ryan was two or so, I took Zeus with me. They had a dog, Sparky, who was fantastic with Ryan. He let Ryan pull on him, lay on him, etcetera. So here was my gentle Zeus – and Ryan. Ryan kept trying to get Zeus to play, but Zeus didn’t. One day we were sitting around, Ryan on the couch and Zeus at my feet; before we could stop him, Ryan jumped off the couch onto Zeus’ back.

We didn’t know if he meant to land on Zeus. Gentle Zeus snapped at Ryan, his canine tooth grazing Ryan’s forehead. Zeus immediately walked away. Ryan of course, was screaming his lungs out. I had Zeus in a down/stay while my brother checked him over. He was fine, but still crying. His dad took the opportunity to say this was why we had been telling him to not treat Zeus like he did Sparky. Not all dogs liked rough play.

Looking back, knowing Zeus and the way dogs live together, he had treated Ryan just as he would have a puppy, giving a warning nip. The experience taught me that even the most docile of dogs can have unexpected and uncharacteristic responses to children. But children are not puppies and dogs need to understand that difference. I am very aware he probably would not have past the Temperament Test.

1. ‘Canine Good Citizen’: The AKC has information on the test: can also more information at most pet stores.
2.Temperament Test: The American Temperament Test Society, Inc. has information and scheduled tests: The main office is in St. Louis and their phone number is 314-869-6103.
3.Those of you with internet access can go to Dr. P’s website for resources concerning children and dogs. (need to update this link. please check back later and remind me if it still isn’t fixed)


Originally published in EDSToday newsletter issue #9.
Other related articles can be found on the Published Works page of this site.