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Puppies and Children in the Home

It goes without saying that your dog and child should ALWAYS be supervised. If you have baby gates in place don’t be afraid to utilize these when you cannot supervise or even just when things are getting a bit chaotic. It doesn’t do a dog any harm to have some separation from the family throughout the day, in fact space and quiet time is often exactly what your dog needs, especially if you have young children. Consider using a crate as the puppy’s private child free area. Children’s and dog’s toys look very similar so expect your puppy to want to pick up your children’s toys and vice versa. It’s a good idea to pick up your puppy’s toys when you have finished playing as this stops your children picking them up (and possibly putting them in their own mouths). This is good practise anyway as your puppy may end up destroying and eating bits of the toy if unsupervised. If your children are playing and your puppy wants to join in too much (which is perfectly normal), it’s a good idea to give them something tasty such as a stuffed Kong to occupy them either behind a stair gate or in their crate.

Babies, Toddlers and Young Children – how to keep everyone safe and happy!

Crawling babies and toddlers can be exciting for some dogs but overwhelming for others, especially if they aren’t used to them. Most children who are bitten by dogs are bitten by dogs that they know, so it really pays to invest a great deal of time ensuring that both grow up knowing how to behave around one another.

Just like your puppy is learning about the world in which they live in, babies and toddlers are too. Young children’s natural instincts mean that are likely to want to touch, pull, grab at and pick up items they come into contact with and this is likely to include your dog. It’s no surprise that young children want to touch and cuddle puppies as they are extremely cute (and often look just like the teddies they have), but unlike us, dogs often instinctively find hugs and being in close proximity to faces a frightening experience. We do not ever recommend young children to cuddle or lean on dogs as it’s usually that the dog is tolerating the behaviour, rather than enjoying it. The problem is, what happens when the dog stops tolerating it?

 Very young children can also be ‘unpredictable’ in their behaviour (particularly from a dog’s point of view) and squeals of delight, temper tantrums and boisterous play can be an exciting or frightening experience for puppies and dogs. You’ll need to show young children exactly how you want them to interact with your puppy, by encouraging gentle interaction at all times. Even if your puppy appears to be ‘fine’ with more hands on contact, never assume they are enjoying it or will always be so tolerant. Many puppies and dogs will put up with a great deal before showing any obvious behaviours that they are uncomfortable and it’s just not fair or responsible to expect them to cope with boisterous or rough handling. Even if your puppy or dog appears to be extremely laid back, think about how another dog your child meets might behave in a similar situation. Teaching a young child how to behave sensibly and considerately with your own dog will serve them well when they meet other dogs who aren’t as tolerant.

Puppies and Children – safe handling tips

  • Encourage gentle stroking at all times – no pulling, grabbing, cuddling or sitting on.

  • Let your puppy sleep undisturbed. Puppies need a lot of sleep – being startled or woken regularly may begin to affect their behaviour and they may become irritable or defensive.

  • A good way to see if a dog would like to have a stroke is simply to ask them. When they are awake call them to you as opposed to approaching them. If they approach confidently, then this is their way of saying ‘yes’ and if they stay where they are, they are politely declining your invitation, respect that!

  • If either your puppy or child is having one of those days (too excitable, easily frustrated or just a bit boisterous), then management is the key to avoiding accidents. Use your stair gate or crate and keep your puppy safely occupied with a tasty chew or stuffed Kong. When your baby, toddler or young child is napping or at nursery / pre-school, take this opportunity to ensure your dog’s needs are met by having some fun playing and training together. 

  • Take care that your baby or child doesn’t touch or walk into your puppy when they are eating or chewing. Although your child is unlikely to want to eat the chew, your puppy won’t know this and may feel worried and behave defensively. Take steps to prevent resource guarding (see resource guarding hand out) and teach your dog to swap. Don’t allow your child to chase your dog.

  • When your child is old enough to get involved, show them how to play safely and help with training. Both your dog and child will enjoy this immensely and it’s a fantastic way of them interacting with each other and developing a bond.

  • Most importantly, actively supervise. When your child and puppy/dog are together, make sure you pay attention to what is happening at all times as you’ll want to intervene at the earliest opportunity should either look worried or you see that things are getting out of hand. 

Signs that your puppy/dog is feeling worried are:

  • avoidance, moving away, hiding

  • tail tucked under, looking away, appearing ‘smaller’

  • lip licking, yawning (when not sleepy), paw raising

  • growling, flashing teeth, snapping, biting

Equally if you see your child becoming frightened or annoyed by your puppy, intervene. Young children can easily become irritated by a puppy, especially if they try to play with their toys or walk all over a favourite puzzle. It’s much nicer and safer for both if you remove the puppy in these situations (and give them something else to do) as this will ensure that their relationship stays on track

Written by Jo Croft Hart IMDT