Prepping Your Dog for Babies and Toddlers

A baby being gentle with a calm dog; teaching children to be safe with dogs is important for the child and the dog!Adults tend to pet dogs the same way all the time, speaking in the same moderate tones. Only when we want to play with the dog do we speak more excitedly. Not only do we sound more excited, but we tend to move more erratically, often sitting or kneeling on the floor while we do it. Now we have set the stage for problems.

Enter a baby or toddler:

  • They grab, hold, tug, pull, poke and yank.
  • They squeal.
  • They gurgle.
  • Their movement is jerky.
  • They crawl on the floor or toddler at the dog.

What's a dog to think? Is the child playing? Even though your baby may not be moving around a lot yet, he will be soon. It's your job to teach the dog what to expect before a child becomes mobile.

As with all of this type of training, please do it out of sight of any older children. Children are great imitators. We don't need them doing these things to the dog. Quite the opposite, they should be encouraged to be careful and gentle with dogs at all times. But if they forget, or if one of their friends does not know to be gentle, these exercises will teach your dog to accept it all in good humor.

  • How Does That Grab You?
    As you pet your dog, gently grab a hunk of skin and wiggle it. Praise him, give a treat; then release, praise and treat some more. Wasn't that fun? When he accepts this happily, start grabbing more quickly and more firmly. Never harshly! This is not supposed to be painful. What a good dog! Give him a treat! Soon your dog will associate this type of grabbing with fun and wag his tail accordingly.
     
  • How About a Hug?
    Children love to hug dogs. They should be taught not to, but just in case, prepare your dog. While you are praising the dog, give a quick, gentle hug; then release. Praise and give treats! Over a few days, as the dog comes to accept this type of handling, slowly hold for longer periods. Always release before the dog gets frightened or uncomfortable. Work up to a twenty to thirty second hug, always followed by lots of praise and rewards.

    Don't rush him. The idea is to make this fun. If he pulls away, then for three days give him attention ONLY when you are hugging him. That should change his mind. If at any time he growls or lifts a lip, stop and contact a qualified trainer or behaviorist near you.


     
  • Screams and Squealing
    Children squeal, bellow, yell, and giggle with glee. Dogs can be confused by this. It's pretty common for a dog to associate loud voices with trouble. If a dog's been hurt or frightened by a human, it's usually been with a loud voice in his ears. Later, when he hears children being children, he may become tense.
    To solve this problem, begin, in the privacy of your own home, to get the dog used to various tones and volumes of voice. First and foremost, stop any hitting of or yelling at the dog! There are better ways to teach your dog than that. Hitting teaches the dog to fear fast movements, and children specialize in fast movements! Yelling creates a fear of loud voices, and again, loud sounds are a sine qua non of childhood.

    Begin by getting your companion used to sudden sound bursts by walking toward him, loudly saying "Dog!" and then praising him quietly and warmly. As he adjusts, work up to running up to him while yelling "DOG!" Make it a game that always ends with warm praise, treats and petting.

    Do not use an angry voice. Practice instead with a variety of volume and tone. Make it a game, have fun. If the dog is spooked, move more slowly, speak more softly and praise more enthusiastically. Make some recordings of children making noise, and play it daily when he is eating. This way he'll associate something pleasant (eating) with the sound of children, and he will soon adjust.
     

  • Crates and Gates
    Start getting your dog used to hanging out quietly in his crate and behind a baby gate. This will be essential once you have an active toddler, and if you introduce the crate and gate gradually now, your dog can learn to love them. Then you can give your dog free time and exercise when your toddler is napping, and crate him during the most active toddler playtime (or gate him out of the room)

Playing these games will help your dog be prepared for a toddler, but remember, no dog should ever be considered completely "toddler-proof." Toddlers have mobility without self-control, the ability to grab without the dexterity to be gentle, and little modulation of their voices, all of which can be confusing and surprising for even the calmest, most accepting dog. Except for when you are closely supervising, your dog should not be with your toddler, in order to keep both of them safe. Use doors, gates, crates and playpens to separate the two.

by Sarah Wilson

Author of MySmartPuppy.com handbooks: My Smart Puppy (book with DVD) and Childproofing Your Dog

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