Puppies and children

It’s wonderful to see children and dogs grow up together and the benefits for both can be huge.  However it can be challenging at times trying to manage a puppy and very young children, so we have some advice to help ensure that everyone is kept happy during this exciting time!

Puppies and children in the home

A terrier cross puppy snuggles up with toys in her bed
It’s a good idea to pick up your puppy’s toys when you have finished playing as this stops your children picking them up (and possibly putting them in their own mouths)

You’ll probably have a few stair gates in place already if you have very young children, so utilise these when you cannot supervise or things are getting a bit chaotic! It’s also a good idea to invest in a crate for your puppy as soon as you can, as will be an invaluable and useful tool. Teach your puppy that this is quiet place to retreat to when they need a rest and teach your children that this is the puppy’s private area (see crate training leaflet). 

Children’s toys and dog toys look very similar so expect your puppy to want to pick up your children’s toys and vice versa. It’s a good idea to pick up your puppy’s toys when you have finished playing as this stops your children picking them up (and possibly putting them in their own mouths).  This is good practice anyway as your puppy may end up destroying or ingesting bits of the toy if you’re not there to keep an eye on things. If your children are playing and your puppy wants to ‘join in’ (which is perfectly normal), it’s a good idea to give them something tasty such as a rawhide or stuffed Kong to occupy them either behind a stair gate or in their crate. 

Babies, toddlers and young children – how to keep everyone safe and happy!

Crawling babies and toddlers can be very exciting for puppies, but they can also be very overwhelming. Most children who are bitten by dogs are bitten by dogs that they know, so it really pays to invest a great deal of time ensuring that both grow up knowing how to behave around one another – it might be time consuming at first, but the rewards are huge as both your child and dog will hopefully go on to enjoy a lifetime of friendship together. 

Just like your puppy is learning about the world in which they live in, babies and toddlers are too. Young children’s natural instincts mean that are likely to want to touch, pull, grab at and pick up items they come into contact with and this is likely to include your new puppy. It’s no surprise that young children want to touch and cuddle young puppies as they are extremely cute (and often look just like the teddies they have!), but unlike us, dogs are not primates and will instinctively find hugs and being in close proximity to faces a frightening experience. 

Very young children can also be very ‘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 puppies and dogs. You’ll need to show young children exactly how you want them to interact with your puppy, by encouraging gentle interaction at all times. Even if your puppy appears to be ‘fine’ with more hands on contact, never assume that they are enjoying it or will always be so tolerant. Many puppies and dogs will put up with a great deal before showing any obvious behaviours that they are uncomfortable and it’s just not fair or responsible to expect them to cope with boisterous or rough handling. Even if your puppy or dog appears to be extremely laid back, think about how another dog your child meets might behave in a similar situation. Teaching a young child how to behave sensibly and considerately with your own puppy or dog will serve them well when they meet their friends’ dogs or a dog out on the street by keeping them as safe as they can be.

A white staffie cross puppy snoozes away in her comfy bed
Let your puppy sleep undisturbed - and encourage your children to do the same

Puppies and children - Safe handling tips

  • Encourage gentle stroking at all times - no pulling, grabbing, heaving patting or sitting on!  
  • Let your puppy sleep undisturbed. Puppies need a lot of sleep – being startled or woken regularly may begin to affect their behaviour and they may become irritable or defensive.
  • A good way to see if a puppy or dog 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 young children can carry out (once they are old enough to understand your instruction) and it enables your puppy or dog a choice in the matter too. 
  • If either your puppy or 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. When your baby, toddler or young child is napping or at nursery / pre-school, take this opportunity to ensure your puppy’s needs are met by having some fun playing and training together.
  • Although it’s important to ensure you have a ‘safe’ area your puppy can retreat to, 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.
  • Take care that your baby or child doesn’t touch or walk into your puppy when they are eating or chewing. Although your child is unlikely to want to eat the chew, your puppy won’t know this and may feel worried and behave defensively.
  • When your child is old enough to get involved, show them how to play safely and help with training. Both your puppy or dog and child will enjoy this immensely and it’s a fantastic way of them interacting with each other and developing a bond, that doesn’t involve too much physical interaction.
  • Most importantly, actively supervise. When your child and puppy 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.

Signs that your puppy is feeling worried are:

  • avoidance, moving away, hiding
  •  tail tucked under, looking away, appearing ‘smaller’
  • lip licking, yawning (when not sleepy), paw raising
  • growling, flashing teeth, snapping, biting

Equally if you see your child becoming frightened or annoyed by your puppy, intervene. Young children can easily become irritated by a puppy, especially if they try to play with their toys or walk all over a favourite puzzle! It’s much nicer and safer for both if you remove the puppy in these situations (and give them something else to do!) as this will ensure that their relationship stays on track.

Resources

Along with this advice, read the following links:

https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/be-safe-dogs
http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/training/safe-and-sound/

— Page last updated 5/07/2017