Almost every child would like to have a dog – preferably a cute, cuddly puppy to play with. Child psychologists even point out that toddlers who interact closely with dogs grow up more mentally stable and generally healthier. But a dog is not a toy, but a living being that has its own needs. Explanation and supervision are absolutely necessary when the four-legged addition to the family moves in. Read here how the dog-child relationship becomes a success.
Which dog is suitable for babies/children?
You don’t have a dog yet, but would like to get a child-friendly companion? Then the frequently asked question about the right breed is not so easy to answer, because all dogs are individually different. A certain resistance to stress, sociability, a low level of hunting instinct, and a good-natured, well-balanced nature naturally make socializing easier. That is why Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, or Cocker Spaniels are often found in families, and Rottweilers or greyhounds are less common. But that doesn’t mean that dogs of these breeds aren’t family-friendly: If the dog is socialized and trained accordingly and is suitable for it by nature, there’s nothing to be said against it.
Would you like to get a puppy? Then make sure that he has ideally already got to know children in the first weeks and months of life. During this development period, puppies are very curious and positive about all new things and can get used to many stimuli relatively easily.
Important: Under no circumstances should you get a puppy while you are pregnant! In a short time, you will no longer have any peace for the necessary upbringing. You’re not doing yourself or the puppy any favors by doing this.
Getting the dog and child used to each other: learning the dog’s language
Neither child nor dog wants to be treated unlovingly. Unfortunately, the dog can’t say “Don’t do that!” and reacts very differently to stress or threats. One wants to withdraw, the other shows teeth. In a well-socialized dog, these signals are not (yet) threatening, but the child should quickly learn dog language and how to deal with the dog in a species-appropriate manner. This is the only way to ensure that the dog is not tormented and the children are not injured.
The dog’s tail is a good place to start learning because it’s a conspicuous barometer of mood: if the dog is uncomfortable or scared, it pulls in the tail. If he is particularly happy, he waves his hand. But be careful: A wagging tail initially only shows the degree of excitement and does not necessarily mean joy.
Dog and child: rules
Your child should know that a dog will feel threatened if someone stares at it or suddenly grabs its head from above. Teach the child to respect that the eyes, nose, ears, and tail are particularly sensitive parts of the dog’s body and not handles or even toys.
Speaking of toys: if possible, dog toys should not be used by children, except to play with the dog.
If your child now understands that a dog that is eating or sleeping should not be disturbed, nothing stands in the way of dog-child friendship.
Dog and child: tips
A dog needs food, water, exercise, activity, grooming, and plenty of rest. A child cannot and must not bear the responsibility for this alone – that remains your task. But an older child should help out at an early age and gradually be allowed to take on more dog care tasks. Under your guidance, he can brush the dog, clean and fill the bowl, hide lost objects in hidden object games, throw balls, and do many other things that strengthen the friendship between dog and child.
Stay close by so you can answer questions, provide assistance, and intervene in an emergency.
Note that children are never allowed to walk the dog alone! It can also be dangerous for everyone involved with a small dog on the road or when the young dog-child team encounters an aggressive four-legged friend. In such situations, all children (and dogs) are overwhelmed and endangered.
If your child has ambitions to do more with the dog, you can ask the local dog schools or dog sports clubs. Many offer extra children’s dog training, where the children learn great things with the dog in a protected area and the children can also take the companion dog test with your furry friend. Then, under professional guidance, the hierarchy between dog and child is clarified.
Pay attention to safety and health – especially with dogs and small children
Basically, most dogs do not accept small children as social partners and are very sensitive to pinching and tweaking. When children and dogs romp, things can sometimes get rough. Make sure that the situation remains comfortable for both playmates. In the event of minor mishaps, you should neither scold the dog nor the child, but have disinfectants and plasters ready and then discuss the situation with the child.
Does your dog growl at the child? Or does he even snap at the child? Keep an eye on the situations in which this happens in order to avoid them in the future or to intervene in an educational manner. Caution should also be exercised if the dog disciplines the child in other ways. Children often cannot read the preceding signs and cross an acceptance limit with a four-legged friend. That’s why you must always be present!
Very special cases are puppies and small children. Both have yet to learn the rules of life and can – unwittingly – become quite rude. Always be there when cuddling and playing! In addition, sharp puppy teeth pose a risk of injury.
Explain to your child why your pet loves to lick faces, and why it’s better for humans to avoid it without becoming rude to the dog. Don’t make a big deal out of it if it happens to your own clean “house dog” every now and then. Instead, take care of your dog’s health. Deworming, cleanliness, and regular coat care and control (fleas, ticks, biting lice) are a must for the well-being of the dog and the children.
Extensive education is necessary to protect the child
Children should never touch someone else’s dog without first asking the dog’s owner for permission. Because there are also dogs that react to children with resistance. Dogs are very sensitive to noise and may react to hectic, sudden movements by barking, growling, jumping, or even snapping. Children should therefore learn to behave cautiously around a dog and to match their temperament to the dog (not the other way around). This is especially true in public places where dogs are allowed to run around. Absolute taboos for children are cornering the dog, kicking it, or throwing objects at it!
The following checklist is aimed specifically at children; read out the individual points or print out a copy for school children.
Checklist: 11 rules to make you and your dog best friends!
- Always pay attention to the dog’s body language and leave him alone if he doesn’t want to play with you.
- Does the dog growl? That’s his way of saying, “Don’t do that!” Then leave him alone immediately.
- Never stare the dog in the eyes.
- Never disturb the dog while it is eating. Never pull your hand away when offering food to the dog.
- Do not disturb the dog in its basket or while it is resting.
- Don’t make noise and never throw or kick the dog.
- Never pull the dog’s tail, ears, or fur.
- If a dog tugs at you or scares you, stand still and never run away screaming. Just turn away from him.
- Never walk the dog unsupervised.
- Stranger dogs are taboo. First, ask the owner if you can touch the dog because there are also dogs that are afraid of children.
- Stay away from fighting dogs and never intervene.
When dog and child don’t go together
There are dogs that don’t feel comfortable in a family constellation because they are afraid of children or because the noise level stresses them out. If you feel your four-legged friend is not doing well, please consult a qualified dog trainer or behavioral veterinarian. These experts can assess the situation well and know many adjustments that can be made to improve the situation significantly. These can be retreat areas for the dog or other rules of conduct.
However, it can happen that at the end of such consultation the decision is made that the dog needs another home. This can be very painful, but should always be considered in the end as a way to prevent accidents and for the benefit of the dog.
A man’s best friend can also be a child’s best friend! Dogs are great companions for adolescents and small children, playmates, and a good opportunity to take on responsibility from an early age!