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How to Introduce a New Dog to a Home with Children

Owning a small a pet and having children grow up around pets is great. However, it is important that children learn how to behaviour around and interact with pets.

It is lovely for children to be exposed to dogs from an early age.  However, if children are not taught how to behave around a new dog who has not been used to children, or if a dog and child are left unsupervised, there can sometimes be negative consequences. 

It is very easy to blame dogs for bites but it is normally not their fault – if they feel vulnerable they will lash out.  It is important to understand how to introduce a new dog into a household with children, and how to teach your children to behave appropriately around dogs so that accidents are minimised.

Should I get a puppy or an adult dog?

If you have very young children, then there are pros and cons to both.  Puppies can be easily socialised and will therefore learn to accept small children and their behaviour.  They will normally grow up to be best friends and will love to play together.  However, it is normal for puppies to bite and scratch and jump up at first and this may be difficult if you have a child of toddler age. 

Adult dogs have normally grown out of the biting/scratching phase.  However, if they have not been trained properly at a young age then they could cause problems. They may also have not been socialised properly with children so may be scared if young children scream or handle them. This is often difficult to correct.

As a rule, be cautious when rehoming an adult dog if you have children unless you know the dog’s history and can be sure that they have been brought up or socialised properly with children.

Teach your children to behave calmly around dogs

It is really important that children learn to behave properly around dogs to prevent accidents from occurring.  When you first introduce a new dog or puppy to your home and family, make sure that you start by communicating to your children the importance of not treating their new pet like a toy. 

Supervise all initial interactions and ensure that they give the dog space to settle into the new space. 
If the dog is shying away, trying to hide or has their tail between their legs then they have had enough and should be allowed to escape to a quiet place.  Keep initial interactions short and positive. A positive first exercise is to sit your child on the floor and try to encourage your new dog to sit next to them so that they can stroke the dog gently or give it treats. If your dog gets over excited or starts scratching, biting or jumping up then the session should be ended.

Children should be taught not to handle dogs roughly.  All interactions should be gentle.  Screaming, waving arms and leaping about should be minimised, and never allow your child to hug or kiss a new adult dog that you do not know.  This can be very intimidating for some dogs and can result in young children being bitten on the face.

Puppies especially have a tendency to want to chew everything including children’s hands.  Teach children to end all interactions if this happens.  If you have very small children, then ensure that they are never left alone with a biting puppy.  Biting of hands can be reduced by ensuring that there are always plenty of chew toys for your dog to chew on instead.

When playing, children tend to jump and leap around and it can be difficult to teach your dog not to leap and jump back.  Small children can be easily hurt and knocked over if a big dog jumps up at them so it is important not to encourage this behaviour.  Teach children to stand like a tree without making eye contact or turn their backs when a dog starts jumping up. As soon as the dog calms down then play can resume.  

How to Crate Train Your Dog

If you have very small children or children who continue to treat a new dog roughly, then it is a good idea to crate train your dog.  This allows you to keep the dog and children separate when you are not free to supervise them. It also gives your dog a safe place to go to get away from children if they have had enough.  Make sure that the crate is large enough for your dog; they should be able to stand up and turn around easily.

At first, feed your dog in the crate and throw toys and treats in to encourage your dog to run in, without shutting the door.  Gradually increase the time that you encourage your dog to stay in the crate.  For example, teach your dog to lie down and wait, then reward them with a treat while they are still lying in their crate.  When they are happy to lie and wait for several minutes’ try shutting the door and then reward them by opening it if they are calm.  Gradually increase the time that you shut the door and then start walking away and build up the time that they are left in the crate.

If you keep the crate in the kitchen, then training can be easily fitted in around everyday life.  It’s also a good idea to put your dog in the crate during meal times, especially if you have a baby being fed from a high chair.  Toddlers find it great fun to throw food for the dog, but this often results in a dog who will constantly beg and may even jump onto a high chair to get food.  If your dog whines a lot when you put them in the crate do not be tempted to reward them by letting them out.  Ignore them until they are calm and then open the door.  If they are getting very distressed, then go back to training with the door open until you feel that they are more settled about going into their crate.

How to Feed Dogs Around Children

Some dogs can be over protective about their food.  If you have just got a new dog and are unsure about their history then it is best to feed them away from children to begin with.  Even better feed them in their crate and ensure that they are left alone.  Small puppies can be trained not to mind people interfering with their food from an early age.  Give them half their ration and then when they are nearly finished add the other half to their bowl while they are still eating.  This way they will learn that people coming close to their bowl while they are eating is a good thing.  Once they are happy with an adult doing this then children can be encouraged to do the same.

Children and Strange Dogs

Children who are brought up with dogs can often be over confident and will assume that all dogs are just as friendly as their own.  Teach them that strange dogs are not to be approached without permission from their owner, especially if they are showing signs of aggression (growling, barking, hackles up) or fear (trembling, low posture, tail between their legs, lip licking).

You can also teach a child what to do if they are approached by a strange dog or one which is showing aggressive behaviour.  They should stand still like a tree with their arms by their sides, keep quiet, and not make eye contact.  This is normally contrary to what most children will do when threatened.  Waving arms and screaming is likely to increase the chances of the child getting bitten.

Children Growing Up

Even if your dog has adapted well to a particular stage in your child’s life you should be prepared for a change in the relationship as your child develops.  If you got your dog when your child was a baby then your dog may become scared or aggressive when they start crawling, toddling or approaching them and grabbing at their toys.  All interactions between small dogs and children should be supervised to prevent accidents.

Involve your children with training

Involving your children in the training process enables them to have some control over the dog and to become their play mate.  Coach children to use the correct command, for example ‘Sit’ at the same time as you and then reward the dog when they do the correct thing.  You can gradually whisper the word so that eventually the child will give the signal alone.  This can then be repeated for other commands.

Introducing a dog to your family can be a wonderful experience, allowing a safe environment for children to learn about living with animals.  Spending time making sure that everyone understands the basic rules of having a dog in your home will mean that children and dogs will have many happy hours playing together without the need for worrying. Before you know it your dog will be one of the family and you won’t be able to imagine life without them.

If you have any questions about how to introduce a new pet to your children, please contact one of our experienced vets for some free advice.