Having a family with dogs and children can be hard work, especially in the beginning, but the fruits of your labor are priceless. Before I had children, I had no idea if any of my dogs had ever been around little ones. It took some time for me to understand each dog’s reactions to this new person, and we’ve put a lot of effort into shaping and maintaining the relationship each dog has with the kids. What I’ve found is that laying out expectations before any potential problems is much easier than trying to fix a problem later on. - Christine Allen
If you are expecting a baby, teaching your dog obedience skills is extremely helpful for managing the household, and reinforcing your place as a leader. Actually, much of being a responsible owner is similar to parenting. Dogs and children both benefit from firm but consistent training! No matter what age your child is, here are some key points to maintaining a successful relationship between your dogs and kids.
Teaching your dog that his crate is a happy and safe place can be so helpful when you have a child. If you’re expecting, and you have never crate-trained your dog before, start now. After the baby is born, your dog has a safe and quiet place to go to get away from a screaming or crying baby. When the baby is mobile and discovers that folding and squeezing your dog’s ears is the best thing since mashed sweet potatoes, or that the dog’s tail makes a perfect teething toy, let your dog escape to his crate when he wants to get away. When your baby is a child and he’s got friends over so that they can re-enact the final showdown between Luke and Darth Vadar, complete with light sabers and the Star Wars soundtrack, your dog can stay to greet his friends, and then excuse himself to his crate before the kids decide that your dog can play Jabba the Hut.
Of course, this means that you must teach your child that the crate is a no-child zone when your dog is trying to get some separation from the little person. This is not to say, however, that the crate should be used to exclude the dog from the family. In fact, you want to do exactly the opposite.
Your dog is part of your family. Having a baby does not have to change that. On the other hand, while you may know that your baby is part of the family, you will have to help your dog understand that as well. If you’re expecting a baby, include your dog in all the baby preparation – decorating the nursery, setting up the crib, putting the baby clothes away, etc. Try to prep the dog as much as you can. Some people play a CD of a baby crying and cooing in an attempt to acclimate the dog to the unfamiliar sounds. When you actually have the baby, have someone bring home the blanket that wrapped the baby the first night, and let your dog sniff at it and check it out. And, after the baby has come home, let your dog hang out with you when you feed the baby, or change her diaper. Reward your dog for being calm around the baby and otherwise acting appropriately. Put your baby in the stroller, leash your dog up, and take a walk together. You want the dog to associate good things with having this new person around.
No matter how much you trust your dog, always supervise both your dog and your child when they are together. Especially when your child is an infant or toddler, never leave her unattended with your dog. While your dog may be perfectly behaved and predictable in normal situations, children can be rather unpredictable, and suddenly, what was a perfectly normal situation can change into something that is not. If you cannot supervise, crate the dog, or bring either the child or dog with you. If you are just going out to get the mail, let your baby continue his nap on your bed or in his crib while you have your dog accompany you to the mailbox. While your baby is entranced by his own reflection in the baby mirror, bring your dog with you to put the laundry into the dryer. (Photo credit: Kira Stackhouse)
As your baby grows into a toddler, you can start teaching her to help you take care of the dog. Just as you are teaching your child how to use a sippy cup or wave “hi,” you can teach her how to be gentle with the dog. If your dog is crated when you and your toddler are at the grocery store, or running errands, your child can be the one to open the crate for him when you get home. Eventually, she can be the one to feed your dog his meals, throw the ball for him, and take him for walks.
RESPECT YOUR DOG. As much as the happiness and safety of your child is your responsibility, so is the happiness and safety of your dog. Too often, people believe that dogs should be tolerant of just about everything a child does to them. Just as you would discipline your child for hitting or biting other people, you must also prevent her from treating your dog in that way. Step in and take control of your child if he is taunting or annoying your dog. Your dog will come to understand, “Oh good, I don’t have to correct this baby because you’ll handle it.” It’s all about managing and staying on top of both your child, your dog, and their interactions with each other. And their relationship will be ever-evolving, especially in your child’s early years.
Set your dogs up for success by creating positive interactions between them and children. Dogs are not toys. They are still animals before they are our pets. They communicate the only way they know how – through their body language. It is imperative that you know your dog’s limitations, listen to what he’s trying to tell you, and respect what he’s saying.
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For in depth information, these sites have good information on how to manage dogs and kids: The Safe Kids / Safe Dogs Project and Dogs and Storks. If you are seeing potentially dangerous behavior from your dog towards your child and don’t know what to do, please seek a trusted behaviorist for help.