KAD is a new organisation that aims to help dogs and children stay safe and happy. Andrea McHugh reports.
When behaviourist Debby Lucken observed the varied and often dramatic reactions of children towards dogs, she knew action was needed to keep everyone safe and happy.
Debby with Golden Retriever Winnie.
“My daughter, Molly, who is now 10, is very dog savvy and has grown up around dogs,” explained Debby, who lives in Poole, Dorset. “After our dog Pixel died, I started a home boarding business. As Molly grew older and her friends began visiting, I noticed how very differently the children reacted to our dogs. They were either super-confident, to the point of wanting to sit or climb on them, or terrified and trying to run away, cry, and hide. I wanted to help address both these issues, but although I found some available help for children with a fear of dogs, there was nothing for those who were not afraid but didn’t understand canine body language or the concepts of mutual respect, which can be distressing for dogs, and potentially dangerous.
“After several years of developing my ideas, I started Kids Around Dogs (KAD) in December 2020. KAD is an association of dog trainers and/or behaviourists who specialise in helping families with children to train their dogs and live in harmony. All KAD-approved members are also qualified to use the special KAD protocol I developed to help children overcome their fear of dogs. We help children of all ages, from youngsters whose parents are much more involved, to older children and teenagers.
“My initial vision was for KAD to cover the whole of the UK, and we started approving membership in January 2021, but it is now an international organisation, and very successful. We’ve helped many children to understand dogs and overcome their fears in a safe and fun way. We advise how to read a dog’s body language and recognise common signs of stress in dogs to help avoid bites. KAD also helps children to realise just how much dogs try to make us aware of how they are feeling.”
It’s important that children know how to safely interact with the family dog.
Debby moved from her native Switzerland to the UK 19 years ago. “I’d always loved dogs, but when I was growing up in Switzerland, becoming a dog trainer was not really an option,” she recalled.
“I moved to the UK to help me decide what I wanted to do, and had a multitude of jobs, from working in shops to becoming an English teacher. Eventually, I met my husband and stayed in the UK. When it was time for me to return to teaching after having my daughter, I realised this would be challenging, as we didn’t have family nearby to help with childcare. Around the same time, our dog Pixel passed away, which was a real shock — I didn’t take it well. When our neighbours said they were going away for the weekend, I asked if I could look after their dog, Harvey. I loved doing this, and after talking to my husband and doing more research, I set up a dog walking and home boarding business. I provided a real home-from-home experience, and it was lovely, but I realised I wanted to learn a lot more. I’m now a fully qualified dog trainer with the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers and a qualified dog behaviourist with the International School of Canine Psychology.
“I no longer home board, but we have two dogs, a rescue Pug called Wilco, who has been with us for about eight years, and four-and-a-half-year-old Winnie, a Golden Retriever who was a finalist in the 2022 Animal Star Awards in recognition of her work in helping children overcome their fear of dogs.
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