Briards and Kids
by Martine Huslig
Some find the topic of Briards and children a frightening thought and others think these two words go together as naturally as Nana and Peter Pan (for those who don’t have kids—Nana was the dog/nanny on Peter Pan.) Of course, the “truth” probably lies somewhere in the middle. Whenever I am asked the question—are Briards good with children---I am guarded in my response.
Briards are BIG dogs and dogs are animals. However, dogs are animals that have devoted their lives to their people. This statement is ESPECIALLY true with Briards. There are always potential dangers when children and large dogs are mixed but big dogs with tons of heart are also a great source for happiness and lasting childhood memories.
For many breeders—it is easiest to avoid the potential risks involved in Briards and kids by simply refusing to sell their dogs to homes that have children. There are; however, many wonderful homes with children and many Briards truly are wonderful with kids. The potential rewards of the relationship that can potentially develop between Briards and their children are great. The key element to a successful relationship between Briards and children is good training and loads of common sense.
There are stories of Briards gently guiding small children from harms way and protecting them from would be assailants. Briards have a natural instinct to protect their “charges.” As herding dogs they also have a natural instinct to chase and to herd. Each of these qualities can be endearing related to children. Taken to the extreme; however, these traits can lead to big problems such as the Briard misinterpreting rough housing between kids as aggression or developing aggressive behaviors because they have grown overly protective of their children. Guarding of the children should not really be encouraged and can be best kept in check by a parent or individual who is clearly the dominant member of the household. This person can teach a young Briard what is acceptable behavior. Parents need not fear teaching the Briard not to be protective. The Briards instinct is so keen that should their child (or adult for that matter) ever truly be in danger—the typical Briard will rise to the task of protecting them. Most people who can recognize it can see well trained Briards protecting their families in subtle ways. Briards will tend to place their bodies between would be danger and their precious charges. They can be seen to gently bump or nudge small children to separate or keep them from wandering off or away from potential harm. Should a small child “wander” out the front door unnoticed, the Briard will no doubt sound the alarm to the potential danger at hand.
If not kept in check, Briards can develop a desire to herd or nip at rowdy kids who are running in order to move them, keep them together like a flock, get their attention or keep them in line. Again this is best kept in check by a watchful and in control parent who can teach the Briard between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. The kids must also be trained about the best behavior around dogs. Briards generally do not see children as leaders and Briards can have dominance issues with children. They must be TAUGHT their position in the family and what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable with children. They can certainly ultimately be taught to accept direction from all of the members of the family. Briards are large and physical therefore rough housing with a Briard is best avoided (this goes for a home without kids too.)
Many behaviors are genetic and the interactions between Briards and children are somewhat predictable based on family history as well. Many Briard breeders watch their puppies carefully as they develop and some do formal temperament testing. Not every Briard is right for a home with children and a breeder who knows their family of dogs and how to observe puppy behavior in the whelping box will most likely know how each puppy might respond to children. Even when a breeding promises to produce puppies that will be good with children, some puppies will likely be better with children than others. The puppy in a litter who promises to be the best herding dog with an “in your face”, never quit attitude is not likely the best choice for a kid home. In the absence of sheep this puppy will most likely be tirelessly attempting to herd the children. The “top puppy” or most dominant puppy in a litter who takes no guff from the rest is again not likely to be the best choice for a family with kids. This is not to say that with experienced training and excellent socialization a puppy the does not particularly like children cannot be trained to accept them; but, for the happiness of the puppy and the their new potential family—the dominant, active puppy that is not tolerant of children early on is not the best choice for a home with children. Certainly it would seem to be common sense to recognize that the sweet and “easy to get along with” puppies of a litter are the best for a home with children. Remarkably, even at a very early age, certain puppies will seem to seek children out or avoid and react negatively to them. My experience has been these early reactions to children are good predictors of the puppy’s long term reactions to kids. Some puppies are by nature very tolerant of being handled, injured or pushed around. These very special puppies would not seem to consider growling or biting to defend themselves from childish advances. This is not reasonable to expect from all dogs but certain puppies will have these qualities. These are obviously the best for kid homes although parents must always monitor interaction to ensure that no one (including the puppy) is injured.
As those of us who love the breed are well aware—Briards are not the dog for everyone and a puppy with great promise must still be raised properly. All of the cautions and lessons that apply to raising any Briard in any home, go doubly for the Briard in a home with children. Extensive socialization and training regarding appropriate versus unacceptable behaviors are key as discussed above. The potential owner must be able to train their children as well. If they cannot manage their children, then one has to question their ability to raise a Briard. An older breeder once told me that if a family had a number of well behaved children—that was a good indicator to her that they could do a good job raising a Briard. On the other hand, if the kids were not well behaved—then they did not get the dog. This is important for a potential owner to keep in mind. If you have a difficult time disciplining your children-then a large intelligent dog may not be the best choice as family pet.
As a mother of 4 children who has lived with and loved a number of Briards, I certainly believe in the capacity for Briards to be “the BEST” with children. I also personally try hard to leave nothing to chance. As “a dominant member of my household” my dogs and kids have hours upon hours of guidance by me with interactions observed by me before I trust them unattended for even a moment. It is never wise to leave children who are rough housing with each other unattended with a large dog. Briards are frequently known as the “play police” and even well intentioned attempts to stop children from rough housing could result in someone getting hurt. It is unwise to leave children unattended with more than one dog or especially a group of dogs. Dogs are pack animals and may behave differently in a pair or in a group and these behaviors could potentially be unpredictable. No matter how much I trust a particular dog, my dogs are not left unattended with children that are not mine. My kids are taught how to interact with dogs but most children in this day and age are not. That child may not be kind to my dogs or my kids in my absence. My dog may behave inappropriately to protect my kids from a real or perceived threat. In a suit happy society—the potential dangers to the dog are many when a watchful eye is not kept.
These responses are all just “common sense” to me but many people may wonder why. All of my dogs are taught acceptable behavior with children but I still observe interactions regularly. I watch my dogs and kids interact because some dogs will tolerate more than others. Kids will be kids and you cannot ALWAYS expect that they will behave perfectly with the dog. So the kids behavior must be monitored and repeatedly corrected as well. Some dogs think it is great fun to have kids climbing on them while others would just as soon go in the other room. Some dogs adore the kids but will be more inclined to accidentally knock them down when excited while others are very aware of not bumping into babies. On occasion a dog will develop a health problem or not feel well and this can change the way they will interact with active children. So, it is always important to remain watchful of the interaction between dogs and children.
Briards are capable of great love and at times almost human understanding. Parents and people who were raised with Briards have almost endless stories of the extraordinary things their Briards have done. However –there are unfortunate stories and tragedies as well. With the proper training and setting of realistic limits, Briards and kids can be a great combination. As long as owners have an understanding of dogs, their particular dog and use their common sense to respond accordingly then the relationship children can have with their “heart wrapped in fur” are limitless. Some Briards are truly capable of all the qualities of Nana on Peter Pan and the right Briard raised well results in the classic moments, priceless photos and the stories that reveal the true nature of the Briard’s special spirit. These I wouldn’t have missed for the world. (Ask me for the stories and I will tell them to you sometimeJ)