Why Dogs and Children Become Banned

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When a place bans pets or restricts access to children, social media explodes with people on either side of the argument. “Oh I wish more places would do this!” and “How could people target cuddly Fifi and silly William?” The most vocal can be the “dogs are dogs and kids are kids” crowd while those on the other side are labeled “meanies.” Alternatively we see people crying “Finally someone is looking out for the rest of us!” What is the reality? First we need to look at the managers or owners.   They must consider the comfort and safety of ALL patrons even if it upsets a few. Let’s look at a some examples of why bans happen.

A few months ago I got frustrating news: a place I used for socializing my own dogs and client dogs we deemed ready for more intensive outings was no longer pet friendly. I called and spoke to the manager and asked what had happened.  The manager was quite nice when she explained why: too many dog owners were allowing their dogs to behave poorly.  She and the company would be liable if an incident happened for permitting dogs on the premises.

The manager loved seeing well-behaved pet dogs come through the door. However it was the bad that made her change the policy. I have witnessed and keep witnessing many scary incidents because dog owners allowed dangerous situations to happen.  (Please note, if you are out and ask to pat a dog, if the owner says “no”, respect that.  This is an owner trying to advocate and keep things safer for all. Not all dogs are social butterflies.  How would you like a stranger running up and giving you a hug you did not want?) Here are a few things I have witnessed:

A dog owner dragging a terrified dog through a busy store while the dog growled and nipped at patrons.  A large dog lunging and jumping at patrons – goofy dog but he could easily knock someone over.  A woman carrying a small dog in a basket and forcing the visibly scared pooch to greet children.  A dog at the end of an extending leash allowed to go around displays and charge dogs and patrons.  Dogs allowed to relieve themselves and the owners not cleaning up or alerting staff.  Dogs allowed to be off leash at public events that allow controlled dogs.  Dogs on extending leashes at events getting tangled with visitors.  Owners laughing off undesired behaviors because a dog is small.  Owners being negligent and ignoring what their dogs are doing and what is happening around their dogs.   (Please read this entry for an example of an owner ignoring a dog and a parent ignoring a child and the almost tragic results.)

If an incident happens, there is a huge liability for the shop owner or manager of an event. They must allow service dogs but they do not have to allow pets.  If you claim your pet dog is a service dog and there are undesired behaviors happening, the Americans with Disabilities Act does have provisions for the dogs (even if a legitimate service dog) to be removed from the premises.

Often if dogs are banned from a place it may be because owners are allowing potentially dangerous situations to happen.  Dogs who are not ready for such stress or out of control goofballs or even dogs that exhibit dangerous behaviors should not be taken to stores.  Instead you should work with a good trainer to improve your dog’s manners and create a reasonable goal. Alternatively in many areas if there are food preparations or service, pets may not be allowed due to health codes.

Now onto children…

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When my two human critters were about 10 and 5, we were at a restaurant in Pennsylvania. Seated next to us were several families with a half-dozen children in the 5-14 year range. The children were running around, tackling each other, bumping patrons, crashing into wait staff, playing football – with a football, etc.  They were making it difficult for patrons to get to the buffet.  They were behaving in ways that could lead to injury to others. The children were playing with food and then putting it back in the buffet (health code risks) and being serious nuisances.

The manager nicely tried to intervene. The parents rudely told the manager kids needed to be kids, they were on vacation after all.  The behaviors persisted for quite some time.  Nothing would stop the children, how dare anyone ask a child to be careful, no parent intervened – they were too busy talking.

One waitress, carrying a pot of hot coffee, had a child crash into her.  The coffee came dangerously close to spilling on the child – and her.  A parent yelled at the waitress to be more careful so her child did not get scalded.

Several years later I would take my youngest, to a lovely restaurant in Logan Circle, Washington, DC. We received many dirty looks and heard whispered nasty comments from staff and patrons.  How dare I bring in a young child.  How disruptive she would be.  My daughter politely greeted the waiter, placed her order and we sat and had a quiet discussion about what we would do after dinner.  A short time later, our waiter apologized. Their experiences with children were far from positive.  This was obviously not a “child friendly place” and too many children had disrupted meals. He thanked my girl for being so well behaved.  He then went on to state she was better behaved than many adults – he said it loud enough for others to hear.  Even management smiled at that!

When my son was young, we knew we would have to do extra work to build tolerance when we went out.  He is Autistic and has some sensory issues.  We worked hard to teach him coping skills and build safe zones.  If we saw a problem brewing, we asked for the meal to be packed up and we left.  The same we would do with any child, Autistic or not.  Now he can go any place and give the desired behaviors needed.  He is well on his way to living a fully independent life.

Over the years I have watched children be allowed to: hang on mannequins, throw food, crawl under changing room doors, ride bikes in aisles, throw balls around stores, play tag, take bites of food directly from buffets and put it back when deemed “gross”, lick candies, swear at clerks, scream and yell during dinners (nothing was brought to help with boredom), etc.

Is it a wonder why places are restricting children?

I have heard parents pass off dangerous behaviors as “Kids need to be kids.”  Yes they need to be kids but they also need to learn appropriate behaviors given the environment.  Running and screaming is fine in some situations where quiet voices and walking is needed for others.

You can allow your four and two legged critters to have fun while learning appropriate behaviors. You can teach youngsters how to behave in a host of situations. Lessons taught in an ability appropriate manner with respect for age pay off in the long run. Even young puppies and babies are capable of learning if we are respectful of their needs. This means considering things like nap, making sure we have things to assist with boredom.

For example when working with puppies or dogs, I may have a chew for them to have while we are sitting and having a coffee.  I will frequently reinforce desired behaviors.  With children I will have books, quiet games, crayons, etc.  I also frequently reinforce desired behaviors.  If I see something brewing, I will gently get the attention and redirect.  If I see that we are hitting an escalation, we leave and try again later.  If I force the situation, I increase the risk of undesired behaviors in the future.  Short, fun sessions are far better than demanding baby Timmy sit quietly for two hours while we have dinner out  and it is close to sleepy times.  (Please check this entry for socializing information).

The next time you hear a child or dog friendly place is no longer, look in the mirror. Make sure you are doing your work. Make sure your child and dog are the best ambassadors for their kind possible. Do not insult those who support these decisions, I will bet there were incidents leading up to the restrictions.

Karen Peak owns West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Prince William County.

A shorter version of this appeared in Northern Virginia Today

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