A dog can make a wonderful family pet. Looking after a dog, or helping you to look after one, is a great way for children to learn about animals, responsibility, and how to care for something else. Giving a dog the exercise it needs is a good way to keep children and teens active. However, not all dogs are well-suited to family life. A dog that lives with children needs to be patient, calm, ready to play, and tolerant to being hassled, surprised with a loud noise, or woken up. You can start by choosing a dog with the right temperament, and then make the dog into a child-friendly dog with some training. Here’s how to do it.
You can learn about different kinds of training methods on this page, but you can begin to make sure your dog and your child are safe together with these tips.
Socialize the Puppy
Puppies have a critical period of development between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks. At this age, they are much more likely to be able to learn to be comfortable with a variety of different people and situations if you can introduce them to them during this period. If you have added a puppy to the family, make sure you introduce it to the children in a positive way. It can help your puppy to meet different children of a range of ages in a variety of different situations, such as on the street, at the park, or visiting your home. These children that you first introduce the puppy to, should be well-behaved around dogs and know to be gentle. If your dog has positive experiences with children, it will soon associate them with good feelings.
If your new dog is already an adult, it’s not too late to socialize it around children. You will just need to take the process a little more slowly and gently. Make sure you offer lots of treats that your dog really values and give it lots of praise. If your dog begins to show any signs of stress, remove them from the situation immediately.
Start an Obedience Program
Having a dog that is well-behaved is the first step in making sure that any children in your home, whether your own or visiting, are safe around the dog. Start by teaching your dog some basic commands, like sit and down. From here, you can teach the dog how to properly behave around children. For example, if your dog’s first instinct when a visitor comes to the house is to jump up to give them kisses, teaching the dog to lie down instead will let you direct the dog into a more appropriate reaction.
You can train your dog yourself, but you might want to take the dog to some training classes to get some help from a professional trainer. Dog training classes are more affordable than one-on-one professional training and have the added bonus of giving your dog the chance to learn how to behave around other dogs too.
Practice Handling Exercises
No matter how well-behaved a child is, sometimes they just won’t be able to resist throwing their arms around the dog or pulling at its tail. To prevent this turning nasty, prepare your dog for this kind of attention before it meets a child. Give the dog lots of praise or perhaps a few of its favorite treats while you do things like hugging it, playing with its ears, holding its paws, or gently pulling its tail. If your dog shows signs of fear and anxiety at this kind of attention, then it’s probably wise for you to keep children at a distance, just in case.
Don’t Allow Your Dog to Jump Up
You might not mind when your dog jumps up to say hello to you, but not every visitor who comes to your house will feel the same way, especially if you have a big or strong dog. Jumping up can be especially dangerous if the visitor is a young child who might be hurt or frightened if your dog accidentally knocks them over.
The best way to avoid this problem is to not allow your dog to jump up at all. If the dog jumps up at your when you walk in through the door, teach it to sit instead. If this doesn’t work, if the dog jumps up, turn around and walk back out of the house. Only give your dog fuss and praise when you come home if it is calm and has all four paws safely on the ground. Your dog will quickly learn that it’s more rewarding not to jump up on people.
Introduce Children’s Toys
Think about all the things that children’s toys can do. Lots of toys, whether dolls or stuffed animals, can make strange, high-pitched noises. Bikes fly by at a fast pace. Balls are thrown or kicked across the yard or park. All of these things can be startling to a dog, or make it very tempting for them to try to steal, chew, or chase different toys. This can lead to toys being destroyed, which would upset a child, but in more extreme cases, it could also lead to a child being nipped or knocked over by a dog chasing their bike or trying to steal a stuffed animal.
A more sensitive dog might be afraid of some children’s toys and could then begin to associate that fear with children as well.
To prevent this problem, introduce your dog to some different toys, without any children around. This is when those basic commands like ‘leave it’ or ‘stay’ will come in handy. Use these commands to prevent your dog from stealing, chewing, or chasing after toys that aren’t theirs. Make sure you instead direct the dog to more appropriate dog toys. If your dog is of a nervous disposition, reward it with treats when it is around toys for children.