With puppies and kids, introducing a new puppy especially to toddlers should be done with care to avoid injury to either your children or the puppy. Once babies start walking, toddlers can become more interesting — and challenging — for your puppy. Many of the same dog-to-baby introductions apply, but in addition, refer to these tips for toddlers and older children.
Don’t assume that your new pet will love the neighborhood kids or your grandchildren as much as they love people your age.
Compared to adults, babies and toddlers are Martians. Toddlers and young kids are particularly daunting because they move quickly and may actually pose a threat to especially small puppies, but don’t yet understand and take direction as well as older children.
While young children may mean no harm, depending on the age of the kids, they may treat your puppy like a stuffed toy by poking eyes, pulling fur, chasing, picking up by one leg. Your youngster may want to kiss or try to hug a puppy and end up bitten when the puppy objects. A frightened or injured pup instinctively lashes out with bites and growls to make the scary situation go away.
Kids smell different than adults, have high-pitched funny voices, move in unpredictable ways, and appear threatening. Don’t expect every dog to feel the same about your kiddos. Some big pups may love playing “pony” with a visiting toddler but a clueless young child could seriously injure small pups without meaning to.
Follow these tips to keep both your puppy and the children safe.
Provide a Safe Retreat
Be sure your puppy has a canine sanctuary that’s off limits to kids. Even pets that adore children need private time and a place to go that they know they won’t be pestered. Make a bedroom, or the puppy’s crate and bed off-limits to the children, and supervise to enforce the rule if the children are too young to understand.
Teach Kids Limits
Ask toddlers to practice petting a stuffed toy or the child’s own arm or head. Young kids take the time to learn that dogs aren’t stuffed animals, and can be hurt and lash out from pulled tails or ears.
Practice Quiet Puppy-Talk
High pitched screams could potentially prompt puppies to aggress toward the child. Challenge children to a game, to see if they can talk in an inside voice that entices puppies to come near for pets. You can explain that just like children can get frightened of scary sounds, puppies can be scared and it takes very talented kids to know how to be pooch-friendly.
Ignore the Puppy
Staring is a challenge in dog language that can stress some pets, especially kids that are eye-to-eye level. But when ignored, pups are more likely to be intrigued enough to investigate on their own. So challenge your toddler or older child to an “ignore the pup” game, and see how long they can pretend the puppy is invisible. In most cases, a confident canine will eventually approach.
Seat The Kids
Puppies take turns playing chase-and-tackle games with each other, so when chased by toddlers they may get too rough without meaning to. So make it a dog rule that young kids must sit before they can pet the dog and that the dog gets to approach.
That also lets the pup control interactions and move away when the puppy has had enough. Forcing a dog to sit still for a child’s unwanted attention may cause the puppy to avoid the child in future. This instead makes it the dog’s choice and a fun, rewarding experience. Once seated, the child can lure and entice the puppy with a toy. Playing builds a positive relationship that can grow into love.
When pups still act reluctant to approach, find a smelly, tasty treat the pet loves but ONLY gets from the child. While sitting on the floor, the child should gently toss the treat to (not At) the dog. Until or unless you’re satisfied the puppy won’t also nip the child’s hands, make sure that the treat gets eaten from the floor rather than the kid’s fingers.
There are always exceptions, but as a general rule, children should be at least six or seven years old before being given responsibility for a puppy’s care.
However, you can begin at this age with supervised care duties, such as filling the puppy’s water bowl or teaching how to comb and groom the fur coat. The more pleasant experiences your children enjoy with the puppy, the stronger becomes the bond between them.