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Dog Meets Kid: The Start of Something Beautiful

They’ll always remember their first childhood pet — this intro is just the beginning.

by Kate Sheofsky
April 1, 2021
mom and daughter playing with puppy

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Dogs can be the best (and cutest) playmates, sidekicks, and companions for kiddos. And together, they create an endless supply of Instagram-worthy moments. But you know that. That’s why you’re about to grow your family by one dog! The key to kids and dogs forming that one-of-a-kind friendship is establishing trust and respect. Your dog needs to know that they can feel safe and have fun around your child, and vice versa. How do you accomplish that? Read on — we asked a vet and a trainer to help show you the way.

Parents, it all starts with you

From navigating the first introduction to monitoring your dog’s settling in period to everything that comes after, it’s up to you to set the tone. “First, the adults need to train themselves to do the right thing,” explains Dr. Susannah Teran, DVM. “They are ultimately responsible for keeping everyone safe and creating a positive environment. Then, if the kids are old enough to understand and follow through, teach them the rules. After that, you can work on training the dog. That’s the mindset to have to be the most successful.”

Make sure your dog has a safe space 

Before your dog comes home, carve out a spot in the house that’s just for them. It could be a crate or a quiet corner of a room with a dog bed. Tell the kids that area is off-limits to them. (And folks, it’s off limits to you too.) Your dog will need to know that there’s a place they can always go when they need some alone time. We can all relate.

Nutrition Calculator

If we could give our pets infinite treats, we would. But this tool will tell you the right amount to feed your friend.

Take it slow

Chances are, your kids are going to be very excited to meet your new pup. Your dog, however, may be feeling nervous or overwhelmed. “To start, have your dog on a leash and bring them into one room of the home,” recommends Valerie Peck, a certified trainer with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington. “Let your dog explore the area slowly. Instead of your kids running up to the dog, wait until your dog chooses to approach them. If you have a baby, you can let the dog sniff some of the baby’s items to get them used to their scent.” While everyone is checking each other out, try to keep the vibe mellow. “If anyone starts getting wound up, it’s time to take a break. I also strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with dog body language. Understanding how your dog is reacting will help you make decisions about how to manage the introduction.”

Teach kids how to pet politely

When first petting a dog, kids should avoid touching the dog’s head. Teach them instead to pet the dog on their side or back. It’s also important for kids to understand that petting a dog is a privilege. It’s up to the dog to decide if they want that kind of attention. Peck recommends teaching kids the two-second rule: “Have your child pet the dog for two seconds, then stop and wait. If the dog comes back and wants more attention, your child can pet them again. But if the dog walks away or doesn’t re-engage, don’t force the interaction.” Here’s something that may be hard to hear: not every dog is a fan of petting. We know. It seems incomprehensible, but it’s true. “I always tell parents to show their kids other ways they can engage with the dog. Ideas include playing with toys, giving them treats, or being the one to set down their food dish.”

Try not to leave toys lying around

Your dog may not want to share their toys with your kids. And your kids may not want to share theirs with the dog. And you probably don’t like stuff all over the floor, anyway. To avoid any confrontations (and tripping hazards), don’t leave toys lying around when no one is using them. But for the inevitable times when your dog does manage to get ahold of your kid’s favorite stuffed animal, “it’s beneficial to teach your dog commands such as ‘drop it’ and ‘leave it,’” says Peck. “When starting this training, I recommend having a treat jar in every room of the house. That way, you’ll have one on the ready whenever a teachable moment arises.”

Always, always supervise

As your dog settles into their new home, they’ll start to feel more comfortable around your littles. Still, dogs and kids need adult supervision long after the initial introduction. “In my opinion, a baby should never be left alone with a dog, no matter how much confidence you have in your dog,” says Dr. Teran. “Same with a toddler. Despite your best efforts to teach good habits, toddlers and young children can’t be trusted to do what they are supposed to. It’s up to the parent to actively supervise when kids are interacting with the dog.”

This is pretty important stuff, but if you nail the intro, your kiddo and your doggo will be inseparable in no time.

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Kate Sheofsky

Kate Sheofsky hails from San Francisco, where she developed a love of writing, Giants baseball, and houses she can’t afford. She currently lives in Portland, OR, and works as a freelance writer and content strategist. When not typing away on her laptop, she enjoys tooling around the city with her two rescue pups searching for tasty food and sunny patios.