How to Keep Kids and Babies Safe Around Dogs — and Vice Versa
If your Facebook feed is to be believed, dogs and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly. But take a closer look at those images and you may detect a different story, says Stacey Campbell, founder of Go Fetch Dog Training.
“There may be an adorable picture of a little girl hugging her dog, but when you look at the dog, you can tell it’s so stressed out,” she says.
Creating a calm, positive environment for every member of the family often requires extra attention for both pet and child. We asked Campbell for tips and techniques to help dogs and their smallest owners tolerate — and learn to love — one another.
Let’s start from the beginning: How can new parents prepare their dogs for a baby’s arrival?
It’s important to make sure the dog has a safe space to go to, which involves crate training and teaching your dog to settle. Since puppy toys look very similar to children’s toys, “leave it” and “drop” are necessary commands for your dog to know. I also do aggressive handling, such as patting the dog on the head or pulling it lightly on the tail and giving it cookies afterwards. I've even played baby sounds because dogs have some sound sensitivities. And if your friends have kids, I encourage you to get your dog around other kids, babies and strollers.
What do you tell parents who are worried about introducing a child-dog interaction?
Even if your dog has issues with kids, that doesn't mean it can’t easily be managed. One of the top things to think about is whether your dog can be confined to a kitchen or crate while people are around, he’s anxious or if you need a break. There’s lifelong benefit to that.
You work with both dogs and children to keep everyone safe. Why?
Kids have as much of an impulse control problem as dogs. They don’t know, they just act — so it’s important for parents to supervise interactions between dogs and kids. I work with the dog so it tolerates the kids, and I work with the kids on how they interact with the dog.
Tell us about a situation where a dog and child didn’t have a positive relationship.I’m working with my youngest client ever — she turned 9 last week — and her Havanese mix dog. The dog has a history of biting, and while it hasn’t done any severe damage, it definitely has some handling issues. I was called in because the dog had bitten the dad and growled and given the young daughter warnings. The dog doesn’t like the little girl because she and her friends teased the dog and picked it up when it didn’t want to be held. It takes a special dog to tolerate so much with kids.
So how do you help this pint-sized client and her pup?
The main thing is giving her specific exercises and dog tricks to work on. She loves to dance, so we’re doing a few little dance-like routines, and we’re working to change her dog’s opinion about her. It’s about finding a controlled way to interact with her dog that’s positive for both of them.
How can parents help their kids learn to treat dogs more carefully?Some of my best trainers have been kids. They follow directions and have no knowledge of dog training, so they’re more open to training methods. I focus on how to handle and pet dogs appropriately, and teach kids not to stare at their pets (I ask them, “Do you like it when someone stares at you?”). We talk about remaining calm, because energy can cause over-excitement in dogs, and about avoiding dogs around the food bowl or when they’re sleeping.
I also involve kids in the husbandry aspect of having a dog, like feeding it meals, picking up poop in the yard, engaging in “fetch” and, depending on the age of the kid and size of the dog, taking the dog for a walk. It’s fun for kids when they see their dog can do something and then they can show it off to their friends.