So many people decide to get a new puppy when the children are small, seems the done thing right? It seems such good timing when you are at home anyway with young children and how perfect to have puppy and children growing up together. Well, perfect it absolutely is when done right, but without the right planning and training it can be a logistical night mare and a new puppy can literally drive an already tired parent up the wall.
Perhaps you don’t have young children at home but maybe have visiting grandchildren you would like your puppy to be familiar with or an older dog who just isn’t used to being around children and it can all end up getting out of hand?
In this post, we’re going to take a look at some really useful things you can do to help dogs and puppies cope with being around children which will all help in developing good manners and keeping children safe.
Let us show you how you can make getting a puppy with young children one of the best decisions you will ever make.
Why Child Safety is Important
Being happy and gentle around children is something a dog or puppy has to learn and experience, it doesn’t always come naturally.
Dogs make super pets, but so many expectations are put on them of how to behave around young children.
When they don’t behave as expected; when they chase a child or jump up or pinch a snack from their hand, parents are very quick to react and sometimes even punish the dog when really, if they haven’t been taught what the boundaries and guidelines are when little people are around, that sort of reaction is quite unfair.
Things a Dog may not Understand
Put yourself in a dogs shoes for a minute a view the world through their eyes. A dog does’t know that:
- chasing a child even though they look like they are having fun may result in them tripping and hurting themselves.
- they shouldn’t accept the hotdog the child is waving around in front of their nose.
- a screaming child saying stop or go away puppy, is a child that is scared and doesn’t want to play.
- they may seem quite big and intimidating to a toddler the same size as them, when the dog just seems them as an equal play mate.
- it’s OK to play bite or wrestle with the adults but that’s too rough for children.
- a baby throwing food on the floor from the high chair whilst looking at the dog isn’t food that should be eaten.
From the dogs eyes, children are playmates, they are fun, super exciting, noisy but they don’t understand where the boundaries lie to keep them safe.
the Role of the Dog Owner
If a dog is to spend regular time with children, whatever their age, it is the role of the dog owner to make sure that their dog or puppy is socialised well to children and exposed to them on a regular basis in a controlled manner.
It is also their responsibility to teach the dog healthy boundaries to help them cope with children and learn how to have fun, play nicely whilst also keeping children safe.
Here are 10 things that can really help with establishing healthy boundaries and safety with children:
In an ideal world puppies need socialising to children between 8 and 12 weeks of ages as a positive experience. When they are this young, their brains are like sponges and any thing they experience positively will stay with them for life.
If you have a puppy, even if you don’t have children yourself but there is a chance that in your dogs life time they will be expected to mix well with children, the best thing you can do is to introduce them to children of a variety of ages as young as possible.
Whenever you are socialising your dog to new situations, have a bag of high value treats and reward your dog for no reaction and willingly accepting new things.
A great way to do this with children is:
- Firstly, reward your dog/puppy with high value treats when they simply see a child passing in the street or somewhere at a distance. This needs repeating lots and lots.
- The next stage or if you have children at home is to give children a small cup of treats and let them feed the puppy directly, or with little fingers sprinkle on the floor in front of them to help build up a positive association to children for the dog.
- As the dog and child gets more confident, the child can sprinkle treats around the floor in a trail in the house or garden for the puppy to find.
- When food is involved, the dog will learn to associate children to food and therefore something positive.
- For dogs who are already quite lively and boisterous around children, leave them on a long lead/line so you can easily gently pull them away if they get too excited.
2. Give your Dog a Safe Space
Every dog regardless of age needs to have a safe space. We highly recommend positive crate training for puppies as this has tonnes of benefits for everyone involved but especially those families with children. To learn more about introducing a safe space positively, check out our FREE lesson here!
Even if you decide not to use a crate, your dog still must have an area that is fairly enclosed and cosy, where they can go to chill and relax and where they can feel safe. Areas that work well include, under the stairs, in a utility room, under the worktop in the kitchen or tucked in a corner somewhere.
Whichever safe space you use, the really important thing is that you make it the most amazing place for them to be. ALWAYS treat them when they go in it and use yummy food dispensing toys such as frozen kongs to keep them occupied in there. Get some delicious tasty kong recipes here! Give them regular periods of time in this space alone without you every day, some for just a few minutes, some for longer, so they get used to it and this will also prevent problems like separation anxiety.
3. respect your Dog
Respect their space and how they are feeling and give them space when they need it. This tip varies depending on the age and stage of your dog and children.
- Young Puppies need plenty of sleep so give the puppy plenty of down time in the crate or their safe space. Regular naps reduces play biting and getting over tired. Living with young children can be exhausting for a puppy so it is really important you educate your children that when the puppy is sleeping, the crate is covered and they must not disturb them.
- Older dogs may also find young children overwhelming if they live with them so the same rule applies, if the dog is resting in their safe space, leave them be and do not disturb them.
- For dogs that do not live with children, it is important to be aware that if they are suddenly exposed to them, they may only be able to cope with this for short durations so if the dog looks like they have had enough of interaction, help them escape to their safe space and ensure the children don’t follow them.
- Your dog does not need to be with you every hour of every day, give them space to chill and be happy alone, which will help them cope better with different situations.
- Don’t set your dog up to fail. If a situation such as a children’s party is likely to be too overwhelming, it’s OK to remove your dog from that situation before anything negative happens. Use high value food dispensing toys and treats to make sure this isn’t a negative experience. If they are used to frequent time in their safe space they will be more than happy to go in there with a kong whilst the party continues.
4. Positive Association
Associating children of all ages to a positive experience is key for success with children and dogs mixing. As already said, this is best done from a puppy but if you have a dog that has ever been exposed to children, or children of certain ages, it has to be done carefully and gradually.
By associating children to food, this speeds up the positive association as most dogs LOVE food. Here are a few things children can do to interact positively with the dog:
- Laying food trails.
- Puppy ping pong game – simple recall game between two people of saying dogs name once, coming and treating and then calling back to the other person. See how to do this with children on our Welcome Home Puppy Course.
- Practicing simple commands like touch, sit, down, paw then treating.
- Sprinkling chicken or other high value treats near to the kong as the dog is chewing the kong.
- Sprinkling extra food into their food bowl as they are eating their dinner.
Think about what boundaries work for your family, your routine and if needs be put some physical barriers in place to help with these. Things such as child gates can help to keep your dog in a particular area so you can more easily keep an eye on them.
The following boundaries can really be helpful:
- child gates to prevent following behaviours and to help separate young children from the puppy when unsupervised.
- young children need safe spaces to play too.
- teach your dog to be happy alone in his own company by using lots of food dispensing activity toys. Learn more here . . .
- use the crate regularly but not just when you are out of the house otherwise thwy will learn to associate it to absence.
- giving your dog a kong or a chew on their bed when you sit down to watch TV or to eat dinner to prevent them from hovering round the table or trying to demand your attention.
- use snuffle mats or scatter feeding when you need to do things that need your focus like changing nappies or taking a phone call.
6. Manners and House Rules
Deciding on what you want your house rules and basic manners to look like for your dog and that everyone understands these and sticks to them and deals with them in the same way is key.
House rules that are particularly useful for households with children are:
- No jumping up
- No mouthing – teeth on skin at all.
- No hovering around the dinner table – bed or crate whilst family eating
- Learning the leave it command.
- Learning the drop it command.
- No climbing on the sofa unless invited.
- No going upstairs – use child gates.
- Before guests arrive, give your dog a food dispensing toy or scatter feed in another room or in the garden so they are out of the way while people arrive. Greetings can happen once the initial arrival excitement has calmed right down.
7. Educate the Children
It is as important to educate children about how to behave around a dog or puppy as it is to educate the dog themselves. The best way to keep children safe around dogs is to teach them the following things:
- running around and squealing gets dogs very excited.
- for a calm dog, they need to be calm also in their voices, in their body language and their mannerisms.
- they can play with the dog/puppy but if play gets too rough or mouthy, they must fold their arms, turn away from the dog and ignore them. When they turn back to face them, if they have stopped jumping or mouthing, play can continue.
- rough play gets NO interaction, gentle play gets lots of interaction and fun.
- sitting on the floor with the dog is an invitation for them to climb on them.
- if they are on the floor, it is better to kneel so they can quickly and calmly stand up if the dog gets too excited.
- a sleeping dog should not be disturbed.
- they can be involved with the dogs training with a little cup of treats and can learn how to play positive but helpful games like puppy ping pong and hide and seek and laying food trails.
- not to take food away from the dog but any time they are eating and they pass by, they can sprinkle in some extra treats or food. This prevents food aggression or any negative associations to children over food.
No matter how calm your dog is, do not leave them unsupervised with young children. This is to keep both your children and dog safe.
How many times do you hear, “Mummy the puppy bit me”. If you weren’t there you can’t see what actually happened and so many times dogs can simply react instinctively to something a child may have done without realising it. When you or a responsible adult are supervising, they are on hand to ensure safety, house rules and be there to notice if the dog is becoming over tired and needs some space away from the child.
Older children should only be left with guidance knowing that they have been educated on how to behave around the dog and have a good understanding of their training and positive reward.
It is really important that your dog gets enough physical and mental stimulation for the breed and age they are at. Off lead exercise each day is always the best way to ensure this but they also need mental stimulation each day in the form of basic commands training, activity toys and games.
A tired and well stimulated dog has less energy to be anxious or to show frustration in the home which is really important when there are children around. One that is agitated, desperate for a run or to learn is much more likely to play up and get over excited around family members as they are searching for attention.
Stimulation through games, training and off lead exercise can all involve children especially as they get a bit older. Our Welcome Home Puppy Course is full of ways to not only involve children in the training but also helps you with things like loose lead walking, establishing a bombproof recall and teaching all the basic commands so please check it out to learn more.
10. Reward Calm Behaviour
So many people without realising it fall into the trap of ignoring the dog and only giving them attention when somethings goes wrong, when they are naughty and go running off with a shoe or chasing a child. This teaches the dog that being naughty is the right way to get attention.
Instead, always notice your dog when they are offering calm and settled behaviours, especially around children. If your child is playing and they decide to go and lie down then quietly throw them a tasty treat and say “SETTLE” or another calm cue. The more you reward the behaviour you want to see, the less the negative behaviour will happen. This way your dog learns by positive association which is much more effective than trying to constantly correct negative behaviours.
Well, there are 8 really helpful tips that should set you up for success with dogs and children.
Remember don’t expect your dog to know how to behave around children. Teach them like you would anything else that is new and always reward calm behaviour. Educate your dog, educate your children and practice with lots of exposures and build up to closer proximity as and when your dog is ready.
Commonly asked questions
What if you Already have an older dog?
If you have an older dog and feel you have missed that vital socialisation stage as a puppy to get them used to children, do not worry. It is never too late to start socialising, the process can just take a little bit longer.
If your dog has built up negative associations to children, these can take many more positive experiences to undo so be patient. Start at a distance, don’t expect your older dog to be able to go full in to a kids party. Help them out and set them up for success but you will get there, remember high value treats are a great way to help the process.
Can you really trust a dog with a child?
The honest answer is no, no matter how trustworthy you think they are. Young children should always be supervised with dogs.
Older children need to be educated well and demonstrate responsibility, involvement in their day to day life and a good relationship with the dog and have an understanding of their body language and their needs before given responsibility and this should always be done gradually.
Children are too precious and their unpredictable nature coupled with dogs natural instincts should always be considered. But still dogs make the most amazing family pets when raised well and positively.