Many children love animals, and families often enjoy the companionship of a four-legged friend. Bringing a new puppy into the home is exciting! But if you’ve got young kids, it can also cause a bit of apprehension. For, along with responsibility, there is a risk when introducing a pup to a toddler or young child. While dogs are known for their loving nature, puppies – just like children! – can be full of energy. When you combine this with kids, there’s always a chance of some rough and tumble. On the other end of the spectrum, a new puppy may be quite anxious and your child’s excitement in meeting it may result in an accident.
So how can you encourage safe play between puppies and children?
Tips for safe play between puppies and Children
It’s important that both children and new puppies learn to safely interact in order to avoid any unpredictable behaviour or injury. Keeping your child safe around dogs is paramount, so this is a great time to teach your child to play safely when meeting a new dog or when interacting with animals.
Teach your child to e gentle
More often than not, a dog bite is a result of the dog feeling fearful or threatened.
Children have a knack for being overly exuberant, and depending on their age, aren’t fully aware of ‘social norms’ such as squealing and shouting or maintaining a polite distance. Actions that may perceive as normal and perfectly okay between humans can be a real stressor for puppies. For example, dogs can react negatively (in the form of barking, growling, or biting) when it is exposed to:
- Rough handling
- Loud noises
- Being climbed on or poked and prodded
- Close and direct eye contact
So to avoid injury or stress in your puppy and child, it’s important to teach your child to approach puppies gently. You can demonstrate this to them by showing them the correct way to approach and handle a puppy. This includes:
- Approaching the puppy calmly
- Showing the dog you’re friendly by offering an open palm or the back of your hand for the puppy to sniff
- Gentle petting/stroking
- Learning to read negative behavior such as growling, baring teeth, and raised hair on the back indicating fear or anger.
Ask permission before petting
Before your child bounds toward the new puppy ready for cuddles and play, teach them to stand back and ask before petting a dog. This will instill in them correct pet handling skills and will keep them safe whenever they are introduce to a new dog – whether at home or out in the park.
You can also teach your child to think like a dog. Ask them, “would you be happy if I started pulling on your ears right now?”. They will then learn to think before they act in a rough or mindless manner toward the new dog. After a while, your new puppy will become used to your child and vice versa, and they’ll find the pup naturally approaching them without fear or anxiety.
Train your puppy
While your child has a lot to learn about being safe around dogs, so too does your new pup! It’s important to start training your dog early in order to get them used to basic commands and to teach them acceptable behaviors.
Most towns run puppy schools where you can take your new puppy and train them in walking, sitting, staying, etc. You can also train your puppy at home using treats and praises as positive reinforcement. For example, praise your puppy whenever it is demonstrating gentle play toward your child with lots of cuddles and pats and a treat. If your puppy demonstrates negative behavior such as jumping up on your child, then use a forceful command such as “NO!” and use a hand signal to teach your dog to stop.
You can also teach your child to use commands and to reward their pup whenever it has been good.
Supervise child and puppy
One of the most important ways to keep both child and puppy safe is to supervise them at all times. You can reduce the risk of dog bites and other accidents by maintaining close supervision whenever your child and puppy are together – especially during playtime.
Always be sure that your child and pet are within close eyesight and are within earshot so that you can quickly step in if something goes wrong. You will feel better for it, and so will your child, knowing that someone is there to help if the puppy playtime gets a bit too much!
Use toys for bonding and play
It’s a good idea to use toys when introducing a new puppy to your child. Playing with bare hands can result in accidental nips or bites. Which may cause unnecessary harm and stress for both child and pup. You can teach your child to play fetch with the puppy, since there’s less risk of an accident than, say, playing tug of war.
It’s also a great way to expend energy so that your puppy is nice and calm come bedtime, making it easier to encourage gentle bonding between pet and child. As the game progresses, your child can try teaching basic commands such as “sit” and “wait” – allowing them to build more confidence around their new dog.
Puppies and children are great teachers. Both have the ability to learn from the other and to develop an extraordinary bond. Introducing a new puppy to your child can be made easier by teaching your child to always remain calm and gentle around animals. Depending on their age, you can teach them how to read behaviors in dogs or you can demonstrate to them how to properly approach and play with a dog to avoid injury or mishap.
That way, your child can see that puppies aren’t stuffed animals that can be poked and prodded! And your puppy will feel a whole lot more safer and comfortable in your company when it doesn’t feel threatened or afraid.