This is a partnered post.
As a parent, you’re probably used to being bombarded with a range of emotional pleas to bring a dog into the family home. In principal, you know it’s a great idea. After all, not only are dogs great companions for kids but pet ownership is also a wonderful instructive tool. Owning a dog and forming a lasting relationship with it can teach your child responsibility, respect, empathy, and, in the end how to deal with loss (however heartbreaking the result may be, it’s an important formative experience).
It’s important, however, to know that your child is ready in terms of organizational skills, emotional maturity and how well they cope with responsibility. As a parent, you are best positioned to manage the relationship between dog and child to ensure that they get off to the best start possible and it’s your responsibility to ensure that this happens with no unfortunate mishaps.
Preparing the dog
When you make the decision to bring a dog into the home then both your child and the dog will be extremely excited and it’s this very excitement that can lead to mishaps. Dogs and children convey their excitement in different ways and one’s excitement can be worrying or scary for the other.
Dogs are natural scavengers who are hard-wired to have to fight for their food, so any act of physical connection with human hands (especially if it comes quickly and accompanied by noise) is likely to be mistaken for aggression. This negative association needs to be replaced with a positive one. Your trust needs to be built between your dog and humans, whether it’s to hand feed, apply flea prevention for dogs or simply to ruffle behind the ears. Get them used to being petted and hugged, and after a while gently tug on their ears or fur. Try combining this with a treat so that they will build positive associations with physical contact.
It’s important that you and your child understand how your new friend will express their excitement. When playing together, dogs will play by mock fighting; bouncing, growling, snarling and nipping at each other. Needless to say, could be problematic around a young child, so you need to train them to respond appropriately to your child’s presence.
The “sit” command, for example, is a great starting point as it is easy to teach and can be used as a default to reset their behavior when it becomes inappropriate.
Preparing your child
It’s important to teach your child to understand canine behaviour (especially the excitable behaviour mentioned above). Most of the time when mishaps occur, it’s because the child couldn’t read the signs that the dog was broadcasting. If your child is petting or playing with the dog encourage them to stop experimentally. If the pet comes back for more, they’re enjoying themselves, if not, they absolutely shouldn’t be chased.
If the dog exhibits any of these behaviors, then your child should know to leave the dog well alone:
- Licking their lips
- Body freezing
- Turning their head away
- Twitching whiskers
- Raised fur on the back of the neck and spine
- Low tail carriage