The bond a child and a dog share is special and can provide treasured memories for many years. Adults often share stories of their beloved childhood pets. But, what happens when that child-animal bond is not so harmonious? Learn how to help your children and your pets develop strong, healthy relationships by reading the following four tips.  

Tip 1: Watch out for your dog’s warning signs

Dogs are expressive creatures who communicate their needs clearly—if those around them are perceptive and pick up on what they’re trying to say. When they feel threatened or scared, they usually demonstrate how they feel and give warning signals rather than instantly biting. However, a dog’s body language can be misunderstood; for example, a dog wagging his tail is generally viewed as happy, but the tail position could indicate otherwise. If the dog is holding his tail straight up and high, and wagging incredibly fast, he may be anxious and tense. If his tail is low and wagging slowly, he could be scared and leary. A happy dog’s tail is relaxed and wagging gingerly.

You and your children can learn how to read your dog’s warning signs by observing her body language and gathering social cues. Be aware of the warning signs, including:  

  • Whining
  • Lip licking
  • Tight mouth
  • “Smiling”
  • High-pitched barking
  • Growling
  • Circling, jumping, or hiding
  • Focusing intensely, or hyperalertness
  • Ears forward or up

Tip 2: Teach children how to speak “dog”

Naturally, kids can’t speak like a dog and bark in a way a dog will comprehend. However, kids can learn how to use their body language to positively communicate with their furry companions. Children who learn to communicate effectively with their pets develop a stronger sense of responsibility, self-esteem, and relationships.   

Train your children to introduce themselves to dogs by:

  • Asking permission from the owner before they touch an animal
  • Allowing the dog to sniff their hands before petting
  • Petting the dog under the chin or on the side of the neck, and avoiding the top of the head
  • Never forcing themselves on an animal, even to hug and kiss

Proper communication can continue at home with these guidelines:

  • Do not touch a dog who has an object in or near her mouth.
  • Respect the animal’s space and avoid placing your face in hers.
  • Don’t shout or run around dogs; move slowly and quietly.
  • Leave alone dogs who are sleeping, resting, injured, older, or have puppies.
  • Don’t dress up dogs in play clothes.

Tip 3: Training your dog

Most dogs aren’t born knowing how to behave perfectly around children, so they have to be trained, starting as a puppy. Socialization, which is the practice of making pets comfortable with noises, sensations, people, pets, or activities, is key to successful training. Begin by training your puppy to obey simple commands, such as “leave it,” “drop it,” or “stay,” which can help discourage stealing the children’s snacks or destroying property.

Tip 4: Create a safe place for your pet

Sometimes we all need a break from the kids, including dogs. Create a calm, quiet spot for your pet with comfortable bedding, toys, and treats, that is off-limits to children. You can also play calming, classical music and spray or diffuse a calming pheromone, like Adaptil, to help set a relaxing tone.

Does the rocky relationship between your dog and your child cause you anxiety? Contact us, and we’ll be glad to help bring you peace of mind.