We have all seen the images by Norman Rockwell of a boy and his dog playing happily together, and many of us have wonderful childhood memories of playing with our family dog. Kids and dogs living happily together is one of the sweetest sights to see, but there are a few things you must remember as a parent when letting your child interact with the family dog (or any dog) safely.
Firstly, supervision is vital. Dogs have a tolerance level just like we do, and kids sometimes don't always recognize when they are pushing a dog too much or making them uncomfortable. Some dogs have a very high tolerance level, and others do not. It is your job as a parent, and as a dog owner, to monitor and supervise your dog and young child all the time. I have seen the consequences of this rule being broken far too many times to ever say that it is flexible. The bottom line is to never leave them unattended together. If you have to leave the room, have your dog follow you, or put him in his crate or a gated off room where he will be safe. You cannot be too careful, and although it seems tedious at first, it will soon become a habit that you, your dog, and your child will be happy with.
Educate yourself and your kids on dog body language and signs that your dog may be uncomfortable. A great resource is doggonesafe.com, which has pictures you can download and show your kids! You can even put them on the fridge as a reminder. Talk to them about why it is so important to know these signs not only with the family dog, but with dogs at their friends houses, who may not tolerate some situations the way their own dog does. The more you know what to look for, the more you can prevent circumstances that could end badly. Also, teach your kids to play safe when they do interact with the dog. Show them fun games like fetch, or hide and seek (supervised of course) that both they and your dog with love! If you feel you need help learning canine body
language, or other tips, call your local trainer and have them visit the house for a mini class with the kids. Surprisingly, kids love to learn about what to look for and even start telling you what you are doing wrong!
Knowing your dogs limits is also crucial. Once you have learned about dog body language, and have started seeing signals that your dog may be uncomfortable when your child grabs their paws for example, you must take action and intervene. The more a dog realizes that his signals are not being heard, the more likely it is he will move to other clearer signals, like growling, snapping, or biting. He is doing his job by trying to communicate, and you must do yours and listen to what he is saying. Kids that are very young don't always understand, so helping your dog by removing them from the situation and providing relief will make him feel much happier and more confident that you have everything under control. Understand that just because your dog doesn't want to be a furry climbing frame, it doesn't mean he is a bad dog!
Finally, get help when you need it. If you are concerned about your dogs behavior around your child, do not wait until there is an incident before contacting a professional for help. There are many steps you can take to help increase your dogs tolerance with kids and it is imperative you start the work before your dog crosses a line that many parents cannot forgive. Talk with your vet or consult a qualified local trainer to get tips, resources and help. When your dog and child live happily together with mutual respect for each other, you are creating a relationship and memories that will last a lifetime.