Teaching a Toddler How to Behave Around a Dog

Even toddlers can, and should, start to learn how to behave around dogs. This is important both for maintaining a peaceful atmosphere in the home and for preventing problems. A child who knows how to approach and behave around dogs is much less likely to get bitten.

No matter how well your toddler behaves around dogs, be sure you’re always supervising when the two are together. Even a well-behaved toddler has limited small motor control and can accidentally grab or pull a dog’s fur or trip and fall on a dog.

First, model the behavior you want.

  • Be gentle and considerate in your interactions with your dog.
  • No hitting, yelling, poking, or teasing.
  • When the dog is in his crate, leave him alone, unless you need to do something with or for him.
  • When dog is eating, leave him alone to eat in peace.
  • Play calmly.
  • Pet the dog gently and calmly, in ways he likes.
  • When greeting a dog, don’t go right up to him; allow him to approach you.

Next, instruct your toddler:

  • Tell her how to pet the dog, holding her hand to help her pet the dog gently.
  • Teach toddler to stand still and allow dog to approach her.
  • Have toddler play in another part of the room when dog is in his crate or eating.
  • Tell your toddler she must not sit on, hit, or throw things at the dog.

Now require proper behavior:

  • If your toddler is being rough or wild with the dog, separate them immediately.
  • Give the child a calm, clear consequence - such as a time-out - for treating the dog unkindly.
  • Take away toys that the child throws at the dog.
  • Hold the child’s hand to help her stand and allow the dog to approach.
  • If the toddler bothers the dog while eating or crated, move the child away immediately.

Teach toddlers right from the start that they should not follow a dog that is walking away from them. If a dog is walking away, have your toddler come to you, or tell her that means it's time to play with a certain toy (perhaps a toy dog), because the real dog is tired and needs a nap. This is an opportunity for your child to start learning both dog safety and some life lessons about relationships that could apply to people in her life as well (which is one of the benefits of raising a child with dogs).

Few toddlers learn well through lengthy discussion about their behavior. Instead, model what you want the toddler to do, explain it and help the child get it right, praise him when he does well, and apply immediate, unemotional consequences without negotiation for inappropriate choices. Being clear now will save you (and your child and your dog) from all sorts of trouble down the road.

by Melissa Fischer, PuppyHomeSchool.com

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

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