Dogs may be man’s best friend, but sometimes toddlers are more than they can take. While toddlers and dogs can quickly become the best of buddies, it sometimes takes a little more work.
If you’re worried your toddler won’t be safe around your dog, here are five tips that may help.
Teach your toddler to be gentle
Toddlers aren’t exactly known for their gentle nature. They don’t mean any harm by it, but when they see an animal, their first instinct is to grab it before it gets away. That simple act of curiosity won’t sit well with many animals, who won’t understand why they are being grabbed and poked by your toddler.
If your animal feels as if your toddler is too rough, or if they feel unsafe, they may growl, bark, nip, or even bite. Those aggressive behaviors can scare your child and leave such an unpleasant memory that they may not want to be around your dog any more at all.
To avoid that, you should teach your child the proper ways of handling your dog. Stress how important it is to be gentle.
Before you introduce a dog to a toddler, make sure you’ve practiced the art of being gentle on a test subject, preferably a baby doll or a stuffed animal. Go over everything they need to know. Show them how to pet the stuffed animal and how to hold their hands out in front of the dog’s nose for them to sniff.
Choose your breed carefully
The breed of the dog you’re introducing your child to can make a big difference in how successful the encounter is. Some breeds are better with children than others.
It’s best to keep children away from breeds that don’t do well with children, like Akitas, Alaskan malamutes, greyhounds, rottweilers, and pit bulls. Keep in mind that although some pit bulls do well with children, they are one of the main breeds responsible for many of the severe dog attacks suffered by children.
Remember any dog can become dangerous if he feels threatened so be sure your dog feels safe.
Until your child and dog are fully used to each other, carefully supervise all interactions. That will help you spot any problems your child is having with interacting correctly with the dog. Watch for signs they aren’t being gentle enough or aren’t giving your dog the space it needs.
It will also allow you to see whether your child seems to be comfortable with your dog, or if they seem fearful or shy.
Supervision also gives you the chance to see if your pet seems comfortable or is exhibiting any nervous or aggressive behavior your child won’t understand enough to spot.
Give the dog a safe zone
All dogs need a place they can go to get away from the noise, excitement, and constant attention a toddler will dish out. It’s safer for both your dog and your child if you find a way to provide that. Teach your child not to follow or chase your dog if it moves away from them or a scary sound like a vacuum cleaner.
Perhaps you can keep a kennel in your backyard, or you can teach your child when your dog goes to their dog bed that they are not allowed to follow. Find whatever works for your house and your circumstances and go with that.
Leave eating and sleeping dogs alone
The only thing that dogs dislike more than vacuum cleaners is people trying to touch their food. Dogs are instinctively possessive of their food. They can growl or even bite in some scenarios when a child tries to take their food away. It’s always best to teach your child in their first interactions with a dog to never touch that animal’s food.
The same goes for sleeping — your child shouldn’t ever try to wake up a sleeping dog. That can be a dangerous situation because your dog may be so startled their first instinct may be to protect themselves by lashing out.
Toddlers and dogs can be the best of friends. But a lot of that depends on you. It’s your job to teach your dog and your toddler how to safely and successfully interact with each other.
Use your common sense, and if you have any questions, take advantage of the resources in your life — articles, books, veterinarians, and your child’s pediatrician.
Amy Anthony, the mother of two amazing kids and three beautiful dogs, lives in Oregon. When she isn’t cleaning up and taking care of her family, she enjoys writing, blogging, and working on her goal to become a published author.