Updated: May 17, 2019
How to successfully introduce your dog to children.
Prevention is the best method to handle any unwanted behaviour or issues when training your dog. Just by nature, dogs are intuitive experts at quickly assessing and reacting to different situations. This behaviour varies with how they have learned to handle and respond to daily activities, such as going for walks, interacting with other animals, or meeting new people.
When it comes to teaching your dog how to act around children, you want to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to help your pup create only positive and trusting associations with kids. Respect is crucial for both parties, for just as you need to teach your kids to respect the dog, you must teach the dog to respect the children.
But how can you guarantee that first introduction goes well? There are three simple and useful exercises you can follow when introducing your dog to children.
1. Distance = Respect
Dogs, like most animals, give distance to each other show as a sign of respect for another’s space. Sometimes, people misinterpret this as though the dog is acting afraid and avoiding the perceived danger. While that can be true, it’s important that you first look at the dog’s body language to determine whether he/she is showing respect or fear.
It's important to make sure this level of respect is being reciprocated by having the kids give the dog some distance upon their first meetings/interactions. It’s important that the dog knows your kids aren’t a threat, so help them do their best to avoid looking, touching or talking to the dog if they're unsure of his feelings. Especially make sure that eye contact is avoided at this point; most children don’t know how to read a dog’s body language and may mistake or overlook signs of insecurity, fear, excitement, etc.
Proceed on your pup’s terms. Don’t have the kids come to your dog, but just patiently wait for your pup to feel relaxed enough to approach them. It might take some time, but all dogs will let you know when it's time for friendly and calm introductions. One thing that is not necessary is for the kids to hold their hands out for the dog to smell. At this point, it’s actually better if the kids refrain from any type of contact until the pup is completely calm. By doing this, you’ll ensure that the dog’s initial feeling when meeting children in the future will always involve staying calm... which, of course, can then escalate into fun playtime when it’s appropriate and on your terms, not the dog's.
2. Getting a Head Start
Like all animals, dogs simply react. They don’t exactly contemplate the meaning of their actions, ponder over nor plan what they will do next. If another dog or person approaches, he will react in the way that he thinks is best, right then and there. Remember, each dog is an individual and will react differently to situations. This reaction is contingent on their past experiences. Whether you are introducing your dog to a new or familiar activity, such as meeting children, you will want to do everything you can to start your dog off on the right paw.
You can do this by draining as much physical energy out of your pup in preparation. How you go about this will be contingent on the dog's level of energy and what he enjoys using his energy towards. Running, playing tug of war, fetching, and so on. This will really help your dog be in a calmer and more relaxed mindset when the kids come to your home or to the location where they’ll be meeting your dog, without you feeling like you need to talk or shout your dog into calmness..
3. Side By Side
Unlike us, most dogs don’t have actual jobs or schools where they go and learn to form relationships with others every day of their lives. Still, animals in general will do everything in a group or pack; this is especially true for social animals like dogs and other members of the canine family. This includes the simplest of things such as eating together, playing together, and, of course, hunting together. A tightly knit group of friends will more easily work well together, but when meeting a new member, most animals will try their best to avoid one-on-one confrontations if possible. Often, they’ll simply turn and walk in the same direction as the new member and walk alongside them. This begins to form a bond, similar to you and I walking with our loved ones and holding hands.
So when you have children that are coming by to meet your dog, the best option is for you to take everyone out for a walk. This will not only help tire out your dog, but it will also prevent the children from getting over-excited since they’ll be focused on the walk itself. Just by walking with others, your dog will learn to trust new people more easily. By focusing on this productive activity, your dog will learn that calmly following your lead results in rewards, whether that reward is food, treats, playtime, or simply the walk itself.
Enjoyed this pawblem solver? Pawblems Made Easy has more tips and tricks from experience to offer, especially when it comes to helping you build a positive bond with your dog. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions, comments or concerns you might have at firstname.lastname@example.org!