Households with Children
Bringing a newly adopted dog into a household with children can be a wonderful addition for your family, giving your children a best friend for life and teaching responsibility and important life skills.
However, it also requires proper management and supervision. It is essential to keep in mind that the care of the dog is ultimately in the hands of an adult.
Dogs who have not yet been acclimated to children may find children’s body language, sounds and movements confusing or over-stimulating. Similarly, children who do not have experience with dogs will not yet know how to be gentle with their new friend.
Proper management of both the children and dog will give the best chance for a successful relationship to blossom and prevent any dangerous situation from arising.
Selecting a Family Dog
The first step is finding a dog that will enjoy a family with children. If you are looking to adopt from PAWS Chicago, bring the whole family with you. This helps make the adoption a family experience. Our trained team of volunteers and staff will work with you to find the right pet. See our Adoption Process and Frequently Asked Questions for more information.
Adult Management & Supervision
Management means controlling the environment to make sure both the children and the dog are kept safe and comfortable. Supervision requires that you are present and watchful of all interactions between your children and your dog.
Some dogs naturally love children and are tolerant of anything a child may do. Some children are innately great with animals. However, especially in the transition phase, all dogs will require management and supervision around children. Adults will need to observe interactions and proactively prevent problems from developing.
Children are likely to play inappropriately with a dog, get too close to the dog’s resources such as toys and food or startle the dog by stumbling onto him while he’s sleeping. Children may also have a difficult time distinguishing a dog from their own toys. They may yank an ear, grab a tail or even poke the dog with an object.
The following recommendations can help you set up your environment for success:
- Set up a quiet or “safe” place for your dog. Even the most tolerant dog may need a place to get away. This can be a crate in another room or a room with a baby gate. Confine your dog to his crate or quiet space with a stuffed Kong when you are unable to supervise. You can also use this place if your dog appears stressed or if your children are playing a game that the dog can’t be part of.
- Control your dog’s resources. Many dogs have a favorite toy or even sleeping space. Sometimes a dog may feel the need to guard his belongings, especially those that he considers high value. If you are giving your dog a high-value item, especially a chew item, rawhide or stuffed Kong, put him in his crate or quiet place. Many accidents happen when a child gets close to a dog’s resources. Always feed your dog in a quiet place where he can eat undisturbed.
- Use a leash when necessary. Some dogs may want to chase children, especially when they are running, roughhousing or making high-pitched sounds. Until your dog has learned sufficient control, use a leash to prevent your dog from chasing and potentially nipping your children. This may be a good idea when visiting children are present. Take your dog with you or put him in his crate or quiet place if you need to leave the room or yard.
- Make use of a “timeout.” Until you train your dog to control his impulses, a timeout can help you manage a dog who becomes overly excited around children. If your dog jumps up or becomes mouthy, removing him from the situation temporarily gives everyone a break. Interrupt the undesired behavior and put the dog in his crate or quiet place until he settles.
- Don’t let bad habits start. Many bad habits start due to lack of management. Be consistent about the rules that you want your dog to follow involving the children. If you don’t want your dog on the furniture, don’t allow the children to coax him up. Don’t let your dog develop the habit of harassing the children for food by confining him during mealtime.
Train Your Dog to Behave Around Children
Training your dog to have good manners around children is a big part of the success equation. Enrolling in an obedience class will give your dog the skills and impulse control necessary to be a well-mannered pet.
After the dog is trained, incorporating children into the training process is a good way to create a lasting bond. Positive reinforcement training, especially clicker training, is fun and easy for children to do.
Teaching your dog to sit, wait, stay, leave it and go to a mat and lie quietly are all necessary skills. Some dogs may need to work on their responses around distraction, especially in a household where children are running around.
Teach Your Children About Dogs
Before introducing a new dog into your home, it can be helpful to teach children some basic information about dogs including:
- How to Interact With and Pet Dogs
- Basic Dog Body Language
- How to Approach a Dog
When Bringing Home a New Dog
- Teaching your children to respect a dog’s space is important. Talk to your children about how a dog feels when he is hugged, poked or grabbed. Use your observations to determine what type of petting or handling your dog enjoys and help your children learn to be appropriate.
- Most dogs do not like being pet over the top of the head or hugging and kissing. Instead, teach your children to allow your dog to approach them and then scratch them on side or the neck. You can use a stuffed dog if necessary to help demonstrate what type of interaction your dog enjoys.
- If you observe signs of stress from your dog, see Translating Canine Body Language, intervene and teach your children how to determine when your dog needs more space or to be left alone.
Dogs and children can enjoy successful long-term relationships when the time and thought are put into proper management, training and teaching. The effort will be well worth it when both the children and dog are safe and happy together.