golden retriever dog and kids sitting together on floor

Dogs and Kids: Respecting Each Other’s Boundaries


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If you’re wanting to introduce human children to your canine children, or vice versa, your first thought will be whether the dogs and kids will get along. There’s been an increase in reports over the last year of dog attacks, and it’s a situation that no parent ever wants to experience.

Unfortunately, dog attacks often happen in the home. Owners are often surprised at their dog’s sudden display of aggression, yet the truth is these aggressive outbursts shouldn’t be a real surprise.

This is the second piece in a series which aims to understand dogs and aggressive behaviour. Read the first part, Why Do Dogs Bite?, to gain an understanding of why dogs might resort to biting. It also pinpoints some warning signs that a dog may become aggressive.

For the second piece, we’re looking at the important of dogs and kids respecting each other’s boundaries so everybody can live harmoniously.

When problems arise with dogs and kids

Changing the family dynamic can be stressful. Regardless of whether the dog or child is around first, everyone wants the introduction to go well. Children growing up with pets experience a variety of benefits, and having a dog to play and cuddle with can be a huge privilege.

Often, there’s no need to facilitate anything specifically – the dogs and kids are immediately good friends and there’s never a single sign that things might go sour.

Sometimes though, adjustments are harder. Your young boisterous child might not understand they can’t pull the dog’s ears, for instance. Or your moody Jack Russell might not take too well to a new addition stealing their limelight.

If your dog is well socialised and has a generally good temperament to start off with, it certainly makes things easier. A dog who’s less tolerant might nip or bite a child with far less provocation. And in that case, their surroundings and reactions have to be very closely monitored to ensure everyone is safe.

But remember that even the kindest dog breeds and dogs you’ve known for years can still snap and bite if they feel there’s no other option.

a terrier dog and kid with long brown hair sitting outside on the grass

How to help your dogs be good with kids

So first off, how do you help your dogs to be kid-friendly? Especially if they haven’t really been around kids before?

Some dogs are naturally quite kid-tolerant and will adjust to children very quickly. However, it’s still a good idea to start “prepping” your dog so both you and he feel confident when it’s time for the real thing.

Here are some steps to helping your dog be kid-friendly:

  1. Introduce them to kids who are already used to dogs and who you trust to be calm and relaxed around your dog
  2. Teach them some basic manners. Biting during play shouldn’t be allowed, for instance. Nor should jumping up at people.
  3. Familiarise them with some behaviours they might encounter with kids. Gently tug their ears or give them a hug, for instance. Always back off before your dog gets annoyed, and be sure to give them lots of praise.

Also give your family a great start by choosing one of the best pets for kids.

How to help your kids be good with dogs

Raising dogs and kids together means you need to work with your kids too. At the end of the day, dogs are still animals and need to be treated with respect. This will help ensure they don’t become aggressive.

All too often, parents will allow their children to do “cute” things to a dog who seems relaxed. Like riding a dog’s back, lying on them while they’re sleeping, pulling their tail or trying to force playtime.

It’s important to help your kids understand they need to respect their dog’s boundaries. This includes:

  1. Making sure they know to touch the dog gently and calmly and not pull, push, or tug
  2. Explaining what areas are off-limits to them. The dog’s food, crate, and bed should be kid-free zones because your dog might become aggressive around prized possessions or resources
  3. Teaching them warning signs that a dog is about to bite. Teach them to always ask before patting a strange dog
  4. Ensuring they know to never approach a dog without an adult, especially toddlers and young children
  5. Teaching them good body language and movement habits. For example, not to run directly at a dog or make very sudden actions to try and keep their voices quiet, and to pat a dog in his “safe” areas first, like the chest or shoulders instead of the head or stomach

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but should help you to get started. The important thing is to realise that as a dog owner and parent of human kids, it’s your responsibility to teach your kids to interact properly with dogs. Children’s safety is obviously paramount and many instances of dogs biting kids can be avoided through thoughtful interaction.

A family pet puppy sits with its favourite human - a boy, whoing dogs and kids can get on well

Some useful resources for raising dogs and kids

Read up on why dogs can sometimes snap around kids, resulting in bites. Visit Kids Safe With Dogs, an organization formed to ”educate children on how to interact with dogs safely with the aim of reducing dog bites in New Zealand.”

Then you can find out more about what kind of behaviours your kids should model around dogs and how you can help your dog to be more child-friendly by checking out these resources:

Finally, remember to work with an animal behaviourist if you have the time and money. If you’re introducing dogs or kids to a family, you want to get it right.

We all want to do what’s best for our dogs and kids. However, most of us don’t have the necessary experience and wisdom to know when we’re making the wrong choices. Dog behaviourists and trainers are experts who rely on knowledge, experience, and facts rather than gut feeling.

Think professional puppy training might be beneficial for your situation? Read our ‘How to Find a Trusted Puppy School’ article.

one of the best pets for kids is a ginger pussy cat

What if it isn’t working?

Done everything you can yet still worried your dogs and can’t co-exist without the possibility of something going wrong? You have a tough decision on your hands. It’s important to acknowledge this and remedy the situation before it escalates and your dog bites a child.

You may be able to keep them completely separate and have a fenced area for the dog, then keep it outside at all times. Coupled with an undercover or inside area at night that’s inaccessible to kids, this might be a workable solution.

If you go for this, remember you’ll still need to make sure your dog feels part of the family. They’ll still need you to set aside plenty of time for walks, playtime, and attention. If you can’t commit to this, then you may have to look at rehoming your dog.

If you do choose to rehome and don’t have close friends or family who can step in and adopt your dog, it’s crucial to work with a reputable animal shelter. They’ll be able to do the correct home checks and ensure your dog goes to a suitable forever home.

This is never the resolution that a pet parent wants for their dog. Rest assured that in most cases, it isn’t necessary. However, if it comes to this, it is important to keep both your child and your dog’s best interests at heart and ensure that everybody ends up with a home situation in which they can thrive.

Medical treatment for the long run

Once you’ve managed to create a harmonious, happy household where your dogs and kids can grow up together, you’ll want to provide a soft landing for your furry kid. Medical checks and treatment are essential to keeping your dog happy and content.

Taking out pet insurance means you can seek prompt veterinary treatment if they get ill or injured, without worrying about the bill. Why not take a couple of minutes to get a quick quote?

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