We know as dog lovers what it’s like to have a bond with our furry companions and we want our kids to have the same experience. Spending time with a pet can be a valuable social experience for a child growing up. A strong bond between your kids and dog at an early age can help them foster important life skills that they can carry for the rest of their lives, like empathy and socialization.
There’s plenty of ways you can help your pet bond with your child early on, but be careful. Just because kids and pets can form natural bonds together doesn’t mean you should leave them alone and unsupervised. To make sure they develop healthy and happy interactions here are a few steps you can follow to help dogs bond with children better.
1. Let the dog interact first
We know that there are people who just can’t help but approach a cute dog. Now imagine that but 10 times more excited and in a smaller package. Your children may want to rush towards your dog excitedly and this might scare them. Speak to your child beforehand and let them know that the dog might be shy and nervous around them. Never force your dog to interact with your child and let them interact with each other when the dog feels safe. While they might take a while getting used to each other, having them form a natural bond over time is better and safer than forcing the issue. You might also want to consider, if you’re still planning to get a dog, a child-friendly breed.
2. Go for a walk, play, or exercise
If you have an energetic dog you might want to help them release that pent-up energy by going on a long walk or exercising before letting them interact with children. Your dog should be calm before meeting your kids because accidents might happen if your dog is too active. This also applies to your child as their over-eagerness and enthusiasm might wear out or overwhelm your dog. Let your child play around for a while just to make them a little calmer.
3. Help them form healthy interactions
You shouldn’t be leaving children and pets alone together but just keeping an eye on them isn’t enough, as the adult, in the room you have to actively supervise how they interact with each other. Make sure that their interaction is in a stress-free environment and monitor their body language to see if they’re getting stressed or anxious. You should be prepared to respond to any potential problems that might come up.
Aside from that, you should teach your children how to properly touch your dog to make sure that your child’s actions aren’t mistaken for threats. Teach them to pet the sides of their face or under their chin. Make sure to tell them that they should never sneak up on the dog or touch them while they’re sleeping. Properly training your children on how to approach or interact with animals can also help your dog feel less stressed or jumpy around children.
4. Provide a safe space
If you have a child, you’ve probably already baby-proofed your home, but this isn’t about your child. Interacting with a child can be overwhelming for a parent and it can be overwhelming to your dog too. Train your dog to escape to their bunker, home base, or bed whenever they’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. As for your child, it’s important to make sure they understand that the dog needs their space and they shouldn’t be petted or approached. On the other hand, it’s also important to give your child their own personal space as well if they want to be alone and away from your dog. Let them stay in a gated area where they can play, eat, or rest undisturbed.
5. Never let your kids interact with dogs during feeding time
While older kids can be responsible for feeding the dogs it’s important to teach your children to never get in between a dog and their meal. Children are naturally curious and might have the tendency to take a look at things or dip their hands in places they shouldn’t. Prevent unfortunate biting incidents by keeping a close eye on your kids and teaching them to respect a dog’s space, especially when eating. It’s also recommended to never let them grab anything that a dog has in their mouth like toys or bones. You should also test your dog’s aggression around food or possessions before letting around children.
6. Include your child in your daily routine
If you have a set routine with your dog like going for long walks in the morning or afternoons you might want to bring your child along. Kids love feeling like they’re helping out so including them in your dog’s daily routine will not only help them bond with each other but also helps promote good social skills. For younger kids let them help feed your dog or help refill the water bowl. You can even bring them along for walks. Older kids can help out with bigger responsibilities like walking the dog, letting them feed the dog by themselves, or having bath time. Your child will grow a bigger bond with the dog when you let them be a part of your dog’s care.
7. Playing with Your Dog
Aside from including your kids in the dog’s daily routine, you should also teach them all the ways they can play with your dog, as long as they’re old enough to do so. Teach them how to play fetch, teach them all the tricks your dog can do, or just let them run around the backyard playing with each other. Letting your kids play with your dog will help them release their energy in a fun and healthy way while cultivating bonds and trust between your kids and the dog. Make sure to supervise their activities to avoid any incidents or stressful encounters.
8. Outdoor Activities or Vacations
Road trips, vacations, hikes, etc. all these activities can be a great way for the whole family to bond. Going on these trips with your dog can also help your children bond with them more. This allows your children to experience new things, see new sights, and form good memories alongside your dog. Not only will your kids get closer to nature and the outdoors they’ll also form a deeper bond with your dogs. Just make sure that when planning your vacation that you’re going to dog-friendly destinations or sites like national parks, hiking trails, etc.