Dogs and Toddlers

When you have dogs and kids it is important to teach BOTH of them and make it YOUR responsibility to keep them both safe.  It is not the dog’s responsibility to keep a child safe nor is it the child’s to make a dog behave.

By setting house rules and understanding the principles of behavior, clarity, timing, teaching, and consequences – happy and not so happy – you will be surprised at how well this works.  In addition, being consistent with the following rules for both child and dog will yield amazing results.

Your child is NOT to approach the dog to interact with her without one of you being *RIGHT* with him. No exceptions! Since one of you is always around when your child is around the dog, you can enforce this with one warning if your child forgets. Over time your dog will understand when your child approaches she will not be assaulted since you intervened in each and every situation.   Note: Your child is allowed to walk by the dog, but he is not to touch her unless you are *RIGHT* with him.

Your child is NOT to run by the dog.  This is important to prevent him from accidently slipping and falling on her and to avoid scaring her and making her feel defensive. You need to be very clear on this rule.  If your child seems like he MIGHT run in a room near your dog (because after all, he is only a toddler), remind him of the rules in a nice way and make sure one of you is available to stop the behavior.  This means you have to be aware of where your dog is and where your child is all the time. Yep, this is hard. But it’s much easier than an awful ER visit…

The dog is going to bump the child once in awhile, especially when she’s excited. This is going to happen between dogs and toddlers.  Try not to allow them both to be in narrow areas of the house at the same time.  Ask your child to stand still and let the dog go by or ask him to come to you while your dog does a stand/wait.  You can also re-direct her (or him) in a different direction.   Having a fully obedience trained w/commands and signals helps a great deal in this situation.

If your dog is eating, your child is to stay away from her. You need to be actively aware of where your child is while your dog eats.  It may be easier to take responsibility for keeping him away from her general area in case he forgets.  You will need to teach your dog not to have a food guarding issue in addition to the Drop and the Leave It commands if food falls on the floor.  Generally, it is easy to have the dog baby gated away from the child when he is eating.

Your child is *NEVER* to be left alone in a room with the dog. I don’t care how nice the dog is or isn’t, or how quickly you’re leaving the room. If you have to leave a room, either your child or the dog comes with you; OR you put up a baby gate to separate the two.  Make it a game where your child has to find you or encourage him to look at something together. He could forget what he’s doing and make an error, thus blowing the dog’s trust in you to keep her safe, and the child’s trust in you as a leader.

No dog toys are left on the floor while your child is out and about in the house. Dog toys appear when he goes to bed.  They are played with and then put away so nobody forgets and blows it. Dogs can be very possessive animals so why chance a bad encounter.  Mark all of the dog’s toys with a little vanilla and teach her she’s not to pick up anything that isn’t scented with vanilla.  Your dog will learn this quickly just by telling her to Leave It when she sniffed anything without vanilla on it. You need to be stringent about this and consistent in order not to have issues.

Teach your child how to touch the dog.  Make it part of family stuff by talking about how Big Men are kind to animals, touch animals gently, etc.   While you are doing this make sure you’re *RIGHT THERE* with him to guide him into doing the right thing. This makes the dog feel happy and safe, too.  You child will end up being *great* with friends’ dogs too.

NEVER tell your child to leave the dog alone without redirecting him to do something else! It’s the same with dogs. Don’t just say “no,” say “No,” to interrupt, and then guide them into something they *can* (and hopefully want to) do.  You can’t necessarily “tell” a 2-yr old something and expect that to last very long if you don’t set them up to win. You need to constantly keep watch over them to help them do well– just like with a puppy.  If you want to extinguish a behavior in any creature, you have to address the behavior in a way that matters and means something to that creature, every time it happens, which means you have to be there to see it happening and apply good or bad consequences right away. If you let a few bad things go, it gets harder and harder to undo, the child listens less and less, etc. If you don’t reward the desired behavior, it’s less likely to happen again.  This can be hard to do and is exhausting in many cases. But it is do-able.

Remember, the responsibility for safety is with YOU, not the toddler or the dog. So if you KNOW your child may be apt to bother the dog, fall on him, etc., it is your responsibility to keep the dog AND the child safe, through training and management. It’s a heavy responsibility and can get old sometimes, I know. But if you do what has been suggested  now, your dog will thank you now, your child will thank you when he’s grown, and you won’t have to spend some nasty evening in the ER where your child’s face is full of stitches and you needing to make the decision whether to put your dog down.