Dog Behavior E-mail

Kids and Dogs - What Every Parent Should Know

Living with a pet can be a great experience for kids. Here are some important things to keep in mind when considering a dog for your kids.

Who takes care of the dog?

Yes, of course your kids swore up and down that they’d care for the dog themselves; it’s what kids do, and they mean every word of it at the time. But regardless of how willing and sincere they may be, a child can’t take sole responsibility for caring for a dog. Not only do dogs need daily food, water and shelter, they also need to be played with, exercised, cleaned up after and trained consistently. If you're adopting a dog "for the kids," understand that you yourself will be the dog's primary caretaker.

What age dog is best?
Your kids have begged for a puppy. But is such a rambunctious youngster really the best choice for your family? Puppies need lots of time, patience, training, socialization and supervision. You’ve already got human kids – do you have the energy it takes to commit to caring for a young puppy as well?

Puppies are babies, and therefore fragile. A puppy can be injured by a well-meaning child who wants to pick him up, hug him or pull on his tail or ears. And puppies have sharp teeth and claws, and are too young to understand their own ability to harm others. All interactions between your child and puppy will need close supervision to keep either from being injured. Older dogs require less time and attention once they've adjusted to your family and household routine. As a general rule, if your kid is under six years old, it's best to get a dog that's over two years old.

What breed is best?
Small breeds like toy Poodles, Chihuahuasor Yorkies are more easily injured – and more easily scared into snapping - than bigger dogs and are not recommended for a young child. A bigger and more easygoing breed, such as Golden Retriever or Labradoris usually a safer choice. Read more about dog breeds. Ok, so you’ve got yourselves a brand new doggy. Here are some safety guidelines to keep in mind. And remember, small kids should never be left alone with a dog or puppy without adult supervision.

Holding and petting your puppy
Puppies are squirmy-wiggly and could fall out of a young kid's arms and be injured, or he may get scared at being held insecurely and could snap or scratch in response. Make sure your child is sitting, then put the puppy in his arms. Next, let your child offer the puppy a chew toy while he pets him. When puppies are teething, they’ll chew on everything including hands and arms, so having a chew toy handy will divert the puppy's teeth away from your child.

For bigger dogs, have your child sit in your lap and let Fido approach both of you. This way you can control your child and not let him get carried away with rough affection. You’re also there to teach your new dog to treat your child gently.

Kids often want to hug dogs around the neck. Your dog might see this as a threatening gesture and could react with a growl, snap or bite. Teach your child instead to pet Fido from underneath the dog's chin, rather than hugging him or reaching over his head.

Giving Treats
Kids can get fearful when a dog tries to take a treat from their hand. This causes them to jerk their hand away at the last second. The dog might then jump up or lunge to get the treat, which could knock the child down. Instead have your kid place the treat in an open palm, rather than holding it in his fingers.

Supervising Play
Kids move with quick, jerky movements, have high-pitched voices and often run, rather than walk. Fido may respond to your child's behavior by chasing him, jumping up at him or even trying to knock him down. Your dog will need to learn that certain behaviors are unacceptable, but he must also be taught what behaviors are the right ones. Taking an obedience class together is a good way to teach your dog to respond to commands, but you yourself will need to patiently correct Fido when he behaves the wrong way around your kids. And never punish your dog for his behavior - if he learns that being around kids always results in punishment, he’ll likely try to avoid being with kids at all.

Possessions
Dogs can be possessive about their food, toys and space. Although it's normal for a dog to growl or snap to protect these items, it's not acceptable. And your dog won't know the difference between his toys and your kid's toys unless you teach him.

First, your child must take responsibility for keeping his playthings out of your dog's reach. If you catch Fido chewing on something he shouldn't, interrupt him with a loud hand clap, then give him an acceptable chew toy and when he takes the new toy in his mouth, praise him lavishly as the good and clever doggy he is. And never give your dog playthings like old socks, old shoes or old kid's toys that closely resemble items that are off-limits. He can't tell the difference!