For Families with Dogs and Kids, Empathy, Management, and Communication are Key

When you’re a parent to human children and a beloved pet, it’s all about relationships. Although time is a hot commodity for busy parents, a focus on building trusting kid-canine relationships throughout the different stages of child (and pup) development is a worthwhile investment for all involved. 

Empathy – Your Dog’s Point of View

If you’re wondering how living with babies or toddlers can impact the family pooch, it helps to take a step back and look at things from your dog’s point of view. Some general canine behaviors include jumping to greet, having an abundant amount of energy (especially when they haven’t had opportunities to burn off the excess), wanting attention (having their needs met), and preferring to be around people rather than alone. It’s our responsibility to provide proper outlets for our fur friends to meet their physical, mental, emotional, and social doggy needs. 

All in the family…remember, your inquisitive canine is part of your growing family, and just like the human family members, Fido is having new experiences, and being asked to adjust too. In an unfamiliar situation, your dog may need time to observe from a distance at first. Allow your inquisitive canine to take it all in; avoid scolding dogs when they are being curious; and avoid forcing interactions or activities pups might not want to participate in — yet.

As always, the goal is to preserve and strengthen the human-canine bond. So for instance, if your dog is overly excited or jumping, with baby in the carrier, refrain from punishing or correcting your dog. Instead redirect and request an alternate, rewardable behavior and/or take the preventative route and manage the environment. 

Management – Environmental Protection

Happily, many resources, programs and services devoted to families with dogs and babies or toddlers are just a click away. For instance, the Family Paws website provides resources and support for parents, caregivers, and pet professionals.

Here are some practical safety tips for child-canine interactions from Family Paws:

  • All kids-and-dog activities must be supervised at all times by an adult.
  • You are responsible for the safety of you, your baby, your dog, and anyone coming into contact with your dog.
  • Never ever tie your dog to your child’s stroller.

And a bonus tip that I’ve found helpful – if your dog has more of a shark mouth when taking treats, you can have children toss the yummy morsels on the floor, or the parents can deliver the goodies, while possibly teaching their dog to take treats gently.

Also, while safety is essential, keep in mind that management is different from banishment. Sequestering an inquisitive canine to his own area is an understandable temptation. However, it’s best to avoid a situation I like to call the “Cinderella Syndrome” — tossing him in the dungeon with nothing to do. For those times you’d like family pups to enjoy a little “me time” in their safe areas, providing enrichment, such as interactive food toys and chew bones, or arranging a scavenger hunt by hiding pieces of kibble and a few treats, are fun options for mental and physical activities.

If and when your inquisitive canine does want to interact with a young child, include your pup in a safe way. Consider bonding activities that safely engage the whole family. For example, walking with your dog while pushing the stroller might be relaxing when planned out and prepared for (depending on the dog and the outing). While out and about, for the safety of dogs and the public, help your pet feel safe and relaxed; watch for any signs of discomfort or conflict, and if they are noted, try to improve the situation for your pup by addressing his or her needs.

If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s behavior with your children or you’re looking for more kid-and-dog-safe bonding activities, be sure to speak with an expert educated in child/dog dynamics, such as a Family Paws Parent Educator.

Communication – Teaching Kids and Dogs

A mindful and empathetic approach to teaching both children and dogs is key to navigating life with dogs and little ones. Children are very good at mimicking what their parents do, so make sure you are modeling the behaviors you want your children to follow, such as: how to behave around dogs, the need to respect the dog, and how to read your pet’s body language.

It is equally important to take the time to lovingly communicate with your inquisitive canine exactly what it is you want and expect from him. Even training just a few basic behaviors, along with some management of the environment, can help make the picture much clearer for the family pup. Just be pawsitve that all family members use humane, force-free training methods to ensure a safe, strong, sustainable bond with the family dog that is based on love and trust.

Thank you for being an inquisitive parent!

The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara certified canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer. Joan and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Joan offers coaching both in-person and online. If you are feeling inquisitive and have dog training questions, we invite you to contact The Inquisitive Canine for A Pawsitive Approach for Positive Results ™.


Written by Joan the Dog Coach

Joan Hunter Mayer is a certified canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer who founded "The Inquisitive Canine." More information can be found at

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