Kids love dogs. And dogs love kids. History abounds with tales of children and dogs being the best of friends. Some examples include Snoopy, Old Yeller, Lassie, Benji, Petey, Toto, Clifford, and their kid companions. About half of all U.S. families own one or more dogs, and according to AACAP, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, pets can provide the following benefits to children:
Teach empathy and compassion
Provide love, loyalty, and affection
Promote physical activity
Provide valuable life lessons
Provide a connection to nature
Children who are fortunate enough to have dogs or other pets as household members can realize benefits that will continue to serve them well throughout their lives. Not only will they enjoy the advantages described above, but if dogs or other pets are introduced within the first few years of a child’s life, those kids are much less prone to developing pet, grass, ragweed or mite allergies later in life according to Web MD
However, some dogs can be particular enough to warrant following some tried and true guidelines in order to properly introduce children to dogs and vice versa. According to Rural Dog Rescue, about 1,000 people seek emergency treatment for pet injuries each day. So, it’s important to introduce children to dogs the right way.
Dogs, in particular, are very hierarchical with their social system. After all, they are pack animals. While many dogs will view adults as the “alpha” in their system, children may not be seen as the alpha, but as more of an equal or even a subordinate. Children are full of energy, and this can cause issues if a kid is too aggressive or forceful with a dog, especially in the initial introduction. If a kid and dog each have a lot of energy, the combination can make for a really fun introduction. And a good way to facilitate this high energy encounter would be to utilize a physical barrier such as Richell’s Pet Gates which would allow for the introduction to commence while energy levels moderate.
But, if a kid has lots of energy and the dog is older or doesn’t have a high energy level, the encounter can become problematic. The same holds true if a dog is full of excitement, but a kid is more reserved. In this case, a good option would be to utilize a crate like Richell’s Pet Crates to allow the child as much time and space to interact with the dog without fending off excitable dog behavior.
Everyone wants a positive outcome when children are first introduced to dogs, and with proper preparation, foresight, and care, the introduction of kids to dogs can be fun and uneventful. The key is to match expectations as closely as possible by utilizing the should and should not do tips below to ensure that introducing kids to dogs is a positive experience for all.
ALWAYS ask permission from a dog owner or handler to approach a dog that isn’t yours. Not all dogs are as friendly as we would like to think they are. Asking permission will take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. It is also good manners.
The dog owner should make sure a leash is securely fastened to the dog’s collar or harness and the dog should be secured in the seated position utilizing the “sit” command.
Kids should approach dogs with their hands casually by their side while displaying quiet confidence. Dogs and most animals can sense when a person is apprehensive or scared. The direction of approach should be a little from the dog’s side while making sure to stop with enough room so the dog can close the remaining distance when it is ready.
Avoid treats or toys during the initial introduction. This precaution can alleviate much of the excitement and playfulness that can naturally occur when those items are brought into the equation. The last thing anyone wants is for little fingers to be in the way if food is snatched away or toys are grabbed at. If treats just can’t be avoided, then they should at least be dropped on the ground or as a last resort offered with a “flat” hand and not individual fingers or a closed hand.
Let the dog do lots of smelling before any attempt is made to pet the dog. Dogs have an extremely keen sense of smell and will use that to determine if they want to continue with the encounter. It’s best to keep hands at your side until the dog is comfortable.
Avoid quick movements or loud sounds. Remaining quiet and calm is the best way to keep the peace when first introductions are taking place. Sudden movements can prompt biting, nipping, jumping or scratching if the dog is caught off guard.
Let a sleeping dog lie. That is great advice handed down through generations. The same goes for not interrupting a dog when it is eating. Dogs can become easily agitated when startled awake or disturbed while eating.
Explain and demonstrate various types of dog “body language” that kids are likely to experience with their encounter. For example, if a dog lies on its back and wags its tail, it wants to be played with or its belly rubbed. If a dog’s hair raises up, his tail stops wagging and he growls or barks, that means the dog doesn’t want to interact.
Ideally, two adults should be present when a kid and dog introduction is taking place. One adult can focus on the dog and the other can focus on the kid(s). And the introduction should be limited to one or two kids instead of an entire group. It’s a lot less stressful for the dog and kids this way.
Kids should be taught how to pet “gently” and not too aggressively. Monitoring the dog’s body language goes a long way to determining how the encounter is proceeding.
What You Should Not Do
Never leave children alone with a dog. Adult supervision should always be in place
Don’t let kids tease a dog, get in the dog’s face, ride a dog like a pony, pull on their tail, ears or whiskers, or poke dogs with objects.
Don’t force a dog to take any teasing or abuse from children. If a dog feels uncomfortable, help it find a safe and relaxing place away from interactions and distractions.
Children shouldn’t rush up to a dog even if the owner says it’s ok. A slow, gentle approach is always desired.
Avoid giving dogs any “introduction” treats that could be poisonous such as chocolate, raisins, grapes or peanut butter or candies containing xylitol, an artificial sweetener. Of course, garlic and onions are off limits as well.
Kids and dogs have created amazingly strong bonds for millennia. It’s a natural alliance that lasts a lifetime when started off on the right foot. It’s critical for both the short-term and long-term well being of kids and dogs that this relationship starts off the correct way. By following the tips above and employing a dose of quiet confidence with a bit of caution and just the right amount of enthusiasm, a kid’s introduction to a dog can be a wonderful and rewarding experience that will remain with them forever.
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