Six tips for parents who have dogs and children to parent together!
1) As a parent to a human child and a parent to a canine, it is our responsibility to always actively supervise dogs and children when they are together. A toddler’s hands move quickly and can startle a dog. Toddlers like riding a medium to large size dog like a horse. This can be stressful and even painful for a dog with arthritis or other physical conditions. Never allow children to stand on or sit on a dog; or throw things at a dog or take something from a dog like a toy or food. These situations can result in stress and injury for the child and the dog. Most often in a situation like this if something happens and the dog defends himself and perhaps even bites the child the dog will most often pay the ultimate price. The priority when dogs and children are together is safety for both of them.
2) Teach children how to touch and interact with a dog. Physically guide their hand to show them how to gently pet and touch the dog. Be consistent with showing them the correct way to interact with a dog. Children learn quickly what is acceptable behavior with a dog and the dog feels safe knowing you are supervising the interactions. Keep the time of the interactions compatible with the age of the child. Small children can only focus for short periods of time. The older the child the longer the interaction can be. It is also possible a dog may not want to interact with a child. If a dog growls or walks away these are signs he does not want to interact. People and children often want to hug a dog but most dogs do not enjoy being hugged. It is important to make sure you find a dog breed and temperament suited for your family and lifestyle. Not all dogs are meant to be with children.
3) Never make a child fully responsible for a dog. Children need an adult to mentor the relationship with a dog. The adult will drive the dog to the veterinarian and pay the bills for health care, food, toys, and all expenses. The age of the child will determine the amount of responsibility. A toddler should have no responsibility other than learning how to interact appropriately with a dog and needs constant supervision. A four to five-year-old child can help with preparing the dog’s food and learn to give a dog a treat. A six to ten year old child can help with walking the dog and picking up the dog poop in the yard. A teen-ager can walk the dog and can teach the dog tricks.
4) Everyone in the family can attend the training classes for the dog. This way everyone will learn what and how to ask the dog for behaviors like sit, stay, come, etc. These are good manners a dog needs to learn and will help the dog feel comfortable in a human family and the family will enjoy living with a well-mannered dog. Dogs need consistency and that means each family member needs to be saying the same things to the dog so he isn’t confused and knows what is expected of him. Just as your human child attends school to develop knowledge and skills, a dog needs to attend canine training to learn good manners and become socialized to other dogs and to other people. A trained dog is a joy to live with.
5) Everyone in the family agrees about who does what with the dog. Responsibilities are understood about who walks the dog, who feeds the dog, who buys food, who takes the dog to the veterinarian, who picks up the poop, who plays with the dog. And of course everyone loves the dog. If one member of the family does not want the dog, it will become a problem at some point. The entire family needs to agree to this lifelong commitment of having a dog as a member of the family for it to be a successful experience.
6) The relationship between a dog and a child can be rich and rewarding for the child and the dog. A dog’s love is constant and non-judgmental. A child forms a trusting bond with a dog and experiences physical, social, cognitive and emotional benefits. Children who grow up with dogs learn compassion for animals and experience a bond with an animal that builds love and trust in a relationship. They have fond memories of the dog who made life a wonderful loving adventure for them. Life with a dog can be awesome.