It seems like a timeless pairing, one echoed over and over in movies and literature. Kids and dogs, dogs and kids. While we who had dogs growing up look back on those memories fondly, there is also potential for conflict with this pairing. It is our duty to properly introduce children and dogs to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
If you’re expecting a baby and already have a dog at home, there are some things you can do to make the transition easier. Firstly, allow the dog to investigate new items coming into the home. Chances are they’ve never seen a crib before, or maybe a rocking chair is a little scary. Let them check it out at their own pace and reward them with praise and treats for calm but confident behaviour. If possible, ask a friend if you can borrow a baby blanket to introduce your dog to the smell of a newborn. Use videos and soundtracks (Youtube is great) to desensitize your dog to the sounds of a baby. Their little squeaks, gurgles are cries are probably all new to your dog. Play the sounds for a few minutes a couple times a day and always reward your dog for calm behaviour. You want this to be a positive experience! Begin training new habits you’ll expect from your dog before the baby arrives. For example, if you didn’t mind them jumping up to greet you, you might mind when you are carrying a baby. Better to train it now than have to deal with it later. If you expect your dog to stay out of the nursery once the baby is there, don’t allow them in it now. Instead, offer them their own safe space such as a bed or crate where they can go for some relaxation. If their routine is going to change once the baby is born, try easing into it now so it’s not too much change at once.
Never force the dog to interact with the baby. Allow them to move at their own pace and don’t scold the dog if they are uncomfortable. Scent will be the most informative tool for your dog, followed by sound and then sight. Don’t feel the need to put the baby in your dogs face so she can see. She is learning plenty already! Always reward calm behaviour; it’s easy to ignore the dog when they are behaving themselves but we want them to know that this is good for them too. If the dog seeks distance, allow it. With time, they will learn that this newcomer is part of the family. Additionally, don’t neglect the dog’s exercise. Pent up energy leads to frustration and attention seeking behaviour. A tired dog is a happy dog!
When adding a dog to your family, adopt through a reputable rescue or breeder. They will have an idea of why a particular dog is looking for a new home, as well as be able to pick one that will likely get along with kids the best. Most puppies and many adult dogs will be able to adapt seamlessly. However, be aware that some dogs have never been around children and will need a slow, controlled introduction. Talk to your kids beforehand and remind them that the new dog may be nervous at first. Make sure they know that the dog needs their own space sometimes (such as the bed or kennel) and to respect when it needs a break. Also, when the dog is eating or sleeping, children should leave them be. Encourage kids to be calm and still upon the initial introduction. If possible, take the whole family for a walk so they can get acquainted without being stared at face to face. Never allow the kids to roughly handle or climb on the dog; even if they are good with kids, a pinch or pressure on a sore joint might cause a reaction. Demonstrate safe play for the children and dog and allow them to help with simple tasks such as filling the food dish or cleaning up toys. Involve kids in training (but don’t expect them to do it all on their own) for the most consistent results. Rowdy play should always be supervised by an adult; everyone needs to understand that children running around may over stimulate a dog (especially puppies) which can lead to mouthing or accidently knocking kids over. Puppies need to chew so give them appropriate outlets and everyone stays safe and happy. Puppies will also help kids tidy up after themselves…one way or another!
Educate your children on how to properly greet a strange dog. Make sure they understand that not all dogs have met kids before and they may be intimidated. This is not the same dog they have at home. Most often, people suggest putting out your hand for the dog to sniff. However, if you encounter a fearful or aggressive dog, this hand may be seen as a threat. The best thing to do is remain perfectly still, with your hands at your sides. The dog will come investigate on their own. Tell the children that dogs have sensitive ears and loud screams and shrieks are not pleasant for them (even if the child is just excited). Calm is always best. Encourage children to always ask the owner and respect their replies before petting a dog. If they are allowed to pet it, and it’s already approached them calmly and happily, they may gently stroke the dog under the chin, on the chest or on the shoulders. Refrain from reaching over their heads, grabbing their ears, paws or tails, and pushing on their back end. Don’t let the children chase or corner the dog; even if the kids are playing, the dog may get defensive. If the children encounter a dog they don’t know without the owner present, they should find a trusted adult to help. Again, don’t chase the dog. If the dog approaches them, tell the children to avoid eye contact and stay calm and still (don’t run away). Dog parks can be fun for the whole family as long as the children are confident and know how to interact with strange dogs. A child that will run and scream if a strange dog approaches is not ready for an off leash area.
A little bit of education will go a long way in creating a lasting bond between children and dogs. By choosing to bring these four-legged friends into our families, we choose to be a responsible pet owner. Use this opportunity to teach empathy, compassion and duty to your children, but don’t forget to sit back and enjoy the experience!