This post is a follow-up to my previous post about dogs and babies for child safety month. Here we will focus on babies-on-the-go and older children.
As anyone with a newly mobile baby or an older child knows, kids are quick and really good at getting into things they aren’t supposed to. Add a dog or two into the mix and you’re really in for some excitement! Dogs are so interesting to babies and toddlers. Older kids are so eager to play with their dog. And parents want so badly for their dogs and children to be best friends. But relationships take TIME and EFFORT. The way a child interacts with the family dog as they become mobile and independent plays an important role in forming a positive relationship for the future. Here are some ways you can set your dog and child up for success.
TEACH YOUR CHILD TO NEVER APPROACH A DOG
It doesn’t matter if it’s your family dog, a dog you are familiar with, or a stranger’s dog. Children are unpredictable as far as dogs are concerned. And children cannot interpret dog behavior. ALWAYS invite the dog to interact in a controlled manner. With older babies and young toddlers this means using guided touch. Guided touch means the parent holds the child’s hand and facilitates the gentle petting of the dog. With children who are older, this means playing structured games that give the dog and child a chance to interact. By allowing the dog to decide when they want to be included, you show the dog respect and build that positive relationship.
A dog that is constantly chased, climbed on, or has to “tolerate” uncomfortable interactions with children will form a negative association with kids and will eventually stop tolerating these behaviors.
IF A DOG DECIDES TO APPROACH
A good rule of thumb is to always have a parent between the dog and child. This way the parent is actively supervising, and if EITHER wants to end the interaction, the parent can facilitate that. Remember to watch for signs that your child is uncomfortable or that the dog is becoming a little too interested in your child.
Teach your children to pet with only ONE hand, and to “pet, pet, pause” with any animal. This way they can know if the pet does or does not want to interact anymore. Also remember that licking and a wagging tail do not always indicate a happy dog that is enjoying himself. A rapidly wagging tail can indicate that dog is nervous and licking can be a way for a dog to ask you to get away. Look at the dog’s body language as a whole. Once the interaction is over, that’s it! All done, leave the dog alone now.
MODEL APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR
YOU are the bridge between the dog and your child. As parents know all to well, kids adopt the behaviors modeled by their parents. Think about the way you behave around your dog, is this the way you want your child to behave as well? For example, my husband and I have always passed treats to our dogs through their kennel bars. So we had to stop doing that when our daughter started trying to put things into the dog kennels. We were telling her to leave the dogs alone when they were in their kennels, but not modeling that ourselves.
PLAY APPROPRIATE GAMES
It’s great to have dogs and kids play games together, and it’s important that these are fun and safe for everyone involved. One great game to play with kids of any age is to have your dog on a leash and your child either sitting in a chair or on your lap as you sit in a chair. Give your child treats to place around a room or hide for the dog as the dog stays next to you. Once the child has distributed the treats, have them come back and sit on your lap or on the chair. Then release the dog to go get the treats. Repeat.
If you want to play a game like fetch, use a chair in the same way, and teach your dog to drop the toy on the floor in front of the chair. Then have them sit or put them on leash while your child throws the toy. This way the dog won’t jump up on the child, and the child has time to pick up the toy and toss it.
Again you can check out the Dogs and Toddlers program and associated videos at www.Familypaws.com.
Doggone Safe and Doggone Crazy have TONS of information for parents about child safety around dogs. There are even pictures of and information about dog body language. You may have heard of their “Be A Tree” program. Check them out at www.doggonesafe.com and www.facebook.com/doggonecrazy.