One of the most heartbreaking scenarios in the dog-training world is when the family dog is unable to successfully live with the children in the home. To help prevent any mishaps, implement the tips below into your daily life.
1) Always supervise
Always supervising refers to active supervision. Meaning, be in the same room as the dog and child and pay attention to their interactions. Active supervision does not include scrolling social media or talking on the phone. It only works if you're paying attention.
2) Let the dog initiate contact
Some folks make the mistake of getting the dog "used to" kids by forcing interactions. This can instead teach the dog that children are indeed frightening and worthy of caution. Instead, let your dog decide when, where, and even if he wants to interact with children.
3) Let the dog decompress alone with a Kong
We all need a break sometimes. Parents hire a babysitter and go on date night. Dogs retire to a quiet part of the house and work on a stuffed Kong, free from interruption.
4) Be prepared to intervene
This is part of "active supervision." Being prepared to intervene means that you are ready to swiftly and easily redirect either party to a different activity. Maybe you ask your partner to take your dog out for a walk. Maybe you ask your child to come sit with you for a moment, and talk about how to let Fido be the one to initiate contact. Either way, you're ready to go and you have a game plan! Don't be tempted to "wait and see."
5) Watch your dog's body language and know the signs of discomfort
Active supervision also includes keeping an eye on the subtleties of your dog's body language. We want to listen to our dog's whispers ("whale eye", leaning away, ears back) so they don't have to yell (growling, snapping, biting). If you want to learn more about dog body language, check out the body language gallery at iSpeakDog.org, as well as Lili Chin's new book, Doggie Language.
6) No forced interactions between kids and dogs
This falls under letting the dog be the one to initiate contact. More specifically, it means always allowing your dog an escape route. Dogs are more likely to have a negative response to children when they are unable to move away due to being leashed or crated.
7) Dog is left alone during naps and mealtime
Children are taught not to go into the office when mom or dad is working, let's teach them something similar when it comes to dogs. For added security, feed your dog behind a baby gate, and make their favorite napping spot inaccessible to small children.
8) Children do not take toys away
Some dogs are predisposed to guarding objects and will respond aggressively when toys or food are taken away. If your dog is prone to this behavior and you have small children, make sure your dog is given time away from the kids with her favorite objects, and keep all potentially guarded objects put away the remainder of the time.
9) Enlist the help of a qualified trainer
Dogs and kids are a difficult combination to manage. If you're feeling overwhelmed and need help, reach out!