Maybe you’re pregnant and worried about how your puppy will react when the baby comes. Maybe you already have a baby and want to adopt a puppy. Or maybe you just want to teach your new dog to interact safely with any young child, or you want to teach your child to interact safely with any young dog. There are many reasons pets are good for kids, as well as breeds that may do better with young children (click those links to read our other blog articles for more information on those two topics). But no matter the what your particular dog and infant or child setup, there are tips you can use to help make your puppy’s and child’s introduction and life together a safe and happy one!
Can you safely bring a young puppy into a house with small children? Many times that answer is YES, but it does take a lot of supervision, separation, training and time. NOTE: Since every baby and puppy is different, please consult a professional dog trainer before following any of our tips.
What age if best?
First, consider the age of the puppy: you can’t expect a 2, 3, or even 5-month-old puppy to be able to be trained enough to be baby- or toddler-safe off-leash. Only an older puppy – one 6 months or older, who has finished teething – can have had enough training to behave safely with babies and young children. Also, consider the age of your children: are they old enough to understand and obey your rules about the dog or puppy? Many parents think “I want the puppy to grow up with my children,” not realizing that this can still happen with an older puppy, or even an adult dog (they will still be growing up together), and can be a much easier and safer experience for everyone!
It takes a lot more time and effort to overcome a bad experience, than to create a safe setup for ongoing positive ones!
Puppies and babies have unsophisticated communication skills with their own species, and non-existent skills with another species. BOTH need constant supervision. Both need environments protected from their innocence and impulses. You cannot blame a puppy for biting a baby; it simply does not know any better yet. When awake, both young children and puppies require an adult’s undivided attention. To do both at once is nearly impossible, and is an accident waiting to happen.
While you are training your new dog or puppy, keep them safely separated using baby gates, playpens, and/or a crate. That way they can get safely used to seeing, smelling and hearing each other. The two should be introduced to each other for periods of time, and very gradually. NEVER them alone together until you are sure that the ground rules established by you will be followed. This is only after your both your new puppy and your child are old enough to understand, remember and follow the rules.
Many dog experts recommend following a “6-6” rule: only when the puppy has been trained and socialized with your children for 6 months, and the children are at least 6 years old, would unsupervised time together be safe.
Training, Behavior & Play
Teach your children not to pull tails, ears, or poke at the dog by having them watch you, and if your child is old enough to listen when you say no, to mimic you. Demonstrate how to pet the dog gently by taking the child’s hand, running it softly along the dog’s body, and saying, “Niiiice” in a soothing tone of voice.
Many puppies are afraid and will retreat if approached quickly. Toddlers seem to love to run after animals, which often frightens them, and if cornered, a normally gentle pet may resort to nipping to protect himself. Teach your child that the puppy likes to be approached slowly, and that when puppy is sleeping, not to wake him or her.
Here are just a few kid-friendly puppy ideas:
- Teach your children how to throw a ball for the puppy, and teach your puppy to bring the ball back and drop it for the child.
- Go on walks together where you attach two leashes to the puppy’s collar, so you each can hold one.
- Play hide and “seek” with puppy’s toys or a treat. Hold the puppy back while your child “hides” the toy and then let puppy go find it, encouraging your child to tell the puppy if he’s getting “hotter” or “colder” as he moves towards or away from the hiding spot.
- Spend quiet time reading together. Puppies and dogs make especially wonderful, non-judgmental listeners to new readers!
Nipping & Rough play
Puppies will try to play with babies and toddlers by jumping on them and grabbing hold with their teeth. After all, this is how canine babies play with their canine brothers and sisters. Puppies be taught that human children are not their littermates. If this isn’t taught, a growing puppy’s behavior will become increasingly rough, and the odds increase that a small child will be seriously hurt during play. Never allow your child OR ANY ADULT to use their hands, fingers, feet, or clothing (like pant legs, or shirt sleeves) for play, and do not play tug-of-war games. This kind of play will lead to aggressive behavior. It’s tempting because its cute and fun when puppies are little, but will it be fun when your 70 pound dog comes running at you and grabs on to your pant leg with his teeth and pulls? If you allow your puppy to treat children and adults like any a toy or puppy, and your child could end up seriously scratched or bitten.
Puppy teething usually lasts until 4-5 months of age. As with babies, teething is painful to puppies. Chewing is natural and helps to relieve the pain, and puppies will chew on anything they can get their mouth on, including small hands, fingers – especially as those things often smell like the delicious food they were just holding! Puppies have baby teeth, which are like sharp, large needles, until around 4 months of age, and they can do serious damage to baby soft skin. You will need to very closely supervise and restrain (on leash) a young puppy to prevent them from teething on or play-biting a young child.
Be sure your children do not try to take food away from the dog or put their hands in the pet’s food bowl. Some animals perceive this as a threat to their food and react aggressively. You should be training your new puppy in food bowl socialization, but it is never a good idea to feed the puppy when children are present, best to do so in a separate room or crate. Teach your puppy to sit and stay when your child is holding food, and that YOU are the only one that ever gives the puppy food. (They will see something in the child’s hand and then look to you for the reward, instead of trying to grab it out of their hand.)
Raising children and dogs requires skill if it’s to be done well. We do not come magically prepared for raising children, we have to learn and be prepared, and it’s the same for raising a puppy to be safe around children.
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