Dogs and kids are very similar in a lot of ways, except for the fact that dogs have bigger teeth and most children are unable to protect themselves from a dog if needed.So, it is not hard to follow that I have one key rule that I enforce at home: Children and dogs should never be left alone. Not even for a second. But it is important to note that just being in the room isn’t enough, as an adult and handler of the dog, you must also be engaged and close enough to act if need be.Getting your pooch and kids used to each other isn’t complicated, however, it does require consistency and training on both the side of the dog and the child.The dog needs to be taught to sit or lay down for praise and affection and not jump up, nudge, or even lean for attention (even leaning or nudging can knock over a small child). Help your dog by practicing the way a small child might pet. Pat the dog on their head as a kid might or tug their ears and tail gently so that they become desensitized to a child’s accidental tail or ear pull. Try to give your dog a hug. Do they seem shy or pull back? That will give you a clue that your dog is uncomfortable and guide you with how to proceed with desensitization (in this case I would start with just kneeling on the ground, then a one arm hug, then work up to a full hug).
The child also needs some training. Encourage children to not reach or lunge forward when they interact with dogs. Also, teach them to scratch under a dogs chin and not reach above a dog to pet its head. Another good thing is to have your child scratch your dog on its shoulders or back, this keeps them away from the dog’s mouth. Do keep in mind any injuries or arthritis that might cause the dog to be sore anywhere and teach your child to avoid those areas. Reward your child when they scratch nicely and make sure you demonstrate proper petting techniques as kids pick up on bad habits quickly (read: rough-housing or wrestling).
Next time: How to introduce your dog to a new baby.
Elise Faber, CPT and member IACP (www.canineprofessionals.com)