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:
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.
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.
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.
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