Dogs and children together can provide some of the most heartwarming moments we can witness. These moments can also turn bad very quickly and when that happens everyone loses. It is important that both dogs AND children are taught how to exist around each other. Respect from both sides is required. So here are a few tips about children and dogs.
Children and dogs should always be arms length supervised together. That means that both the child and the dog are within reach of the adult supervising. If the dog and child are far enough apart that is not possible, the adult should be within arms reach of the child. If another adult is needed, another adult is needed. If that isn’t possible, the child and the dog shouldn’t be allowed to interact.
Dogs should not be “naked” when interacting with children, and should be wearing at least some sort of collar in case handling them becomes necessary.
When a child and dog are interacting, a dog should be sitting or standing up. The adult supervising the interaction should have a hand on the dogs chest, and should be in this position before the child approaches. By petting the dogs chest we are rewarding their good behaviour but it will also allow us to feel any changes in their body (such as tension or movement) early, and since our hand is already there we can immediately take whatever action is necessary, should the need arise.
Children have an unpredictable energy, they are young and still learning. Dogs really judge someone by their energy, and this makes dogs unpredictable around children. The words “He/She has never acted like that before!” have been spoken too many times. It doesn’t matter who the dog is or how trusted it is, dogs and children should be arms length supervised at all times.
In the unfortunate event of an incident, if the dog has a hold of the child and isn’t letting go, choke the dog as hard as you can. This will force the dog to open its mouth as it gasps for air, allowing you the opportunity to pull it away. Trying to pull a dog off a child with its mouth still closed will only cause more injury to the child. Grab the collar, twist and pull up as hard as you can. I hope you never need to use this information but it is better to know it and not need it.
Many families get dogs to teach children about responsibility. Dogs are also a great lesson in patience, and bringing home a new dog to a home with children is a great test of this. While it is a difficult ask, a family should limit their childrens engagement with a new dog for the first 2-3 days to allow the dog to become comfortable in its new environment. We do not our want children to meet a scared dog.
When introducing children to a new dog, it’s important to explain to the kids why we are asking them to be patient. Our new dog doesn’t speak the language we do and needs a couple of days to understand this is home and they are loved. Right now, “I love you” sounds like a scary noise to them.
Children should let the dog approach them and a supervised interaction can then take place. It’s important to watch the dog for warning signs and make sure the dog can walk away if it wants to. If the dog wants to walk away, let it, and the interaction is finished. If the interaction goes well, end it while it is still going well and keep the interactions short at first. Short positive interactions build positive memory associations and this sets our dogs and our children up for a life long friendship.
Another way to set up children and dogs for success is to eliminate dogs from certain situations. Dogs do not need to be around a family eating dinner. Dogs, kids, and a table with food are a bad combination and feeding children can be challenging enough. Dogs should also be fed in peace. This is the same when the children are running and playing in the yard or park, with or without their friends. Horse playing children and dogs are a bad combination. Dogs enjoy family walks, bring them on those instead. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our dogs is leave them at home or put them in their crate or other safe place.
Crate training a dog is highly recommended for a multitude of reasons and providing a dog with a safe refuge is one of them. A child should be taught that they should never bother a dog inside their crate (a good lesson for everyone).
Healthy boundaries and structure go along way towards building a strong relationship between children and their dog. It is amongst one of the most beautiful things to witness. By setting them up for success we can ensure that our children have lifelong happy memories and a best friend they will never forget.