Preparing your dog and home for visiting children
Settling your dog
Ensuring those first few interactions are positive for both the child and the dog will help set you up for future visits.
Set yourself a routine that works for you and your dog. This could include walking your dog before your visitor arrive, settle your dog in their quiet place, don’t rush ensure both child and dog are settled before introductions.
It should go without saying that children and dogs should not be left alone together without adult supervision. Realistically, you will not be able to actively supervise your dog and the children in your home 100 per cent of the time they are all in the same place. This is where careful management proves a godsend (see ‘separation’ below).
Active supervision means you are consciously watching both the child and dog; if you need to pop to the car or prep lunch for a few minutes, it’s best to separate the dog and child while your attention is focussed elsewhere. Bite incidents can happen in seconds, so it’s safest to avoid the risk.
If your dog has access to the same area where a child is present, the number one rule is that you must supervise. If active supervision is not possible, you must separate (see below).
Depending on their age, a child can be unpredictable in their behaviour (particularly from a dog’s point of view) and squeals of delight, temper tantrums and boisterous play can be an exciting or frightening experience for dogs and puppies. You’ll need to show young children in particular exactly how you want them to interact with your dog, by encouraging gentle interaction at all times. Seeing a relationship blossom between a child and dog is a lovely sight, but this should never be forced and better relationships are built by trust, boundaries and positive interactions.
Many puppies and dogs will put up with a great deal before showing any obvious behaviours that they are uncomfortable (see ‘dog body language’ below) and it’s just not fair or responsible to expect them to cope with boisterous or rough handling. By being proactive and using separation in your daily routine this will help make your dog feel more comfortable and limit the chance of them having to get to the stage where they show the signs of stress behaviours.
Safe interaction tips
- Most importantly, actively supervise. When the visiting child(ren) and your dog are together, make sure you pay attention to what is happening at all times as you’ll want to intervene at the earliest opportunity should either look worried or you see that things are getting out of hand.
- Encourage gentle stroking at all times - no pulling, grabbing, heaving patting or sitting on!
- A good way to see if a dog or puppy would like to have a stroke is to ask them! When they are awake call them to you as opposed to approaching them. If they approach confidently, then this is there way of saying ‘yes’ and if they stay where they are, they are politely declining your invitation and you can try again later. This is a really simple exercise that you can invite visiting children to carry out (once they are old enough to understand your instruction) and it enables your dog or puppy a choice in the matter too.
- Take care that the visiting baby or child doesn’t touch or walk into your dog when they are eating or chewing. Although the child is unlikely to want to eat the chew, your dog won’t know this and may feel worried and behave defensively.
- Be careful when children are playing with their own toys. Dogs can find it tricky to know if a toy is theirs or a child’s, which can be confusing to them. Toys can also be really exciting for dogs and may raise their activity and ‘bounce’ levels, which can be unsettling for children.
- Human food is extremely tempting to many dogs. If your dog is used to humans eating around them and you are comfortable with this, ask your dog to settle and ensure you supervise while people are eating. If your dog is easily distracted by food it is safer to move them to a separate area or crate while people are eating, particularly if the visiting child is young and may throw food around or onto the floor.
- If you spot your dog becoming worried, intervene. The dog body language section below will help you to recognise the signs your dog and the child(ren) may need some time apart.
- Equally, if the visiting child(ren) is becoming frightened or annoyed by your dog, intervene. It’s much nicer and safer for both if you remove the dog in these situations (and give them something else to do!) as this will ensure that their relationship stays on track for repeat visits.
Remember, the visiting child(ren) and your dog don’t always have to be interacting whilst they are in the same room together. Sometimes just letting the dog observe at a distance they feel safe at can help them get used to noises, new voices and new toys.
Giving your dog some time alone through separating them should be part of your daily routine when children are around. It should always been seen as a positive separation and by no means a punishment.
When you are busy and cannot keep a close eye on the children and dog(s) in the home, the answer is to keep them separated. We cannot emphasise strongly enough that dogs (of all breeds or types) and children should not be left alone together when you are unable to actively supervise.
Dogs are a social species and typically enjoy human company, but they need their own space when they feel overwhelmed, stressed or are simply not in the mood for fuss; all totally normal feelings for dogs when people they do not know, or do not know well, visit the home.
This can also be the case for children who maybe slightly anxious around dogs, or over excited when they are around them. And some children may be really very scared of dogs and not want to spend time around them at all. It can be quite overwhelming if a dog and child are not used to being together most of the time and offering a time to relax for both is essential to create a happy household.
This is not to say your dog should be shut away and ignored for hour upon hour, but getting your dog used to spending a little time alone with fun things to keep them entertained will ensure they are happy when you need to utilise separation as a management tool. If the child is happy to do so, you could get them involved with stuffing a Kong, or choosing – or even making new – toys for your dog to play with.
Top separation tips
- Get your dog used to enjoying spending time alone. Stuff a Kong with something really tasty for them to nibble on when put them in a separate room or space, so they see this as a positive thing.
- Crate train your dog. When properly introduced, a crate (or indoor kennel) can become a great ‘safe space’ for your dog that allows you to separate them from children, but at the same time keeps them in the same room as you. As dogs are social creatures they will often choose to stay with their family even if they feel a bit overwhelmed. This is why crates are a fantastic option in this situation as you can safely pop them in there so they are still near to you and don’t feel excluded.
- Invest in a stairgate to segregate certain areas of the home
- Let your dog sleep undisturbed. Puppies in particular need a lot of sleep, and being startled or woken regularly may begin to affect your dog’s behaviour and they may become irritable or defensive.
- If either your dog or the visiting child is having one of those days (too excitable, easily frustrated or just a bit boisterous!), then management is the key to avoiding accidents. Use your stair gate or dog crate and keep your puppy safely occupied with a tasty chew or stuffed Kong.