||: At Home
How do I introduce my dog to a child?
Dogs and children are a natural team. There's a lot to be gained by both species. Dogs enjoy the play and company of a child, who probably has more time to interact with the pet than the busy adults in the family. The benefits for children are enormous, to quote the 1995 Australian publication, The Power of Pets, "studies have revealed greatly improved social competence and self-esteem in children with pets compared to those without".
It's great to have your child, if old enough, involved in your dog's routine. It nurtures a sense of responsibility in the child. But there is a golden rule: never leave a dog and child unsupervised. All dogs, even the most placid, are capable of biting if suitably provoked. Their teeth are their first line of defence. 'Not my dog', you say, but it's not worth taking the risk. A child's innocent actions - like prodding, poking and pulling - can be misunderstood by the dog, who can act defensively.
Even if your home is child-free, it's a great idea to get your dog used to kids. The experts talk a lot about the importance of socialisation for dogs, and it can't be overemphasized. Puppies that have had lots of new and novel experiences during the socialisation period (i.e. the first four months of life), will more readily take further new experiences later in life.
If you're bringing a new pup into a home with children, be sure to brief your kids about the new arrival. Dogs will often warn of an impending bite by showing their teeth, growling or raising their hackles - so explain the warning signs to your child. Tell your child never to run from a dog, which may switch on the dog's desire to chase.
The practice of putting a hand out for a dog to sniff is now considered outdated. A dog may actually see this as a threat, so instruct the child to keep their hands close to their bodies. Also tell the kids never to stare at a dog directly in the eye - which can be taken as a threat - and to never approach a dog when eating. To avoid problems later, you can condition your pup to accept people touching them while eating, but this is an 'adults only' mission. Also get your pup accustomed to having sensitive areas, like their paws, tails and ears, touched by human hands.
Start the dog training on day one - the basic 'sit', 'stay', 'come' and 'drop' commands will be useful to you in any situation. If the kids are old enough, get them involved in the training, so the pup learns to obey the kids as well.
Some tips for introducing dogs and children:
And baby makes four
- Your dog should be on a leash whenever meeting children.
- Let the dog come to the child - not the other way around.
- Lavishly praise and reward your pet for good behaviour. Tell the kids what a good job they're doing too!
- A muzzle can be used for additional safety - if you're planning to use one, get your dog accustomed to it while still young.
- And finally, no mater how swimmingly it's all going, never leave children and dogs alone.
If the new arrival is a baby, you will have some time to prepare your dog. A baby brings a lot of excitement and emotion into the home, and no doubt your sensitive pet is aware of the change in atmosphere.
You can prepare your dog by anticipating changes to the routine. For example, if your dog has been sleeping in your room, and will be moved to another area after the stork arrives, make the move now, not later. This will feel a little like being 'demoted' to your dog, and it's important they don't associate the baby with the change of sleeping quarters.
If the nursery is set up, and you don't want you dog to enter unsupervised, teach your dog that this is a 'no go' area. Do all of this with kindness and compassion, and don't let your pet feel like it's punishment.
Get your dog out and about to meet as many children as possible, and do some extra training to increase your control. Introduce your pet to the baby with a minimum of fuss. Give your dogs lashings of praise for good behaviour, and reward them with treats, a walk or a play session outside. The main principle is for your pet to associate your baby with pleasurable things. Let your dog learn it's OK to be near and sniff your baby, but not to touch.
If your pet is fearful or anxious around the baby, or shows signs of aggression, consult your veterinarian. Any sign of aggression must be professionally treated before anything gets out of hand.
Your pet may have been the centre of the home prior to the baby's arrival. A little commonsense and an awareness of your dog's feelings are all you really need to make the arrival as joyful for your pet as it is for you.