The thought of kids and the family dog usually conjures up images of playing in the yard, going to soccer games and cuddling on the couch. Often, the reality is that kids, especially young ones and puppies, can be a bit of a nightmare together.
There are often rough periods before getting to that Norman Rockwell stage of best friends. Neither pups nor young children possess the skill, control or maturity to make good choices around each other. Therefore, allowing them to interact freely usually leads to the puppy viewing the kids as a replacement for lost littermates and inappropriate habits form. In no time at all, the pup will be jumping, chasing, biting, and grabbing clothes.
To get the relationship off to a better start, there are a few things that you can do. Ideally, these should happen from the first day the pup comes home — even better, the very first interaction.
Management is part of any solid training plan, no matter the issue. Whether you are training or in real-life mode, organizing the environment and the available options is mandatory.
Having good management in place will allow you to be proactive and keep everyone comfortable and safe. This is better than reacting to inappropriate choices as they happen. Every time your puppy repeats a behaviour, it becomes more likely to be repeated. The same applies to the child. Prevention via management is your most straightforward and sensible choice to prevent unwanted behaviours from becoming habits.
Here are a few examples of management for children and pups:
Have your pup and child separated using a puppy playpen or baby gate:
- while children are playing in the house or yard
- when the puppy is eating or sleeping
Have your puppy on a leash:
- when the children are playing in the yard
So, to sum up, using management will:
- allow your child to safely participate in an activity that your pup doesn’t have the skill to deal with yet, and vice versa.
- prevent behaviours you don’t like or that are inappropriate to develop into habits.
- allow you to build a positive association and teach your pup to remain calm while keeping your pup at a safe distance from the childrens’ activity.
- allow you to have a break from actively supervising
This brings us to the second crucial part of keeping pups and children safe. First, let’s discuss what supervising really means.
Supervising isn’t just being present. Good supervision, like management, is proactive. It requires understanding what behaviour is acceptable and recognizing signs of arousal and stress. It prevents inappropriate interactions by actively watching what is happening and interrupting and redirecting when necessary. Good supervision not only keeps everyone safe. It also ensures interactions are appropriate and everyone is comfortable.
Here are a few examples of good supervision for children and pups:
- providing appropriate toys for both the child and pup so they can entertain themselves independently, standing by to intervene if necessary
- directing shared activities to help both parties with their choices
- actively participating in interactions that involve contact
There’s a lot of talk about dogs and respect. It’s usually about the dog needing to respect us. A more valuable approach is humans learning to understand and respect dogs and their communications. Although parents must always be present when young children and dogs are together, we still must teach and guide children to be respectful and fair in their interactions.
Developing a sense of respect for dogs as living beings isn’t a trivial thing. Dogs are not stuffy toys. They shouldn’t be poked or prodded. Their ears and tails shouldn’t be pulled. They are not meant to be ridden or sat on. They shouldn’t be picked up and carried around like a sack of potatoes. Their emotions should also be considered, recognizing when they are not comfortable or want to be left alone. When they eat, rest, or sleep, they should be left to do so. And please don’t allow your child to tease your pup. It is not fair. These are all things that every child should learn.
So you have an idea of how to manage and supervise your pup and kids. You understand the importance of encouraging respectful interactions to help develop a healthy and appropriate relationship. Now I’d like to talk about some specific activities that will promote great interactions.
Having your new pup and your child interact in a structured way can avoid many common challenges. Depending on your child’s age, there are several ways that you can set up safe and predictable activities that will establish calm behaviour and great habits.
Setting Up a Great Dynamic
Feeding is one great example. Unlike having the pup and child interact freestyle by having them play or loose in an area together, feeding will allow the child to have a specific task to do. As a result, it reduces random behaviour from the child and the chance of excited or inappropriate choices. On the puppy’s side, it will help teach focus and that the child is the source of something great, rather than seeing them as a plaything. Of course, it is vital that an adult practice calm feeding with the pup before the child becomes involved. When they do, an adult must be present to help the child or pup, as necessary.
This is just one example of a great activity that will help create a lovely dynamic and move the relationship in a completely different direction – a more appropriate one. So rather than letting your pup and child play together as their first interaction, why not take advantage of the lasting impression of first experiences and make it a great one?
I hope this has helped show you how you can set your kids and pup up to be successful together. Creating safe environments for both to live and play alongside one another, careful supervision, respectful interactions and structured activities all contribute to a great relationship, fewer issues and more peace. And if your child and pup have gotten off to a shaky start, you can still implement these suggestions and get things moving in a better direction.
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