Dogs are “man’s best friend” for a reason: they’re loyal, friendly, soft and cuddly. I grew up with dogs and have wanted to add a furry baby to my own little family for years, but so far, it hasn’t been in our cards yet. To help my puppy hunger, I got a job with a puppy adoption company called Puppies For Rent when my oldest was just one year old. I was around puppies every day, so she was too, thus basically growing up with the little fur balls. Since she was going to be surrounded by multiple puppies all the time, I had to learn quickly what to teach her about treatment of animals and how to teach the puppies to act around kids, as well.
If you’re looking to add a dog to your forever family, or have dogs already and are now adding a human baby to the mix, here are a few things I’d suggest for teaching them how to live together safely:
Teaching the dog about the kid:
Annoy your dog: Do things like pull their ears, get in their face (which dogs don’t naturally appreciate), pinch their fur and get a little skin, tug their tail, and tickle their feet. Nagging and annoying your dog will get it used to what a curious baby and rambunctious toddler will do when you aren’t looking. Of course, I am NOT saying to abuse your pet! Just think of what a baby might do and equal that (a baby’s tug on the tail won’t be super forceful since they aren’t too strong). This will get your dog used to being touched roughly so it won’t be an issue when it’s the little person doing it.
Play a video of a screaming baby next to the dog: If your dog is prone to howling or barking at any little noise, they will need to get used to what a screaming child will sound like. This isn’t an issue for all dogs, but it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try every now and then and see how the pup will react.
Food bowl test: While your dog eats, stick your hand into their food and randomly pull their collar to make them stop eating. This is an aggression test. A mobile baby might make her way to the dog’s dish as it eats and want to share. You need to make sure the dog is used to backing off and being patient, instead of growling and snapping possessively. This also needs to be practiced with their toys.
If your dog struggles with this (even if it’s just once in a while that they will growl), do something about it right away. Immediate punishment, consequences and redirection for the bad behavior are no different than what you would do if it were your child who showed dangerous behavior or habits. Your dog needs to learn that being territorial and aggressive is not okay. No one wants a child to get bitten.
Expect one-on-one time to change: Before baby, chances are your dog is used to a certain schedule and doesn’t need to share you with anything as demanding as a baby. But children will change your relationship with your pet, usually making time with it much less. I’m not suggesting you ignore your pet in preparation. Rather, get them used to you being gone for longer period of times or getting super busy. Teach them important commands, such as “Go to bed,” so they know to get out from under your feet when you’re walking around with your baby. Set a certain day, like Saturday, to be your park day, which becomes the time you catch up with your dog. Getting in the habit of having a little time one day a week set aside for your pet will make time with them after baby much better. There are ways you can prepare for this change of relationship with your pet, but ultimately, understand that your attention will be prioritized to your flesh and blood.
Teaching the kid about the dog:
Compare the kid to the dog: Toddlers and puppies are very much alike. Talk to your baby often (you never know at what age they will actually begin understanding and catch on) about how the dog lives. Point out how barking is the way the dog talks, and growling is the way he tells us he is scared or mad, just like how baby screams or cries. Making this connection will hopefully help your kid to realize the dog feels pain, gets happy, and plays just like her and she needs to treat the pet nicely.
Demonstrate often: Actually get down and show your child what you mean when you tell her to pet the dog “gently” or where it’s okay to touch him. Show how we stay away from eyes and let go of tails. Teach your kid how to take the dog out to use the bathroom or feed it by having them go with you and see the process. It’s useful to keep reminding/showing your little ones what you mean, since young kids seem to have the memory of Dory from the movie Finding Nemo.
Teach the responsibility a pet takes: Dogs are a lot of work and if you want the kid to eventually take over caring for the dog’s needs, you will need to teach them everything a dog requires. Every time you serve your kid a meal, talk about how often a dog needs to eat and what they eat. When your kid gets hurt, talk about how dogs can get hurt as well and go to their own kind of doctor, a veterinarian.
Practice: Before you get the dog, ask a friend who already owns a dog if your kid can play and be around the pet. It’d be great if you could dog-sit for that friend so your kid can be exposed to the animal for an extended period of time. Practice what you’ve taught your child so they will be ready and know what you expect from them when the time comes to get your own pet!
No matter who came first, the pet or the baby:
Be consistent: Just like you have to be consistent with discipline, routine, and positive feedback for your toddler, what you do with your dog needs to be consistent as well. Kids won’t magically remember how to pet softly after the first time and puppies won’t remember to not jump and knock over your toddler right away. In all the ways you prepare each for the other, you need to keep it up until it clicks. I promise, it eventually will!
I hope you get a chance to eventually own a dog, since they can make quite fantastic pets. If you already have a dog, what are ways you’ve prepared it for your children, and how did you teach your children to respect animals? Share what worked for you in the comments below!