It seems like at least once a week, I’m scrolling through posts on social media (usually Facebook) and I see an image that makes my stomach hurt. A picture of a dangerous situation waiting to happen with a caption along the lines of “Oh look, how cute! Fido loves little Sammy!” No, Fido is being super patient while little Sammy stands on him to reach the kitchen sink. Or he is calmly accepting that he is being used as a pillow, a riding toy, etc. He is ignoring his own discomfort and tolerating unwanted, unfair behavior, because Fido is a freaking trooper.
But just because your child hasn’t been bitten or the dog isn’t growling, does NOT mean that the situation is a good one, and it definitely isn’t cute. It’s an unhealthy lesson to teach your child, and one that could come back to bite them, literally. Dogs are man’s best friend for a reason. They are loyal to a fault and will deal with a LOT from their humans, but they too have a breaking point. Please don’t wait for your dog to reach theirs before you teach your child how to treat them correctly. By then, it may very well be too late. And 99% of the time, completely preventable.
In this post, you will find tips on how to ensure your dog and child have a safe, healthy relationship from the beginning. If your baby hasn’t arrived yet, or if you are adding a new furry addition to your family, be sure to also check out our post on How To Introduce Your Dog and Your New Baby Smoothly .
Establishing a Healthy Child/Dog Relationship in 5 Easy Steps
Step 1: Set Boundaries and Expectations
It seems that far too often, when a new child is brought into the home, the dogs are just expected to know what to do. Not only that, but to deal with whatever comes along with said child without showing any signs of discomfort or disapproval. They need to learn a new set of rules, a new set of expectations. They need to be on their best behavior at all times, especially around the baby.
While some dogs seem to have a sixth sense about tiny humans and somehow “know” that they are fragile and they need to be gentle (mine sure did!), that’s not something you should bank on. Be sure to calmly and consistently teach your dogs what’s expected of them. They want to please you, but they aren’t mind readers.
Our pack was pretty amazing with little Parker from the get-go, but they were also a little too excited about the new addition. We had to teach them not to try to jump on him, to be careful when he’s on the floor so he doesn’t get knocked over, not to lick him to death (okay, we’re still working on that one, but they just love him so much!). BUT, the important thing here is that the dogs have not been the only ones going through extra training. Parker has too.
Step 2: Start Them Young
As soon as Parker was old enough to notice the dogs and try to interact with him, we started working on teaching HIM to be gentle with them as well. Do they not deserve the same respect, protection, and personal space as the humans in the home? Of course they do!
He was way too young to understand words like “gentle”, or “don’t grab his eyes”, but we said them anyway. And more than that, we showed him. When he’d try to grab a handful of their fur, we’d open up his little hand and gently stroke them instead. We’d model proper behavior, showing him daily how to be respectful and sweet towards his furry siblings. When he tried to grab their ears, we would gently remove his hand, say “we can’t pull ears” and again show him how to gently pet them.
Step 3: Supervision and Anticipation
You can teach your dogs and your baby how to safely interact with each other, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not something you can tell them once and then expect smooth sailing for life. As our child grows and gets more mobile, there are also different things to watch out for. It is ultimately YOUR responsibility to make sure that both your pets and your child are safe. This means they should NEVER be left in each other’s presence without proper supervision.
The BIGGEST factor in establishing a good report between your kids and pets is YOU. You know your dogs. You know what bothers them, what doesn’t. You know their body language. You alone can anticipate situations that may put them out of their comfort zone and prevent them.
The same goes for your child. You know their tendencies and fascinations. If they take off crawling across the room because your dog is super happy and wagging his tail all over the place, you know that they are probably about to try to grab it. Because you know this and you’re paying attention, you can stop them before they do.
Here are some examples of possible triggers:
- Feeding time – Always keep your child away from your dog(s) while they are eating. Even if they aren’t a resource guarder, they deserve to eat in peace.
- Toys – Just like with food, teach your child not to grab a toy out of your dog’s mouth that they’re chewing on/playing with. This prevents both accidental bites from overly excited pups as well as resource guarding.
- Standing – If your child is just learning how to stand, they are probably using anything and everything around them to pull up on. Make sure you teach them not to do so by grabbing handfuls of the family dog’s fur as leverage.
- Rough Housing – If your dogs are anything like mine, they probably like a good tussle from time to time. Dogs love to play by jumping and rolling and chasing each other. They should still be able to do this when you have a small child, you just need to make sure that no one accidentally gets trampled in the process. We ensure this by either moving Parker to another area or encouraging the dogs to take their wrestling match outside.
Step 4: Safe Spaces
When properly supervised, dogs and kids, even babies, can easily live and play together in harmony. But let’s be honest, we can’t always give them 100% of our attention. This is why I suggest that you have a way to separate them when needed. Whether it be a baby gate, a playpen, or a separate room, create a place where your child can play away from your dogs.
Not only does this take some extra pressure off of you, it gives your dogs a break as well. Kids can be a lot sometimes. I know Parker REALLY loves his pups, but occasionally he wants to love them a little too much. In our house, we solved this issue by creating a playroom for Parker right off of the living room. He can play and be wild and the dogs can take a nap without being disturbed. Extra bonus: Stray toys don’t become chew toys when the dogs get bored with their own.
Step 5: Positive Reinforcement
As with any kind of training, it’s vital that you not only teach your dogs (and your children) what is expected of them, but also reward them for doing what you ask. Adding Parker to the mix meant more rules for the dogs, but I make sure that it also means special treats, snuggles, and lots of love as a reward.
This also means making time for your dogs whenever you can. Life can get crazy when you have a young child crawling (or running) around, but don’t forget to make sure your dogs’ needs are met too. When your child takes a nap, throw the ball a few extra times. Invite your dog to snuggle up in the seldom empty spot on your lap while you watch TV after they go to bed. Make sure they know they are still loved and still an important part of the family.
I truly believe that if you follow these steps, you will have a happy, harmonious home and your child will have a best furry friend for life! You just need to help them get off on the right foot.
Thanks for reading,
Debbie & The Mutts
Questions? Comments? Other suggestions that we may have missed? We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below.