Did you know that there over 75 million pet dogs in the United States (more than in any other country)?
If you’re considering joining those numbers, you’re probably pretty excited about the prospect of adding a furry member to your family.
Dogs and children can be best buddies, but it’s important to do some research and take certain steps to make sure that everyone will get along before you bring your pup home.
Read on for some tips that will help ensure your kids and your furkids learn how to live harmoniously!
Choose the Right Breed So That Dogs And Children Can Co-exist
Some breeds of dogs are simply more kid-friendly than others.
Gentle giants such as Newfoundlands and mastiffs are a great choice for households with wee ones, as are bull terriers, boxers, and beagles.
Of course, labs and golden retrievers are famously sweet and loving towards kids.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that small dogs are a good fit for families with smaller people.
Toy breeds can be aggressive; Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, and Pekingese can attack overly rambunctious children.
Guard dogs like Akitas and Rottweilers are protective of their owners, which might seem like a good quality in a family pet, but sometimes that protectiveness can backfire.
When children are noisy, even if they’re laughing, such dogs can misinterpret the situation as a dangerous one and become defensive or aggressive.
It’s important to learn about different breeds’ temperaments, rather than simply choosing a dog you think is cute.
Of course, the best choice of all is often a rescue dog. Trust the employees at the shelter, who have interacted with the dog and have an idea of how it behaves around children and cats.
Spend some time with the pooch you’ve picked out before committing to adoption.
Puppy or Older Dog?
Puppies are a lot of fun but can be a lot of work and worry.
Between housebreaking, crate training, and teaching an excitable, active pup how to behave, puppy care can feel like a full-time job.
Many families opt to adopt adult dogs simply because it’s easier for everyone. There’s enough to worry about when introducing dogs and children, without dealing with puppy messes, chewed shoes, and other issues.
Sharing the Care of a Dog
It can be hard for children to understand exactly how much responsibility is necessary to take care of a dog, so talk to your kids about what pet ownership entails.
Of course, you’ll also need to set your expectations for the amount of help that younger kids will actually provide.
If a child can follow instructions and put away his or her toys when asked, she can likely help feed and walk the dog.
Draw up a chart with daily dog-related chores, and set a schedule to determine which family member will complete these tasks and when.
Supervise both dogs and children carefully until you are confident that they know how to play safely together, and that the kids are responsible enough to treat the dog properly.
Less-frequent, but still important, aspects of dog care include regular vet checkups, flea and tick treatments, and grooming. Learn more about how to care for your dog’s health and well-being.
Model Respect and Affection
Younger toddlers can sometimes treat a family pet more like a toy — pulling its tail, trying to dress it up, or otherwise treating it in a way that the dog doesn’t enjoy.
Teach your kids they must afford this living creature the same respect as a sister or brother.
Explain to them that although your dog seems soft and cuddly, it’s not a stuffed animal. It can feel pain, get scared or angry, and may even act unpredictably.
Over time, the dog will learn that your toddler doesn’t mean harm, and may come to tolerate being draped in superhero capes or crowned with tiaras!
In the meantime, close supervision is your best defense against a dog who might bite or bark at an overly curious or incautious child.
Dogs are inquisitive and social, and will often want to be with their humans no matter what.
Decide ahead of time if your dog will be allowed on the sofa, chairs, and beds. All family members will have to abide by those restrictions, in order to prevent behavioral problems down the line.
The same goes for begging.
Don’t allow the kids to sneak snacks (or their unwanted Brussels sprouts!) to the dog at mealtime or any other time. Although occasional human-food treats are fine for dogs, don’t feed them at the dinner table or in response to begging.
Provide a Safe Space
If you choose to crate train your dog, the crate should be off-limits to children. Otherwise, set up a safe space where your pet can retreat if it’s feeling overwhelmed.
A cozy dog bed in the corner of a living room, or even an area in the laundry room or basement that the dog can make its own, will work nicely. Teach children that when the dog has gone off to its safe space, they should leave it alone.
Similarly, you may want to restrict the dog from entering your child’s bedroom or playroom. That makes it possible for your child, too, to have a safe place where she can go to play quietly, enjoy a book, or just relax.
Plan For Fun!
In addition to daily walks, your dog will probably need — and enjoy! — trips to the dog park or other wide-open spaces where they can run, romp, and play. These outings are wonderful for the whole family!
It’s a good idea to counter all the rules and “don’ts” of dog ownership with recreation and plain old fun.
So grab a frisbee or a couple of tennis balls and head out for some exercise in the fresh air. Throwing a ball for the dog to fetch will help young children learn hand-eye coordination and motor skills, too.
Bonus: getting out for an hour or two will tire out both dogs and children!
What’s Your Experience with Dogs and Children?
As your dog and children get to know each other, it’s almost guaranteed that they will develop a lifelong bond.
Caring for a pet will teach your child responsibility, compassion, love, and many more valuable lessons. Soon, you may find that they are inseparable!
Do you have any tips for introducing dogs into a family? Are you considering adopting a new pet?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!