Pets and kids can be the best of friends – but it’s not always a given! Here’s how to help children and dogs build the best possible relationship, starting today.
Growing up with a pet can be hugely beneficial for kids, and when they get along, it’s a lovely thing to watch. With the help of pet behaviourist Nick Jones, we look at how to help dogs and children build and maintain a great bond – and what to do if things don’t go smoothly.
1. Do your research on child-friendly dogs
Regardless of whether you’re getting a dog for the first time, or welcoming another pet into the family, there’s no better way to encourage harmony between children and dogs than by doing some upfront preparation. To ensure you get a , these conversations should include serious discussions on suitability of breed. ‘Look deeper than the dog’s coat,’ says Nick Jones. ‘A Husky, for example, is a lovely dog, but also one that has lots of training needs and exercise requirements. Think about whether that will fit in with your family’s lifestyle as well as looking the part. I believe that doing this research upfront avoids a lot of issues further down the line.’
2. Involve your children in dog care
Getting children involved in every aspect of your pet’s life is the best way to ensure a good relationship from the word go. ‘Have them included in everything, from choosing the pet to feeding and training,’ says Nick. ‘All of these things help build a positive bond between dogs and children, and would eliminate a lot of potential problems.’
Children can help out with the feeding process from a very early age, although as Nick notes, ‘It’s important that the adult acts as a trainer and supervisor, to be sure the child is calm and responsible enough to carry out basic functions.’ Child safety around dogs is paramount and parental involvement is crucial because, says Nick, ‘the animal sees the child as being connected to the parent, and therefore, as an authority figure.’
3. Create positive associations with pets
There’s nothing better than watching your child and their dog splashing through muddy puddles together! Walking a dog is a great way to get kids out in the fresh air, while having a young, lively owner to play with is a dream for many pets. Encourage positive interactions between dogs and children by trusting your kids with tasks suited to their abilities. ‘Give them incremental responsibility,’ says Nick. ‘Maybe start with both you and your child holding individual leads while dog-walking, with you eventually giving more and more control to your child. When the timing is right, you can let them take over completely.’
This also means it’s a smooth transition for your pet, with no sudden surprises: ‘Changing a dog’s expectations and routines should always be a gradual process,’ Nick advises.
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4. Set clear boundaries for children around dogs
Most dogs are very tolerant of children, but occasionally small people overstep the mark. Getting to grips with this requires conversations with your child about what’s appropriate around an animal, says Nick: ‘For example, dogs that are eating, resting, sleeping or chewing a bone should be left well alone, and your dog should have at least one space that a child cannot encroach upon.’
Children should be told not to sit or lie on dogs, kiss them anywhere on their bodies or hug them around the neck. Teach your child to recognise signs of canine stress such as panting while not thirsty, or showing indications of wanting to get away. Take the time to properly discuss dog behaviour – and as Nick says, ‘Try to avoid humanising their actions.’
5. Intervene when children and dogs aren’t getting on
Needless to say, if you witness any signs of aggression from your dog towards your child, it’s important to take immediate action to separate them. If your pet’s behaviour has changed suddenly, it could signal an underlying health issue, including pain. However, tension could also be down to alterations in your growing child’s behaviour. Children change over a long period, while dogs mature very quickly – and this can sometimes result in clashes of personality.
If you’ve established that a usually child-friendly dog isn’t in any physical distress, the solution might be making small adjustments to your child’s behaviour around pets. It could be time to seek professional help, says Nick: ‘An experienced dog behaviour practitioner would be able to assess the dynamics between dog and child, and make recommendations to address your concerns.’
Are your kids and dogs the best of friends? Tell us below, or share your stories and pics on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the tag #PethoodStories.