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Puppies and kids can be best friends forever growing up together. It’s an idyllic picture: a child and his furry best friend trekking along on adventures.
But it takes a lot of work and patience to have a successful relationship.
After all, they’re both just learning about what’s acceptable behavior. And they have to learn about and respect each other.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to make the relationship between your new puppy and your children safe and rewarding. It’s important to train both halves of the equation.
Puppies And Kids: Tips From A Certified Professional Dog Trainer
When I was six years old, I got a poodle puppy for my birthday. We named him Pierre.
My parents had to teach me to respect him as a living creature, not a doll. I was taught not to be rough with him–and not to dress him in my doll’s clothes.
We had many fun years together. I really have happy memories of those years together, playing ball and running around the yard with my furry playmate.
Children need to understand that the puppy’s a living creature to be respected. And the puppy needs to be trained to have impulse control and the rules of the house.
Managing the environment is important too. I’m assuming in this article that the children are six years old and up.
Much younger children may not be able to appreciate that the puppy’s a living creature with feelings.
Of course, all interactions between children and puppies should be observed for safety’s sake.
Benefits for Children of Having a Puppy
Besides the potential of a life-long friendship, there are other benefits to the child who grows up with a puppy.
- Having a puppy teaches a child to have empathy toward living beings.
- It can teach the child teamwork and cooperation. And can help the child’s emotional well-being and give her a sense of companionship.
- Having a puppy can also help a child form further relationships with friends. After all, what child doesn’t want to meet a new puppy?
- The relationship also can provide exercise and a play outlet for children.
- Having a puppy also can teach a child responsibility as well as patience. And it can help a child’s immune system be more resilient.
Those are just a few positives off the top of my head for getting your kid a puppy.
What Type of Puppy’s Best?
Of course, the puppy you choose should be one that you want to live with for life.
It’s important that the puppy be healthy and have a great, steady temperament.
A pet professional such as a positive reinforcement trainer or behaviorist can help to select a puppy who’s appropriate for your family.
A good breeder, rescue, or shelter should also be able to guide you in your quest for the “perfect puppy.”
No one breed or mix probably fits your needs. But it’s important to consider the puppy’s needs and inherited traits when choosing your new furry family member.
Herding dogs will be true to their roots and may attempt to corral your child. But many can be fine if trained and exercised properly. These include shelties and Aussies.
Toy breeds such as Shih Tzus and Yorkshire terriers are fragile and must be handled with extra care when around youngsters.
Working breeds such as Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers have a lot of energy and can tend to be protective.
Terriers like westies and cairns were bred to hunt vermin and may knock a small child down in their quest.
Hounds like beagles were also bred to hunt and can have a lot of energy to burn.
And dogs from the nonsporting group have many functions, such as Lhasas, who were watchdogs in Tibet and can have a suspicious nature.
The important thing to consider when choosing a puppy is whether you can meet the dog’s needs so that he becomes a great family member. This includes physical and mental needs, training, as well as socialization.
Managing the Environment
Children and puppies can be BFFs. But it’s important to make sure to manage the environment to ensure everyone’s safety.
Never leave a puppy and young child alone together.
A youngster can inadvertently injure a young pup. And a young puppy can knock over a toddler or young child–and his needle teeth can be dangerous.
Always err on the side of caution so that accidents don’t happen.
Safe Place for the Puppy
When you can’t observe the two together, you can have a gate separating your child and the new puppy.
The puppy should always have a safe space where he can relax, eat, and sleep–both away from your child.
Crates are great places for a puppy to hang out.
They provide a way to have some downtime as well as help to housetrain the pup and keep him safe from household hazards. It’s his sanctuary.
Of course, you have to train the puppy to enjoy his crate.
You might have to place a barrier between the crate and the kids so that they don’t disturb the puppy.
Young children need to be taught to respect the puppy, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.
You can also have an area such as an exercise pen with a crate in it, as a safe area for the pup.
Whose Toys Are They?
Puppies and young children can’t differentiate between each others’ toys.
So, as much as possible, it’s important to pick up the puppy’s toys when he’s not playing with them. Also, have the children play with their toys in a separate area.
This separation can be important so that the puppy doesn’t accidentally ingest or destroy the child’s toy. And it can help prevent any resource guarding by the puppy.
But it’s very important to teach a puppy to readily give up any items, including his toys.
Management is key to having toys intact and not ingested.
And hygiene is important for children too. Young children may put the puppy’s toys in their mouth–which can potentially make a child ill.
Teaching the Child Puppy-Safe Rules
Both sides of the equation must be trained. Your new puppy needs to learn how to behave. I’ll discuss this in more detail below.
And the child needs to learn how to behave around the puppy.
Young children can view a cute little puppy as a toy–literally a living doll. But the puppy is a living creature with feelings and needs.
Calm and Steady
Young children have limitless energy. I wish that I still had their boundless stamina.
But they must be taught to be calm around the pup. Running, squealing, and jumping should be off-limits when around the puppy.
Children smell different than adults. And they have high-pitched voices and move in unpredictable ways.
These can appear to be threatening to a puppy who’s not used to this. If children run around screaming in play, the puppy will feed off that energy.
The unwitting pup may even knock a little child down. And the pup’s needle-like teeth can injure the child.
Make it a game. Tell your child to “be a tree” when around the kid. This means that she has to be still when around the pup.
Positive reinforcement works for both humans and canines. So have a reward system in place in which your child receives something she wants when she behaves around the puppy.
This is especially important when the puppy becomes overly excited and playful.
Teach the child to stay out of the puppy’s way then. She can go sit down until the canine calms down.
Teach Respect for the Puppy
Before the puppy joins your family, teach your children that a puppy is a living being, not a toy. And the pup may growl or bite if mishandled.
Set boundaries that a child must respect in dealing with the puppy. Doing this will help build a positive relationship with the puppy.
Ground rules are really important. These include:
- Having a child practice how to handle and interact with the puppy. You can use a stuffed toy to teach how to softly and calmly pet the pup. And remind the child not to hug, climb on, pull ears or tail, or otherwise be harsh with the pup
- Teaching the child to respect the puppy’s special area, such as a crate or exercise pen, and not bother him when he’s in his “safe zone”
- Teaching the child to be calm around the puppy
- Teaching the child not to stare at the puppy, which the pup can see as a challenge
- Teaching the child not to get at the puppy’s level. Otherwise, the puppy may consider the child as a littermate and play roughly
- Teaching the child an “ignore the puppy” game, in which she pretends that the puppy’s invisible
- Teaching the child to wait for the puppy to approach her instead of rushing at the puppy. Don’t force attention on the puppy. And to allow the pup to move away without chasing him
- Teaching the child to let sleeping dogs lie. And not to approach when the puppy is sleeping, eating, or chewing on a bone or other chewie
- Teaching the child to walk away from a puppy who’s becoming over-stimulated before things escalate out of control. No rough-housing should be permitted
- Teaching the child to gently toss treats to the puppy rather than giving them to him from her hand
- Teaching the child to “read” the puppy’s body language so that she understands when the puppy is uncomfortable and should be left alone
Teach the Puppy Boundaries
Just as the child needs to learn how to act around the puppy, the pup also needs some training regarding how to behave. This is very important for the two to have a successful, long-lasting friendship.
Important matters to consider when determining the puppy’s needs include:
- Ensuring that the puppy has had a sufficient amount of physical and mental exercise before interacting with the child.
- Teaching the puppy to be crate-trained
- Teaching the puppy housetraining
- Teaching the puppy some impulse control, such as a “settle” command
- Teaching the puppy some obedience commands, such as paying attention, sit/stay, down/stay, wait, come, and leave it
- Teaching the puppy to give up items on command. This is especially true of toys because eventually, the child will play with the pup
- Praising and rewarding the puppy for calm behavior
- Teaching the puppy to accept–and even enjoy–gentle handling
Learn the Puppy’s Body Language
It’s important that you “read” the puppy’s body language and teach your child to do the same.
If the puppy’s uncomfortable, the child shouldn’t be permitted to interact with him.
If a puppy’s pushed beyond his limits, he may growl or even bite to protect himself from a perceived threat. Signs that a puppy is uncomfortable include:
- Avoidance, moving away, or hiding
- A “whale eye” in which the white of the puppy’s eye shows
- Lip licking
- Moist paws that leave tracks when not heat-related
- Tail tucking
- Looking away
- Appearing smaller (tucked-up body)
- A furrowed brow or tense body language
- Baring teeth
- Snapping or biting
Separate the child and the puppy at the first sign that the pup’s uncomfortable.
Always, always err on the side of caution to keep everyone safe.
When such signs are ignored, a tragedy can occur.
You can redirect the puppy to another activity, such as performing an obedience command or playing with a favorite toy.
The come command can really save the interaction from escalating.
In addition to teaching the puppy and child the proper ways to interact, there are some health considerations to keep everyone safe.
The puppy should have regular vet visits.
This should include an examination as well as any required vaccines, deworming, and other required medications such as one to prevent heart-worm disease or flea or tick infestations.
It’s important to housetrain the puppy so that your child isn’t exposed to urine or feces.
Clean up any accidents immediately. And clean up the pup’s potty area regularly.
The child should also wash her hands before and after each interaction with the pup.
And the puppy should be bathed and groomed when necessary.
Activities for the Child to Participate in Caring for the Puppy
It’s important for the child to regularly interact with the puppy assuming the above precautions are taken.
Children of about seven or older can take on some duties–supervised of course.
Children can help stuff Kongs. And, depending on the child, she can participate in some of the training. After you’ve taught the puppy to sit, you can have your youngster participate in training the dog to sit.
More mature children can help fill the pup’s water bowl or even help groom the pup after you’ve trained him to accept handling and grooming.
A mature child can participate when you walk the puppy.
What NOT To Do: Don’t Try This at Home
Don’t leave a young puppy alone with a child. Things can happen in the blink of an eye.
A young child who inadvertently scares a puppy, risks being bitten.
Don’t let a child be rough in any way with the puppy.
I see pictures all over the internet of children riding the family dog as if he were a horse, hugging a puppy, or grabbing a puppy’s face and staring into it. These are definite no, no’s.
Finally, don’t let the child disturb the puppy when he’s sleeping, relaxing, eating, or chewing a favorite chewie.
Can I leave my puppy and toddler together playing alone?
No! The general rule for the safety of both the child and the puppy is for them to always be supervised when together.
And kids should learn that puppies are living creatures, not toys. After the puppy is taught to respect the puppy and his area, they can be together when observed.
Leaving puppies and children alone together can lead to tragic consequences in which either is injured. Consider safety first.
How can my child learn to interact correctly with my puppy?
It’s important to teach children to respect the puppy as a living being. You can train your child to be gentle around your puppy, not noisy or rambunctious.
And treat her to recognize that she should leave the puppy alone when he’s in his crate or other safe area, when sleeping, when eating, or when chewing on a bone or other chewie.
How can I teach my puppy to play well with my children?
Make sure that your puppy’s had a sufficient amount of exercise before interacting with your children.
Also, teach your puppy basic commands such as how to pay attention to you, sit/stay, down/stay, come, and leave it. And teach your puppy to accept being in a safe area such as a crate or exercise pen.
Our Puppies And Kids
We recently added a puppy, Anna to our family with three children under the age of 4. We carefully manage both puppy and kids.
We manage our puppy with leashes, tie-downs, crates, and ex-pens.
Our rule for the kids is they must ask us before interacting with the puppy. This allows us to say “yes” when the puppy is calm and well-behaved and “no” if she is rambunctious, excited, and bouncing around.
So, far so good with the relationship between our puppy and kids.
Children and puppies can be a great combination, forming a life-long friendship and be BFFs.
But the relationship must be carefully managed.
And both the child and the puppy should be taught to respect each other’s limitations.
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Check out more of our favorites on our New Puppy Checklist.