What could be more gratifying than watching your children frolicking in the back yard with your puppy or rescue dog? The uninhibited joy of playing, romping and chasing with no agenda other than having fun; responsibility and commitment-free. We firmly believe no one expands their human household nor brings home a new dog with the intentions of causing stress for the whole family. Or worse, putting any loved one in harm’s way. Safety should always be the first priority when it comes to children. Here’s a few pointers to ensure Fido or Fifi stay in your good graces when it comes to your little lambs.
Bringing home baby. You have to consider your dog’s history with children. Has your dog been around children? If so, has he or she avoided or worse, growled, snarled or lunged at nieces, nephews and kids on the street? Folks sometimes believe that because the baby will be coming from their loins that the resident pooch will automatically love the child. Unfortunately, this is not true.
If your dog has EVER shown fear or aggression towards children, it is best to be uber cautious. Gates and crates can keep bambino and doggie separate. Just make sure when your little one starts toddling around, he or she does not walk towards a confined, aggressive dog; the restraint can make some dogs MUCH more agitated and/or they could exhibit territorial aggression if in a favorite space.
Also, you have to be fair to your pup. Start early and reward for accepting the new sounds and all the novel gear that starts arriving at your home WAY before your wee one enters the world. And, if you plan to keep your dog in another room, make sure you give your dog time to adjust and get reinforced for being in that space. ESPECIALLY if he or she has not been crated or gated in years, if ever.
Remember, this will be a HUGE change for your precious pooch to lose an extensive amount of your attention. So, make a plan to give your skeptical hound one-on-one time when your infant is napping so he or she does not develop naughty habits out of boredom or anxiety.
Wobbling toddlers. Once kids start walking and moving around; even the most solid, friendly dogs can have a limit for how much they can take. And, just because your pup liked the laughing, sometimes crying infant or even wanted to protect him or her; does not mean Fido will adore tiny hands grabbing his fur or chasing him into a corner over and over again.
One of my dearest friends in the world, Pam, brought her adorable, ridiculously happy 16-month-old to stay with Gavin and I for the weekend. The two of them were so sweet together, Cannon would wobble away and Gavin would smooch him. Then, Cannon would laugh like it was the funniest thing in the world and kiss Gavin back. He would then pick up Gavin’s toy and drop it on the ground and giggle again when Gavin grabbed his squeaky toy. It was so lovely to watch; and I know and trust that Gavin would NEVER, ever hurt a child. Well, except for his whip tail. I followed Lil’ Big Head around during the love-fest to make sure his happy tail did not inadvertently smack poor Cannon and hurt his delicate, baby skin.
One afternoon, Cannon decided that rolling cans from the pantry across my living room floor was just a riot. And, I did not care that he entertained himself that way. During the first few rolls, if the black beans looked like they were heading in the direction where Gavin was sleeping on the sofa, I or Pam would redirect them. And, of course, Cannon would chuckle. The sound alone was something Gavin is not used to. But, even though the cans never got within five feet of Gavin, he gave me a look that said it was scary for him. So, I scooped him up and put him in my bedroom . He literally sighed with relief when I put him on the bed so he could be away from the hullabaloo that was disturbing his usual nap time.
If your dog has ever growled, tensed, snarled, cowered or hid when ANY child was near; keeping the two separate at the toddler age is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL. Toddlers move LIGHTNING FAST and dogs move LIGHTNING FAST. And, it takes less than a second for a child to get hurt. We as adults are unfortunately, not as quick as either; let alone the two together.
Teaching all to be gentle. I remember when my nephew was starting to toddle around and Isaac picked up his cat, Echo by two of his legs. Isaac was just a baby; he did not understand that it probably hurt Echo and was just not the way animals should be treated. My brother Chris handled it beautifully, he did not yell at Isaac. But, he used it as a teaching moment; and explained to Isaac (who is so kind and gentle to all living things now) why he should never pick up Echo in that way and showed him the right way to pet his kitty. I have seen enough America’s Funniest Home Videos to know that sometimes, parents egg kids on for behavior that is just not nice to animals. Please do not do this. Kids can be taught early and often how to be compassionate to their pets.
As Isaac waddled and toddled his way into his current big kid stage, I or Chris would always hold his hand any time he wanted to pet Finn; to make sure his tiny, bobbling hands were gentle. And, every time my nephew stroked my senior dog’s fur, I told him he was such a good boy being so tender to my Lug. Children learn from repetition and positive reinforcement just like our four-legged friends.
The training techniques are pretty darn similar. Dogs do not learn by being chased around all day being told “NO!” And, what can happen, if they were doted on before baby came home; they can develop negative associations with the two-legged tyke because you always seem to be angry now that he or she is around. Also, kids learn better by being shown what to do and given constructive ways to interact with dogs.
If your child is afraid of dogs or the new puppy is still a teething machine, have your sweeties hold a Kong when interacting with your dog (if you have ever seen ANY signs of toy or food guarding, this is not the right strategy). And, if you hold your child’s hand while your pup is enjoying whatever you stuffed in the Kong, you give both puppy and child practice interacting in a way that will make everyone happy.
Rather than trying to keep up with lightning fast puppies or toddlers, chanting “no” all day long; spend ten minutes a day showing both what to do. Kids LOVE hide ‘n’ seek and it teaches dogs it’s fun to find the kids. We also like “find” games for children because it is easy and it helps create a cohesive, positive relationship.
We hope this cursory overview of keeping kids and dogs happy and SAFE in the home was helpful. This is a VERY big topic and if you plan to bring home a new dog and you have children in the house; or you are bringing home a baby and you are unsure if your dog is going to do well, it is well worth hiring a professional trainer to come to your home to assure everyone stays safe. And, if there’s even tiniest bit of concern about aggression, PLEASE bring a trusted trainer to your home as soon as possible.