Kids and Dogs: Relationship Building

Pet care & safety
Little girl with Beagle puppy

When I’m talking to my 7-month old daughter and one of our dogs sneaks in for a big, wet kiss I say, “that’s your doggie.” I look forward to the days when our Pit Bull, Kayden, will curl up at the foot of her bed or be subjected to tea parties in formal attire. Right now, my daughter knows her dogs are fun and she shows it by kicking her feet and reaching for more smooches. But, years from now, she’ll look back at the dogs of her childhood with a special fondness.

However, in order for her to build good memories, it’s up to her parents to set her and the dogs up for a successful relationship. That means ensuring everyone’s safety and enrichment.

You’ve heard it before, but...

Never ever leave kids and dogs alone together. I know, I know--you’ve probably had the dog longer than the kid and he’s never been aggressive before. Even a well-intentioned dog can scratch a child while pawing at her for attention or knock her over if he gets too excited.

But let’s talk about the real risks: Because of their size, small children are more likely to be bitten in the face, causing serious injury and possibly death. When I have to step away from my daughter, I always close her securely in her nursery, put the dogs outside, or make sure they follow me on my chore. It’s okay to baby gate parts of the house to make temporary barriers--whatever works for you to keep everyone honest.

The Cardinal Rules of Kids and Canines

Every dog has his limits and even small children need to be taught to respect those limits.

Three basic don’ts:

  • Don’t interrupt a dog that is busy: sleeping, eating, caring for puppies or protecting a toy means a dog should not be disturbed.

  • Don’t approach dogs that are on tie outs or crawl into their crates. Dogs who feel cornered are more likely to bite.

  • Don’t pinch, pull, grab or climb on a dog. (We are currently practicing “pet nice” which means me holding her hands open so that she doesn’t tug on fur. It’s especially important with older dogs that might have sensitive areas.)

Now for the dos:

This is where we get to the good part. Kids and dogs go together like peanut butter and jelly, so here are a few ways to incorporate your dog into your kid’s daily routine.

  • Kids like walks. You know who else loves walks? Dogs! Snap baby in the stroller, hook a leash on the dog and head out. The fresh air and exercise will do all three of you some good.

  • Story time! Reading to your kid is a good chance to take it easy and snuggle. But, it’s also a great chance for dogs to feel as though they’re getting some attention. Shy guy Kayden curls up on one side of me while baby is on the other as I read our favorite stories. (He actually pays more attention too!)

  • Have your child help with the dog’s care. Let them fill the water bowl or help you dry off the pup after bath time.

  • Empower kids during training time. Even tiny kids can do simple commands and hand signals. Teaching baby sign language? Try teaching both kid and dog the sign for “sit.” Your dog is getting plenty of free treats from the baby, he might as well work for ‘em.

Our little one waved hello to her dogs before she waved to her momma, so I’m taking that as a good sign of the bond to come.