Having a dog as a family pet can be really good for children. They teach children to be kind and can be perfect companions. If you’re thinking of introducing a new four-legged friend into your family, we’ve put together a handy guide on how to keep everyone safe and happy.
Dogs can teach children about having responsibility and can be a great way to get children outside, helping to keep the whole family fit and active!
Children will quickly accept dogs as part of the family so it’s really important that, as parents, we help children understand how to behave around dogs to keep not only them safe, but also your new four-legged family member.
We know that having a dog can be really good for so many reasons, but sadly most dog bites occur in children. One of the main reasons dogs are given up to shelters is because of behaviour and aggression. Being able to read and interact with dogs is a very important skill for children to have and will help all of you settle into family life.
How to safely approach a dog
It’s a good idea to teach children how to safely approach a dog so they don’t scare them. Follow our simple steps:
- Always ask first. When teaching children to approach a dog, always make sure they ask (both you and the dog’s owner).
- Let them come to you and stay calm. Let the dog come to your child and sniff them, then pet them calmly and gently on back or chest. It’s a good idea to teach children not to touch dogs on their head or face or try to hug them.
- Give them space. Many people believe they should reach their hand out toward a dog, but this can be threatening for the dog and enters their personal space. Make sure children keep their arms by their side when greeting a dog.
- Make sure the dog is happy and comfortable. Once your child pets the dog, they should stop to ‘ask’ the dog if they want to continue being fussed. If the dog moves away or freezes, that’s a sign that the dog doesn’t want to be petted at the moment so it’s important your child can recognize this and move away from them. If the dog pushes their head or body into the child’s hand, seems happy and ‘wiggly’ and keen to continue getting pets then it’s okay to keep petting them.
What to do if a dog approaches your child
If a dog approaches your child in a way they find scary, you can teach them to ‘be a tree’ – stay still and keep their arms close to their body and not make any eye contact, then move slowly to walk away to find an adult.
This will hopefully show the dog that the child is not a threat and is also not someone fun to play with. Try to teach them to avoid running away. This will likely excite that dog and they may think that this is a game.
Safely introducing a dog or puppy to your family
Whenever you introduce a new dog to your home it is always important to take things slowly and never leave them unattended with your children.
If you’re looking to get a new puppy or dog, it’s worth doing your research before you commit:
- Be honest on the amount of time you can commit if you’ve got a family – is a dog the right pet for you?
- Look for dogs with needs that suit you.
- Pick a breed that is suitable to be around children as some breeds might not be suitable.
Always start by explaining to your family how they need to behave with a new dog and help your children understand your dog or puppy’s behaviour.
When you make your introductions they should be done in a calm, comfortable environment. Have your children sit quietly and bring the dog in to meet them. Make sure these experiences are positive for your dog or puppy and children.
Socialising your puppy with children
If you have a new puppy, it’s important to let them interact with children of all ages as part of their socialisation. Always reward your puppy for calm behaviour with a tasty treat or toy. You should always supervise your puppy with children and remove them from the situation if they’re getting afraid or boisterous.
These positive interactions will help your puppy feel less afraid of children and as an adult dog they should be relaxed and happy to be around children. If puppies miss this essential step in their training they can go on to be fearful of children when they’re adult dogs which can lead to conflict.
How to introduce dogs and babies
Introducing a new person to your family can be very daunting for you as parents, but also for your dog. Try to think of it it from their point of view: restrictions and barriers may have been put up around the home stopping them from accessing areas they could previously get to, they may get less attention, their routine may have changed and a new family addition may be affecting their sleep, too!
We’ve got some tips for welcoming a baby into the home if you already have a dog:
- Change your dog’s routine gradually prior to baby arriving. This means your dog won’t be in for a big surprise when baby comes home.
- When bringing home a baby for the first time, try to stick to your new routine and make sure it includes spending time with your dog. They’ll still need exercise to stop them getting bored so try to factor this into your new routine.
- It’s best to keep introductions between your baby and dog when the baby is calm and quiet. Keep the initial interactions short and positive – repeat them regularly to help develop your dog’s confidence.
- If your dog seems afraid support them, give them reassurance, allow them to have his own space and make sure they can get to their toys and bed (or even a den) for comfort.
- If you’re worried about your dog struggling with your new baby it’s worth contacting your vet, vet nurse or behaviourist for advice.
- It’s also worth purchasing a few toys which will keep you dog occupied while you’re busy parenting.
Our top tips for keeping children safe around dogs
- Never leave children unattended with a dog – even for a few minutes!
- Dogs may be protective of their toys and bowls or food, so children should always be more careful around these.
- Never let your children approach dogs they don’t know. Always ask the owner if it’s okay for their dog to be petted.
- Children should always treat dogs with respect. They should never be rough or boisterous as this may lead to them getting bitten.
- Train your dog not to jump up on people – it may be fun when they’re a puppy but that cute pup may grow into a much bigger dog that could seriously injure a small child.
- Let sleeping dogs lie – don’t let children disturb sick, injured or sleeping dogs as this may lead to your dog becoming upset.
- Childrens’ toys are not appropriate dog toys! Always be careful with the things your children may leave lying around. Be particularly careful with elastic bands and hair bobbles as children can be tempted to put these on dogs’ legs, ears and around their necks which can lead to serious injuries. Try to keep your child’s toys separate from your dog’s toys so that your dog learns the difference. Children’s toys can be fun to chew but easily destroyed into little pieces so always be careful that your dogs does not swallow anything they shouldn’t.
- Practice safe hygiene between your dog and children. Pick up any dog poo immediately so your children can’t touch it and always get your children to wash their hands after petting or playing with the dog.
- It’s best to avoid feeding a raw diet if you have children. It may be a good idea to worm your dog more regularly if you have young children or are pregnant – speak to your vet about this.
If you notice any behavioural changes in your dog, contact your vet. They can check for a medical issue, give you advice and refer you to a behaviourist if needed. Don’t wait for your dog to bite before taking action!