Introducing children to dogs can be surprisingly difficult. Young children who have yet to master fine and gross motor control, move somewhat erratically and without spatial awareness. This can be intimidating to any aged dog but not impossible to overcome.
According to nationally collected emergency visit data, about 1,000 U.S. citizens require emergency care for dog bites every day. This statistic illustrates the importance of the child and dog introduction. To help make the introductions go smoothly we have provided 6 easy tips.
1) Start at the beginning with socialization
One of the best ways to avoid future behavioral issues with your dog is to socialize them when they are young; between the ages of 8 to 16 weeks. This is the golden window when puppies fear responses are low and their interest is easily piqued. By safely exposing a puppy to as many scenarios, sights and sounds in a positive way they will form positive associations making future environmental changes easier. However, if you are adopting an older pet this may not be possible but it doesn't make it impossible either.
2) Learn the basics of canine body language
Dogs will always give signs that they are being put into situations they do not like, you
just need to learn what to look for. A fearful dog will start with subtle signs of anxiety; yawning, panting and licking lips. If these go unnoticed the dog will start to show other physical signs of anxiety. It is important to catch these signs early and remedy the situation.
3) Short breaks are a great idea
A great way to remedy the situation talked about in tip number two is a simple break. Just 30 minutes apart can make a world of difference by letting the dogs and maybe even the child's anxiety dissipate. Comfort both parties before trying again and don't feel defeated if there is a need for several breaks like this.
4) Always use positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a must! It is important not to physically punish or verbally scold a dog for something like growling because that is a big warning from the dog that they are not feeling comfortable with what is going on and may bite. You punish that and that warning may go away. Positive reinforcement is simple: when there is a behavior you like, praise the dog, and for behaviors you don't like, you must correct them by ignoring the behavior (they are looking for attention so don't give it) or redirecting the behavior to a different outlet.
5) Who approaches who first
Imagine a giant hovering over you speaking a language you don't understand, then a hand comes done out of nowhere to do what, we don't know. From this perspective it is easy to see why letting the dog approach first and sniff an outstretched hand is the best way to start an initial meeting. After asking the owner for permission this is how everyone should greet all dogs.
6) Set up rules for your child
Some simple rules to teach your children to follow:
The dog should be pet gently.
Attention should not be forced on the dog.
The dog's crate is off-limits.
Don't approach the dog while he's eating or chewing a bone.
Leave the dog alone while he's sleeping.
And maybe the most important rule to follow is for the parents too; do not leave young children and dogs unattended.
By using these 6 tips when introducing children to the family dog you greatly reduce the risk of an unfortunate incident occurring, but if you need more assistance please reach out to your local veterinarian for further guidance.