Updated: Aug 25
A positive relationship between a child and a dog can be extremely rewarding and valuable, and become the start of a lifelong friendship. However, it is extremely important to manage all interactions between dogs and children closely. Having a bad experience can make the dog fearful of the child and more likely to react by snapping or biting. If you introduce your new family member in the right way and teach your children the right way to interact with dogs, they will be perfectly placed for a beautiful relationship.
Below are a few tips to help create a positive first encounter, as well as things to keep in mind while puppies and young children are in the same household.
Everyone will usually be quite excited about the puppy coming home, and will want to pat and play with them, but it is best to make the interaction low-key so as not to overwhelm the puppy. This will be their first time separated from their mother and familiar humans, and can be quite unnerving.
When the puppy first meets the children, have the kids sitting down quietly on the couch. Allow the puppy to come to investigate them, rather than the other way around.
Make sure the children understand that they might easily scare the puppy by being too noisy, boisterous, or running towards them and chasing them.
Human contact is very important at this time - as as this is the time when a connection with the human family is formed - but needs to be approached in the right way. Teach the children to gently stroke or pat the dog on the shoulder, and never on the top of the head or near the base of their tail. Explain that hugging a puppy can make them feel trapped or smothered, so stroking is better.
Teach the children that approaching the puppy on all fours and putting their face very close to the dog’s can be very dangerous, as the puppy could get scared and may nip. Demonstrate how to sit by the dog’s side, stroking gently, or play with a toy.
Start to allow the puppy and children to spend time together when the focus is on something else, such as watching the TV or playing outside. This will help the puppy to not feel too overwhelmed by the children with every interaction.
The first few times the puppy meets the children, have treats ready to reward the puppy when they show calm, relaxed behaviour around the children. This will help form positive associations with the children’s presence. Ensure that the adult is in charge of holding out any treats until you are sure the puppy has learnt how to take a treat gently from a hand.
Children and dogs should never be left alone together unsupervised. This is vitally important to protect everyone’s safety, even once the children and dog know each other well. If you have young children in your home make sure you set up a puppy-proofed ‘safe haven’ where you can put the puppy to relax and keep out of mischief whilst your attention is elsewhere.