I often walk Bess in parks where she gets to interact with young children and in many cases babies. The parents usually ask if their child can 'pet' Bess and I always give permission knowing that Bess would not do anything untoward. However, I do think children should adhere to some guidelines when approaching a new dog for the first time.
I hadn’t even considered the potential dangers of a toddler and dog together until my in-laws visited recently. They have two Yorkies that they travel with them everywhere. Until recently, the dogs hadn’t been an issue with the baby. My in-laws had been in Florida to escape the harsh Michigan weather. However, when they were over the other day, they brought the dogs with them and my baby was now a toddler!
I could see the twinkle in my toddler’s eyes when he saw the dogs. He wanted in on the action. He wanted to grab their tails, pull the hair on their faces and just go to town on those poor dogs. And, in his defence, who could blame him! They are as cute as can be, like moving stuffed animals.
However, dogs are real animals with real feelings and fears. They will defend themselves if they feel threatened. So, how do you prevent trouble and encourage a loving relationship between dogs and toddlers? It will take some work, but here are a few tips.
Never leave your toddler and dog unsupervised.
This will give both your toddler and dog the freedom to roam and have their own separate spaces for playing and napping. (Too bad they don’t have parent gates; sometimes I feel like I need to put one of those up around myself!) Child safety gates allow for safe interaction. Your baby and dog can see one another and even talk to one another, without the risk of one physically harming the other. They are a great tool for introductions because the dogs and
toddlers can approach the gate at their own pace as they become familiar with each other.
As a dog parent, you need to make sure that you are petting and interacting with your dog regularly. Sounds easy, right? It is, but sometimes it can be forgotten in the hustle and bustle of life with a toddler. Take your dog on walks and spend time snuggling and petting him/her. This interaction will make it easier for your dog to safely interact with your child. Your dog will be used to human interaction and touch. Also, set an example for your child by practising calmly talking to your dog. We all know a good example in any area of our lives goes a long way.
Toddlers need to be aware that dogs need their space. It is important that the toddler understand that if they overwhelm the dog it may react negatively. Dogs are sweet and soft and cuddly most of the time but you have to go slow and notice if the dog shows signs of discomfort. If the dog is attempting to leave, always let it go and do not force interaction.
It is important to respect dogs because they are animals and they have teeth which can be dangerous. Teach your child to respect your dog’s toys and food. This means they should never try to take the toy or food from the dog.
If the dogs are not your dogs, always remember that every dog is different and some don’t like children. Never assume a dog is safe. Always supervise.
Spend time teaching your child the correct way to pet, touch and talk to your dog. You are the key ingredient. Never leave your toddler and dog unsupervised. Reassure them both and show them that interaction is safe as long as we are gentle. Reinforce good behaviour with treats.
If there are any issues that arise, do not hesitate to call a dog trainer. These professionals can give you more tips and tricks to improving this relationship.
This transition won’t happen overnight. Like anything else, it will take patience and determination. But in the end, you will have created a safer environment for both your dogs and toddlers and that is essential!