By Joan Hunter Mayer
Families considering acquiring a dog, families that already have both children and dogs, and expecting parents with dogs, all share a common concern – safely raising children and dogs together. You want to do what is right for all family members, preventing conflicts and mishaps throughout the ever-evolving relationship between the child and dog. But how can you do this easily and with as little stress as possible? Let’s consider the following scenarios and see if we can come up with ways to achieve those goals.
Tips for Parents Planning to Acquire a Dog
In general, when acquiring a dog, people need to decide on the best pet for them, their own preferences, lifestyle, needs, and goals. Deciding which dog to get when you’re a single person can be challenging enough. Factoring in additional people, such as babies and young children, the final decision can be even more thought-provoking as it changes the family dynamic. Therefore, certain needs and goals might change too. Here are some considerations:
- Think about resources, as these will impact planning for your new pup. How much time will you have to devote to taking care of the needs of a dog? Will you need help? Will help be available, whether it is family or friends, or outside resources? Determine what you’ll want, what your expectations are, and the support you have or are able to find/obtain.
- What age dog would be best? A young energetic puppy often takes more time and dedication initially, so adopting an adult dog might be a better option. This doesn’t mean older dogs won’t require the same amount of time, but the demands of a more mature dog might differ from those of a puppy.
- Energy level. Each dog is an individual, so consider the energy level and needs of the dog. (The size of the dog doesn’t equate to activity level.) Is the dog more of a couch potato? Or will he or she want to go for a ten-mile run then come back and rewire your home?
- Housing and living arrangement. Is your current home set up to allow enough space for dogs and children to cohabitate safely? Will you be there for a long time or be moving as your family grows?
- What management strategies can be implemented? Remember, keeping kids and pets safe around each other requires ongoing management and training, lovingly teaching both appropriate manners for safe interactions.
That brings us to the next scenario.
Tips for New Parents with Dogs
For families with dogs and babies or toddlers, communication, empathy, and management are key:
- All family members should use humane, force-free training methods to ensure a safe, strong, sustainable bond with the family dog that is based on love and trust. Children are very good at mimicking what their parents do, so make sure you are modeling the behaviors you want your children to follow.
- Teach children how to behave around dogs respectfully and how to read your pet’s body language. (Lessons taught will need to be age-appropriate for each child.)
- Never allow dogs unsupervised access to babies or young children.
- Manage the environment by creating safe spaces for both dogs and children, including closing off doors to nurseries.
- Use gates and crates to provide inquisitive canines their own space, away from grabbing hands or unwanted play.
- Never force an interaction or introduction between kids and pets: Allow your dog to set the pace as to how quickly he or she wants to carefully investigate. If Fido doesn’t show any interest, that’s okay. If and when he does show interest, be sure to include him in a safe way. The same goes for children and how quickly they want to meet, greet, and bond with a pet. Some children are more apprehensive when meeting dogs. Others are downright scared of them. Allow children to set their own pace as to how quickly they want to interact.
And finally, let’s consider parents-to-be.
Tips for Expecting Parents with Dogs
Expecting parents and caregivers can also benefit from planning ahead, as preparation is central to setting everyone up for success when a new baby arrives. Here are some suggestions:
- Develop the best possible relationship with your dog and be prepared to take on life’s challenges as a team.
- Understand your dog’s way of communicating, level of comfort (and signs of discomfort), triggers, and what might cause anxiety or stress. Use this information to plan what you’ll need to do/learn/teach to support your dog (and yourselves!) along the way.
- Once you know what training and management will be needed to ready the family dog for life with baby, do lots of dress rehearsals with your pup to help with a smoother transition.
- Anticipate change. Knowledge of the different stages of child development can help you prepare your inquisitive canine for the impacts of a growing family. Babies grow and dogs age, so be ready to adjust at every phase.
- Establish realistic expectations that will lead to optimal outcomes for everyone — dogs and humans.
No matter the stage of life you are in, it pays to plan for a variety of scenarios, taking into account your current needs and potential future needs. When raising kids and dogs together, remember to treat both the dog and child as individuals and learn their unique communication styles and preferences. Regularly review and revise your strategies to prepare for upcoming changes related to growing children and aging dogs. There are many useful resources available online, through local bookstores, and at our public library.
The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara 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. As a specialty trained Family Paws Parent Educator (FPPE), Joan offers services both in-person and online for growing families. Here’s to barking with the dogs, cheering for the humans, and having fun!