Kids and dogs, dogs and kids… Is there anything more wonderful than watching a puppy play happily with your child?
But although kids and dogs can often form a bond that will last a lifetime, it can go the other way too!
We know you love your kids, but they’re also loud, quick-moving, unpredictable, clumsy, and not always great at reading body language or demonstrating empathy, particularly to an animal that communicates differently. Because of these tendencies, children can easily be intimidating for a new pup, especially if the dog isn’t familiar with children or has had bad experiences in the past.
Avoid any stress, upset, or pain for your new pup and small children by taking your time with introductions and ensuring the newest member of your family gets a great first impression of your smallest (human) members.
Just a little patience, calm, and understanding can go a long way!
1. Let the dog settle
Your home might be the first time your new family member has experienced peace and quiet in a long time, and they might just want to sleep for the first few days. Alternatively, they might instinctively be looking for exits and escape routes at every opportunity until they learn that they’ve found a loving home.
To give your pup time to adapt and settle, it’s essential to cultivate a calm and loving environment that shows your dog they’re safe with you.
If your children are too excited about the prospect of a new puppy and playmate (we won’t blame them if they are!), then arranging a sleepover or visit the grandparents for the weekend could be a good idea.
2. Keep it calm
Whether you’re bringing your new pup straight home to meet the kids, or you’ve managed to get a free house for a couple of nights to let the dog adapt, when it does come time for them to meet, keep everything calm and friendly.
If your kids have loads of energy and excitement about the new arrival, try to get this all out before facing the puppy. Jump up and down, scream, dance…. But do it before.
3. Let the dog dictate when they’re ready.
When you first introduce your dog and children to each other, it’s crucial that you control the situation, but the pup should also have some say. Holding the dog on a loose leash is an excellent way to give you and your child a bit of security should the first meeting not go as planned, and also provides the dog with an escape if they get frightened.
Although your kids might be tempted to bombard the new arrival with lots of cuddles and kisses straight away, to create a calming environment for the dog, your children should allow the pup to come to them.
Have your children sat cross-legged on the floor, offering a closed fist for your pup to sniff before attempting to pet him or her. Gentle coaxing can be used, but the dog should never feel forced into a corner: this is how accidents happen.
4. Correct petting
Once the dog has approached the child, encourage correct petting. Although this is common sense for most adults, children can have a more challenging time perceiving what is and is not okay with an animal and may view your new pup as a large toy for them to play with.
Show your children how to offer a closed fist for the dog to sniff, then stroke the head and neck gently, avoiding areas including the ears, tail, feet, and belly for now. Explain how poking, squeezing, and pulling isn’t okay and that quiet voices should be used when petting.
Your child should also learn not to put their face near the dog’s face. This could be perceived as aggression, and your dog will instinctively want to defend themselves.
Preparation is king!
In addition to ensuring your children understand what’s expected of them when they first meet your new pup, be sure to have everything ready well before your new arrival.
This includes having the dog’s special area set up with their bed and bowls, a leash and collar, treats, toys, and other supplies. If you intend to allow your pup on the furniture, a dog ramp for bed can be a great way to minimize strain on the pup’s joints and highlight which pieces of furniture are dog-friendly.
Getting your kids involved in the puppy preparations is a great way to get them excited about the new arrival and allows you to discuss the responsibilities that come with pet ownership. This way, everyone knows what’s expected of them early on, and you can all look forward to a happy and loving household for many years to come.