Kids and dogs can be a match made in heaven but putting them in the same room when they’re not used to each other’s company can be a tricky experience for all involved. For the pet parents (especially if your dog doesn’t live with children), you want to ensure your dog’s welfare needs are met – that they aren’t going to feel stressed by a chasing or grabbing mini-human. For the human parents, safety is always going to be paramount – ensuring your child isn’t at risk of a bite.
So let’s have a look at some of the ways you can ensure harmonious introductions for children and dogs who aren’t familiar with each other.
Prepare in Advance
Preparation is key for these situations. Ensure both children and dogs have activities to entertain them – games for the children and long-lasting chews for the dogs. Have some treats ready by the front door the visiting humans (parents or the kids themselves if they are old enough) can throw down on the floor for your dog/s as they enter the room – this will make it less likely that your dog might jump up at them and starts their relationship off on a positive paw. If the child is really interested in dogs – plan out some appropriate tasks for them to get involved with, like practicing some tricks or making some dog friendly treats.
Everyone feels better for sunlight and fresh air. Going out for a walk is a great way to tire out both kinds of dependents – plus it gives them lots of other things to focus on, rather than just each other. It’s worthwhile checking in advance, if you’re looking at playgrounds or parks, that they don’t have restrictions on dogs visiting. If in doubt, go and explore some local woods instead – woods provide so many fun opportunities for both children and dogs.
Have a comfy bed area set up for your dog in a separate room so they have the option of retreating to their own space if they feel overwhelmed. A child gate can be really useful to block off direct access while allowing everyone to still be able to see each other. Particularly if there’s a young baby or toddler visiting, it might be better for them not to have to spend the whole time in the same room. For dogs who aren’t used to children, the crying or high pitched noises infants make could be worrying.
Watch for Warning Signs
While the human-parents will likely be looking for any cheeky behaviour from their child, such as tail pulling or fur grabbing – the pet parents should equally be looking for any signs of stress in their dog so that they can create that all-important space before anyone gets upset. Watch out for lip licking (tongue reaching up over their nose), repeated yawning, full-body shakes, avoidance behaviour (leaning body back or actively walking away), or low growls. Intervene, create space, and give the dog something to chew as a nice stress-buster.
You’ve done your best to be prepared in advance and set everyone up for success, but perhaps the visiting child is just too full of energy that day or the dog/s are finding it too hard to settle – sometimes we need to just change our plans. Perhaps leave the dogs at home for a calm snooze and head out to the local park for a human-only adventure and some cake!
And just before we go, a quick plea from a dog behaviourist and mum – please don’t let kids try to hug your dog! It may look cute, but most dogs won’t enjoy it. Sadly, hugs can lead to bites.