Dogs and toddlers can be great friends but they need constant supervision. Even the kindest dog might react when a child tries to measure the depth of the canine ear with the sharp end of a pencil. It is the parents’ job to be S.A.F.E.:
Either keep them in your vision at all times or completely separated – child in playpen or dog in crate/behind a gate. And we mean at all times. From the stories we hear, the majority of problems occur when adult eyes are elsewhere. It’s astounding just how quickly a dog and a child can make mischief. Keep them in your sight!
If you need to go to the bathroom or answer the phone or door, either take your child with you or crate/gate your dog. Leaving them together in earshot but out of sight is not enough; you’ll hear if trouble starts, but won’t have been there to prevent that trouble. Even in the same room, if you’re distracted, it’s possible for a child and dog to get into trouble. We know of one child who hurt a dog and got hurt in return, right between the feet of the dog’s owner and the child’s mother, who were talking but not watching.
The vast majority of children and dogs do fine together, but close supervision is always in order with young children.
A dog only has a few ways of protesting. He can move away, hop up on furniture, or go under a bed. Once the dog has done this, he has no other means to stop a child other than a bark, growl, or nip. Anticipate problems before they happen by noticing when the dog has had enough. Do not expect your dog to tolerate something you wouldn’t.
If you see your dog retreating from a child, stop that child! Do not allow the child to pursue the dog. If you don’t respect that and teach your child to respect that, your dog will have little choice but to state this feeling more strongly with a growl, snap, or worse.
If your toddler is heading toward a sleeping dog, head him off; don’t allow him to startle the dog. Feed the dog where the child can’t get to him to avoid mealtime problems.
If your dog is standing stiffly, looking unhappy with the situation, act immediately to move either your dog or child. If you hear a growl, don’t wait to see what will happen next. Stop the situation and seek help from a dog professional. By anticipating problems you can avoid them and that’s the goal.
If you say it, mean it. If you tell your child to stop bothering the dog – enforce that. If you tell the dog to sit, make sure he does. Follow through is calm, kind and constant. All things are easier if your child and dog know that you mean what you say, and say what you mean.
By making sure that your child and your dog both listen and obey the first time you tell them to do anything, they will learn not to push the limits or act in ways you don’t want them to. That means less frustration for you, a better relationship for your child and dog, and greater safety for both of them. You will have more control of their behavior with less conflict– a win/win situation for all involved.
This means both the dog and the child. Teach your child by word and example that animals are to be respected and treated with care. Do not allow hitting, chasing, teasing, or other harassment. Teach your dog by practice and patience that people – children in particular – make mistakes, and how to behave when those mistakes happen.
Children naturally are curious and fascinated with animals, but rarely come already gentle and kind. Teach your child specifically how to be kind and respectful, then remind him frequently. By carefully teaching your child, you are laying the foundation for a lifetime of safe and enjoyable interactions with dogs. For more specifics on how to do this, please see our article “Teaching a Toddler How to Behave Around a Dog.”
Your dog also needs to be taught how to respond when toddlers act like toddlers, so he won’t be surprised and react in a way that could harm your child. Your dog needs to learn that children act differently than adults and that he can look to you for help or leave the situation if he doesn’t like it. For ideas on how to train your dog, please see our article “Prepping Your Dog for Babies and Toddlers.”
Likewise, your toddler needs to know crucial things, like teaching them about dog vomiting – and why it happens, and what to do when it happens.
Following these guidelines will help you keep them both S.A.F.E., and you will have done your best to prevent the preventable.
by Sarah Wilson