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Growing up with dogs can have tremendous benefits for a child. They create a friendship, they can seek comfort and learn how to take care of another living being. Dogs can even be used to help children learn to read. A dog can be a child’s best friend.
Many dogs and children live harmoniously together without any issues, and then there are the ones where it might be less successful. These are the reports you hear about in the news about children being attacked or bitten by the family dog and sadly these are also most of the pictures you see of children and dogs interacting on social media.
For children and dogs to live together harmoniously it is we as the adults, the parents, that need to step up and take responsibility for creating a successful relation between our dog and our child. We need to be the role models and show our children how to interact with our dog while simultaneously teaching our dog how to interact with our child.
The first steps towards a successful relation are to set up an environment where you minimize the risks of something going wrong.
Set up the environment
Give your dog a safe spot, maybe their bed, where your dog can go when they need a break. Teach your child that when a dog is in his/her safe spot it means that they are left alone – no touches, toys or other disturbances.
If you have a toddler that moves around a lot, then create closed off areas by setting up baby gates so your dog cannot access those areas. It is very important that when you and your child are in these areas that your dog also gets something that is great for them, maybe they get to chew on a bone while you and your child plays or lick out yummy food from a Kong. That way it is a positive experience for everyone.
Be the role model
ALWAYS supervise the interactions between your dog and your child. Be the role model and show your child where your dog likes to be petted or when to leave the dog alone. An example of leaving a dog alone is when the dog is sleeping or has food. That way we avoid startling the dog or triggering unwanted behaviours like guarding food that can lead to bite accidents.
Teach “the forbiddens”
Your dog is not a toy. Chasing the dog, dressing up the dog, poking, lying, kissing, hugging or sitting on the dog are absolutely forbidden. These are always a recipe for disaster and will create a lot of distrust and stress in your dog. Sadly “the forbiddens” are often the actions seen on pictures of children and dogs on social media. This is not a cute interaction, it is a step closer to another dog biting a child.
Play is a great way to create a bond between your dog and your child – let your child throw a toy for the dog and have the dog fetch (or vice versa if that works better), or do a hide and seek game where your dog has to find your child. As your child grows older you can also engage them in your dog’s training sessions.
Teach responsibility and empathy
As your children grows older you can have them help out with taking care of the dog. They can prepare the dog’s food, replace his/her water, come up with new activity mind games, give the dog a brush or help take walks. Again always under supervision and help from an adult until the child reaches an age where they are able to take the proper responsibility needed to take care of a dog.
Enrich and exercise
Having a bouncy dog full of energy is another recipe for disaster when living with small children. The dog can accidently knock over the child in their excitement. Keeping your dog’s schedule providing a lot of daily mental and physical exercise will help your dog stay calm in the house and around the children (Get inspiration for how to enrich your dog here).
Our dogs are family members and as we expand their family with children we as the parents must prepare and teach our dogs to the best of our ability on how to create a successful relation with all members of the family. Following the above advice you are well on your way to setting up an everlasting friendship and bond between your child and your dog.