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—without agenda— responsibility and commitment-free sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that’s not always how interactions transpire between dogs and kids.
Here are a few pointers to ensure your dog stays in your good graces when it comes to your kiddos.
Bringing home baby—you must consider your dog’s history with children. Has your dog been around children? If so, has he 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 pup will automatically love the child. Unfortunately, this isn’t true.
If your dog has EVER shown fear or aggression towards children, it’s best to be uber cautious.
Gates and crates can keep baby and doggie separate. Just make sure when your little one starts toddling around, she doesn’t walk towards a confined, aggressive dog. The restraint can make some dogs MUCH more agitated or exhibit territorial aggression if enclosed in a favorite space.
Be fair to your pup. A new baby is a significant change for him.
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 give your dog time alone in another room, make sure he has plenty of time to adjust (with lots of treats) for being in that space—especially if he hasn’t been crated or gated in years, if ever.
Remember, this will be a HUGE transition for your precious pup 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 doesn’t develop naughty habits out of boredom or anxiety. I’d much rather spend my time playing a game with my dog than cleaning poop off a sofa cushion (it happens).
Closely watch wobbling toddlers.
Once kids start walking and moving around, even the most dependable, 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, doesn’t mean your dog will adore tiny hands grabbing his fur or chasing him into a corner over and over again (which you should NEVER allow).
One of my dearest friends in the world, Pam, brought her adorable, ridiculously happy 16-month-old to stay with Gavin and me for the weekend. The two of them were so sweet together, Cannon would wobble away, and Gavin would kiss him. Then, Cannon would laugh like it was the funniest thing in the world and kiss Gavin back. Cannon would then pick up Gavin’s toy and drop it on the ground and giggle again when Gavin grabbed the toy from the floor. It was so lovely to watch—I know and trust that Gavin would NEVER, ever hurt a child.
I still followed Lil’ Big Head around during the love-fest to make sure his happy tail didn’t inadvertently smack poor Cannon and hurt his delicate, baby skin. And, to make sure that Gavin had good experiences around Cannon.
It’s not a child’s responsibility to learn to touch my dog gently. It’s mine.
One afternoon, Cannon decided that rolling cans from the pantry across my living room floor was just a riot. And, I didn’t 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, Pam or I would redirect them.
And, of course, Cannon would chuckle. The sound alone was something Gavin isn’t used to. Even though neither adult allowed the rolling cans to get anywhere near Gavin, he gave me a look that said it was scary for him. So, I scooped Gavin up and put him in my bedroom. He literally sighed with relief when I put him on the bed to be away from the hubbub, disturbing his usual nap time.
Giving your dog his own safe space during the toddler stage is CRITICAL, especially if he’s ever growled, tensed, snarled, cowered, or hid when ANY child was near.
Toddlers move LIGHTNING FAST, and dogs move LIGHTNING FAST. We as adults are, unfortunately, aren’t as quick as either, let alone the two together. It takes less than a second for a child to get hurt.
Teaching all to be gentle. I remember when my nephew, Isaac, was a toddler. He picked up his cat, Echo, by two of his legs. Isaac was just a baby. He didn’t understand that it probably hurt Echo and wasn’t the way animals should ever be treated. My brother Chris 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’ve seen enough America’s Funniest Home Videos to know that sometimes, parents egg kids on for unkind behavior to animals. Please don’t do this. Kids can be taught early and often how to be compassionate to their pets.
When Isaac was a toddler, Chris or I would always hold his hand whenever 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 praised Isaac for his tender touch. Children learn from repetition and positive reinforcement, just like our four-legged friends. The training techniques are pretty darn similar.
Dogs don’t learn by being chased around all day, being told, “NO!”
And, what can happen if the dog was doted on before baby came home? He can develop negative associations with the two-legged tyke because you always seem angry now that the baby is around. If you doted on your dog before the baby was born, please know that it doesn’t make sense to him when he’s (all of a sudden) the last priority on your list. Please don’t shun and ignore your dog.
Give your kiddos constructive ways to interact with your dog.
If your child is afraid because the new puppy is still nipping all the time, have your two-legged sweeties hold a Kong when interacting with your dog (NEVER do this if your dog has shown even mild signs of toy or food guarding). And, if you hold your child’s hand while your pup is enjoying the stuffed Kong, you give both puppy and child practice interacting in a way that will make everyone happy.
Kids LOVE to play hide ‘n’ seek, and it teaches dogs it’s fun to find the kids. We also like “find” games for children because it’s easy and 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 vast topic, and if you plan to bring home a new dog and you have children in the house, or you’re bringing home a baby, and you’re unsure if your dog is going to do well, it’s well worth hiring a professional trainer to come to your home to assure everyone stays safe. And, if there’s even the tiniest bit of concern about aggression, PLEASE bring a positive trainer to your home as soon as possible.