A dog and a child in one house – what to remember
How to build a relationship between a child and a dog? How to prepare a dog for a child and yourself for the role of a guardian who can take care of both parties. Learn how to have fun together and answer the question: a child and a dog as best friends – can it work?
Let’s start working on the child-dog relationship by getting to know, understand and meet the needs of our dog. We, the parents, are responsible for the safety and comfort of both parties.
Child and dog relationship
The slower, the faster. It is better to have less frequent contacts between a child and a dog, but in which both parties are safe and satisfied, than more frequent or longer contacts that are unpredictable. You always need to be nearby when your child meets your dog. Of course, we teach the dog how to behave in the presence of a child, but it is equally important to protect the dog from the new family member. We, adults, supervise and help build the relationship between the dog and the child. We are responsible for their safety and mutual understanding. Both the dog and the child need to learn about each other, their boundaries and ways of showing affection.
We encourage you to involve your dog in various activities related to your child, which will allow him to become familiar with new situations and make them more natural for him. Constantly sending your dog away and forbidding him from sniffing or examining new items that appear in the house can make the dog feel rejected and make it more difficult to accept the changes that will come with the addition of a baby to the family.
A good idea is to go for walks together, where the dog can take advantage of the space and easily leave the child if he feels the need. However, we can initiate fun together in a calmer way and spend time together.
A harmonious duo
A child and a dog under one roof is not always idyllic. Not every dog is interested in being friends with children. Why is it like that? Mainly because children often violate the dog’s space and are too violent and fast. Dogs that live with children often experience exceeding their limits and the signals they send are incomprehensible to children. As a result, dogs feel uncomfortable, which leads to attempts at communication, but more assertive individuals may use, for example, growling. They may also run around the baby or lick the baby intensely and persistently in an attempt to stop the interaction. It is worth understanding that such behavior is not a sign of friendship or love, but rather an attempt at communication, a signal that the dog has a problem with the current situation and wants to stop it and keep the child.
Of course, it is possible that a friendly relationship based on gentle and calm contact will develop between the dog and the child. Nevertheless, it is worth realizing that such a relationship may never happen.
A small child and a dog
If we have a dog and are expecting a child, it is important to properly prepare the space in the house for the arrival of the child. One of the practical solutions are security gates. Placed in the door, they allow for safe separation of space, but at the same time allow for mutual observation. The child can spend time without the dog, and the dog can spend time without the child without feeling isolated. Thanks to this, both beings can observe each other and get to know each other. This ensures both safety and the ability to slowly get used to the presence of the other party. It is worth noting that at the beginning, touch is not usually necessary to get to know each other better – observation and access to smells are equally important in the acceptance process.
How to prepare a dog for a baby?
We introduce new objects to the dog in such a way that he associates them with positive experiences. Let’s avoid nervousness when receiving parcels or assembling new furniture or devices related to the child. If our dog is afraid of noises or new situations: unpack and assemble it while he is away – maybe while the dog is on a walk with another family member. The first impression is crucial, so we don’t want the new item to be associated with something disturbing for our pet.
After assembling the new item, let’s place it in the room where we spend time. Let the dog approach the object on its own, check it, smell it or touch it with its paw. When a dog understands that a new object is not a threat, it will feel more comfortable, and this is crucial for its well-being. If necessary, we can use treats, but they should not be too close to the new item. It is better for the dog to make decisions on its own and explore the object without pressure to eat. This way, his reactions will be more conscious. If you decide to give treats, place them a little further away from the new item.
How to introduce new things before the baby arrives?
- Use of treats: Treats can be useful, but remember that they do not solve all your dog’s anxiety problems. They help distract your dog when he is a bit anxious. By sniffing and looking for treats, the dog tries to relieve its stress. Let’s watch him carefully in such moments. If we see that he is starting to calm down, for example he is standing on straight legs and his body is not lowered, then we can continue. However, if the dog walks away, starts to behave nervously, licks its lips, yawns, or is not interested in the treat, this method is not suitable.
- Habitualization: Habitualization involves getting the dog used to a new object or stimulus through systematic exposure. For example, we leave a new object in the room and let the dog get used to its presence for two weeks without changing it or forcing the dog to interact with it. This method may work for some dogs who are more relaxed, but is not suitable for anxious dogs.
- Owner presence: This method involves being next to the dog while introducing it to a new object. We observe the dog, respond to its signals and encourage it to explore, but without forcing it. We give him peace and self-confidence. If we don’t feel confident ourselves, we wait for the right moment. We can offer the dog what it likes, for example touch, carrying something in its mouth or stretching. It is important to create emotional closeness and support the dog in the process of adapting to new things. We appreciate him for being next to a new facility and we allow him to do it at his own pace, with respect for his individuality, because each dog is different and may require a different strategy for dealing with difficult situations.
Games and activities for children and dogs
Our goal is to create an environment in which both the dog and the child feel comfortable and safe in each other’s company. We want each of them to be able to spend time together, maintaining freedom and understanding.
If our child would like to spend more time with the dog, but the dog is not very interested in interactions, we can offer the child various “dog” activities:
- Coloring pages and drawing of dogs.
- Pasting a picture of a dog from the fur you collected.
- Baking cookies for the dog together.
- Making dog toys (some ideas are provided below).
- Writing poems about dogs or letters to a dog.
Please remember that basing your relationship with your dog solely on food is not the best idea. Food can be used as a support tool, but if a dog is not comfortable around a child, food-based play can be more stressful than enjoyable for the dog.
Our fun proposition for dogs and children (more examples can be found in our book “Dogs and Babies”.) :
Nosing for a treat: Child’s age: from 1.5 years Dogs love to sniff, and if they can look for treats, it is double fun for them. We can use a sniffing mat, but you can also hide food in the grass, under the sofa, behind the door, or spread it on licking mats. Your child can help with this activity as well as hiding or spilling treats.
It is worth noting that it is not always necessary to make the dog wait for the child to hide the treats, as this can be frustrating and stressful for the dog. It is better for the parent to crouch down next to the dog, hold it and give it some treats in the meantime while the dog watches the child who is hiding the treats.
One important warning: make sure there are no other dogs nearby who can run up and compete with our dog for treats. This situation may be uncomfortable for everyone.
Dog and child at home
The life of a dog with a child and a child with a dog is the art of compromise and learning boundaries. Training and upbringing are one thing, but the other is accepting what the dog feels and understanding the messages sent by the dog. Creating a harmonious duo of a child and a dog means both observation, maintaining safety while playing, and simply walking together and spending time together.
If you want to find out:
- how to prepare your dog for the arrival of a baby
- learn to monitor your dog’s training progress
- how to understand how important it is to meet the dog’s needs
- how to interpret the signals sent by your pet
We invite you to our course: “Baby On The Way” This is what Zosia Zaniewska-Wojtków says about him: “I created the course when I was pregnant and shortly after our Ryś was born. Thanks to this, I was able to adapt the material to the real needs of pregnant women and an unsuspecting dog. In my work as a behaviorist, I mainly focus on ensuring that caregivers understand the emotions and thus the behavior and needs of their dog. During the course, I try to explain what your dog may feel in a new situation and what you can do to make him feel as good as possible. Thanks to this, we minimize the chances of problem behaviors and behaviors that could pose a threat to the newborn.”