Kids and dogs are the stuff of picture books and Disney films. But if you’re about to introduce a new baby to your dog or a new dog to your young family, it’s likely to require a period of adjustment for all concerned, and everyone’s safety needs to be your priority. The overriding rule when you have dogs and children is that an adult should be monitoring them any time they’re together. If you have any concerns about your dog’s reactions, consult a dog behaviourist.
Here are some tips to help make family life with small people and dogs a little less stressful!
There is plenty you can do to prepare your dog or dogs for the arrival of a baby. Here are three top tips:
Whether you use a doll, a stuffed toy or just a small cushion, get your dog used to you walking around carrying a ‘baby’. Treat it as if it is a real baby that needs protection from a bouncy dog. Talk or sing to your ‘baby’, pop it into its cot – or even change it while teaching your dog to settle quietly while you do so. When your real baby arrives, your preoccupation with it will seem quite normal to your dog.
Alongside this, find a recording of a baby crying and play it often at random times. Like the doll, this won’t of course be exactly like your baby, but it will help your dog get used to sounds they’re soon going to hear often.
If possible, prepare some weeks in advance, especially if your dog is used to being free to roam around your home. When you have a baby at home there are likely to be times your dog will need to be in another room, behind a gate or settled on their bed, so begin getting them used to this new routine now.
If your dog is a dream to walk on the lead, you can skip this one. If not, now is the time to either find a good online course or a trainer to help you teach the dog to walk nicely on a loose lead, alongside you and the buggy.
By this time, of course, most children are moving around under their own steam, but not yet old enough to really understand that the dog isn’t the same as their cuddly toys.
If you’re not actively supervising and monitoring your child and dog, keep them separate. This is where you will really value baby gates and pens: the latter may be used for the dog or the child!
Now’s the time to teach your toddler how to gently touch a dog, with flat hands stroking from the shoulder (not on the top of their head, and not kissing their face). It’s a good idea to begin by teaching them with one of their cuddly toys, rather than your real dog. You can start by showing them how you do it and then guiding them with your hand over theirs. The key to good relations in future is for your toddler to learn to keep their hand flat – not grabbing the dog’s hair. When you think your toddler is ready, and if your dog likes to be stroked (not all do), they can practise, with you, on your real dog.
By the time they reach about three years of age, most toddlers will enjoy throwing stuff. So, if your dog enjoys a game of fetch, you’ve got a good match! Make sure you’ve also taught your dog to ‘drop’ the toy or the ball and to wait calmly for it to be picked up and thrown again so all parties can enjoy the game without frustration. And, of course, you’ll be there to supervise.
By now, they may be spending time not just with your dog but also meeting other dogs out and about or at friends’ homes when you’re not there. Here are a few important rules to teach your children:
For more training advice, please visit our dog coach Vicky Carne's website.