Children and their pets can form strong, lasting bonds that will be nurtured for years, but — especially with young children and toddlers — we should be careful around dogs and remember that they can be unpredictable.
To help you keep your little ones as safe as possible, the safety experts at Safetots have shared their top tips on how your family can play with dogs safely.
Peter Boast, Managing Director of Safetots, explained: “It is important to remember that you can never guarantee how calm and playful a dog will be when approached by a young child. So when introducing your children to a dog for the first time, do so with distance and never leave them alone. While dogs can be considered the primary safety concern, children also need to be taught how to play with pets gently so as not to accidentally injure them and provoke a reaction.
“Especially with babies or toddlers, dogs can be suspicious of this newcomer or even jealous because they need to share your attention. In these early stages, you should always separate your dog and child with stair gates and safety barriers to prevent them from wandering into the nursery or bedroom. As your children get older, they may begin to develop a closer bond with your dog, but it’s still wise to supervise their playtime so you can make sure everyone is safe and healthy.”
Here’s what to consider if you’re both a parent and pet owner.
The most important thing to remember when you have small children and dogs is to set clear boundaries. No matter how exercised or calm you think your four-legged friend will be, you can never fully guarantee their reaction to a small child. That’s why you should always keep your child’s room or bedroom as a restricted area, especially in the early phase of life.
Be sure to use standard stair gates or versatile gates designed for both pets and children to keep your dog out of their nursery. This can give you peace of mind as a parent as you are in full control of their interactions and can never leave them together unsupervised. Playpens can also be a great way to ensure your little ones are protected while your dog is free to roam or play in your downstairs spaces.
Other important boundaries ensure your dog never licks your baby or toddler as it can be unsafe and unsanitary. Also, never let your pets eat off your child’s plate—in fact, it’s best to have their meals at different times and in separate rooms so your dog doesn’t associate your children’s mealtimes with theirs. Having your dog crate trained can also be a great way to give them their own space away from your kids’ play area, which can often be noisy and overwhelming for your furry friend.
training and reinforcement
If you already have a dog and are planning to start a family, it is advisable to start training them as soon as possible. Create a command like “Gentle!” learn what they associate with caution and practice this by letting them take treats from your hands slowly and gently. Reward this with lots of positive reinforcement like hugs, walks, and playing with his favorite toy. If they start associating this behavior with positive things, test their training on an adult visitor to your home. If he still understands the command and knows how to be gentle, your pup will be more likely to respond to your direction when meeting children in the future.
Also, if your dog has a habit of jumping at people, now is an important time to correct this behavior. Not only do some adults feel uncomfortable with it, but larger dogs also run the risk of knocking over and injuring children, even if they just want to play. As most parents can attest, it’s far better to start training your dog now before you have to run after the little ones!
Teaching children dog-friendly behavior
While training your dog is obviously the priority, children should also learn to play with dogs safely and responsibly. It is important that not only are your little ones never left unsupervised with your pet, but also that they know what is acceptable and what is not. For example, young children can be curious and eager to interact with new things. Explain to them that pulling or climbing on the dog’s tail or ears can injure the animal and is not allowed. Even if your dog is well socialized with children and usually has a calm demeanor, this can result in him reacting instinctively and growling or even biting your child.
Instead, teach your kids how to approach your dog gently and carefully, and most importantly, leave him alone when he’s in his crate, eating, sleeping, or playing with his favorite toy. This is when dogs can feel most possessive of their space, which means they may lash out at your child without meaning to.
Play with older children
As your children grow up, they may develop a closer bond with your dog and maybe even become steady friends. Pets can be a great way to teach your children responsibility and caring for others. However, you should continue to monitor their playtime and make sure your pup still remembers his command to play gently. Oftentimes, getting your kids involved in dog training or teaching them tricks is better than letting them play wildly with toys, and it can also strengthen their bond in the future.
Join our Scotsdog Facebook group here for the latest dog news, pictures, advice and information