It's a question I get a lot.
How do you manage all your dogs side-by-side with three young kids?
My reaction is usually to joke about how our household is quite comparable to a zoo. But then, in all seriousness I have to admit that there is not one magic formula. Instead, it takes lots of management, consistency, and quite often... training the kids more than the dogs.
Watching the relationship between a child and a dog develop is an incredible gift. We see these commercials or watch movies about the kid and the dog who are best friends. Who doesn't want that? The bond between kids and canines is truly amazing, but sometimes that bond takes more work than anticipated! Sometimes it's a reality shock.
Puppies love little fingers and fast moving pant legs. Some dogs are terrified of crawling babies, and others are fascinated by strange smells that they emit. Most dogs love toddlers in high chairs, because that's an automatic freebie. Sometimes it's easy, and other times it just isn't!
There are a lot of factors that go into this. How old are the kids? What history does the dog have? How old is the dog? Has your dog been around babies? Is the dog naturally pretty confident or is he a little more fearful? There are some things you just can't change, but what you can do is manage the interactions between your kids and dogs and set up guidelines.
The rules set in place for both kids and canines will shape that bond, and ultimately the success of the relationship. Here are our top 10 tricks for a healthy relationship between your kids and your canines:
1. Incorporate your kids into training activities. If it seems like your dog listens well to you but not your children, have your kids help with training. They can teach the dog obedience skills or just fun tricks! It doesn't matter the specifics of the skill; it matters that the dog understands kids are someone to listen to.
2. Teach your kids not to take things from dogs. It is important that children learn not to take away toys, bones, chews, etc. from dogs while they are chewing on them. This can create resource guarding (also known as food or toy aggression) in dogs. Your kids don't like it when puppies take away their stuffed animals or toys? Dogs don't like it either!
3. Play, play, play. Have your kids play ball or tug with your canine. This will help your dog associate fun and positive things with the children and prevent the dog from being afraid. Parents, it is important to be hands on and help supervise the play, especially if your kids are young and your dog gets easily over-stimulated.
4. Create dog-free spaces for your children. Use baby gates if needed! It's important that your kids have a space to play where the dogs (especially puppies) aren't going to try to take their toys or be knocking them over out of excitement.
5. Play hide and seek! Have your children help teach your dog to come when called by having them hide somewhere in the house and call the pup to come find them. Once the dog finds them, make sure the kids praise him and offer him treats! Dogs and kids alike enjoy this game.
6. If your dog is a jumper, encourage your kids not to give the dog attention when he is jumping. Petting dogs that have two feet off the ground only gives positive reinforcement for a behavior you don't want. If your dog jumps because he wants attention and then he gets attention, he will only jump more in the future.
7. Create kid-free spaces for your dog. It's important that your dog understands he can remove himself from a given situation and be left alone. A crate should always be a "no touch zone," but we also recommend having a dog bed or platform your dog can go to as well that is his space.
8. Teach children not to disturb dogs that are sleeping or eating. Dogs have personal space bubbles, and it's important that kids learn to respect that space bubble.
9. Stop moving if the puppy is chasing. If your puppy likes to chase pant legs, teach your children to be still instead of running away. Running and quick motions trigger dogs into a state of natural prey drive. Slow movement (or no movement) will be less triggering and help manage this until you teach the puppy not to grab onto pant legs.
10. Teach kids not to pull tails, ears, poke at dogs, or give dogs hugs. Again, dogs have personal space bubbles and don't enjoy being climbed on or feeling trapped. No matter how adorable that hug is, it's important to teach children proper interactions with dogs. If you have kids are too young to understand this, you will need to supervise all interactions between the dog and child. Baby gates and crates are lifesavers!
Want more tips on raising a well-behaved dog in a family with children? Be sure to join our HDT Online Membership for FREE to gain access to our upcoming "Kids & Canines" class, as well as many other online training courses!
About The Author: Megan is the owner and lead trainer of Havana Dog Training. She has been training canines for over 8 years and specializes in behavior modification, foundational work, and working with families and young children.