How to Teach Dogs to Like Kids
Teach your dog fun, friendly ways to interact with kids on the street.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how parents can help children greet dogs safely and enjoyably. This week I’ll focus on the dog, and on the person holding that leash. We’ll talk about how to raise a dog who likes children, how to handle meetings with unfamiliar kids, and what to do if your dog just isn’t a big fan of children.
How to Teach Dogs to Like Kids
If you read my articles regularly, you can probably predict what I’m going to say first: it’s easier to start off on the right foot than it is to repair problems that already exist. If you have a puppy who’s still in the formative early weeks of life--under the age of about 12 to 14 weeks--be sure to provide her with plenty of pleasant, relaxed experience with kids. Take a pocketful of tasty, nutritious treats and bring your puppy to places where kids may be found--a street corner or the entrance of a child-oriented store, for instance. Children gravitate to puppies; give them treats to offer your pup and allow gentle children to give scritches. Sit on a park bench near a playground and let your pup absorb the movement and noise as normal, ignorable parts of life.
Socialization Should Be Relaxed and Fun
Remember, “socialization” doesn’t mean you throw your puppy into the deep end of the pool and hope she knows how to swim. The key to success is to keep exposures pleasant and relaxed. Don’t wear your puppy out or force her to deal with sights and sounds that frighten her. If she responds timidly to kids, enlist some gentle, quiet children who can just sit and let her get to know them at her own pace. Introduce the kids one at a time. Encourage your puppy and praise her when she checks the child out, but never push.
What If Your Dog Already Likes Kids?
So you’ve got a dog who loves kids--whether your dog is a puppy you socialized yourself, or you’ve adopted a kid-friendly adult. It warms the cockles of your heart to see those squinty eyes, that soft, smiley mouth, and that gently wiggling butt. Since even the friendliest dog can scare kids with a too-bouncy approach, Mr. Friendly will also need some manners. Check out my article on how to teach polite greetings. Many children are both hugely interested in dogs and a little shy of them. You can help by teaching your friendly dog to sit quietly for petting.
I always enjoy amusing the short stuff with tricks. When the kids on my block were in grade school, they all went ape for high fives. Teach your dog to bump your closed fist with his nose and give it the cue “Punch yourself in the nose.” This is almost as hilarious as saying “heinie.” Spins and bows are also popular. Hey, a simple sit can make your dog popular, if he’ll sit when a child asks him to.
Teach Kids How to Give Dog Treats Safely
You might also carry treats for children to give your dog. Not only do kids love to give treats, but your dog is frequently reminded that kids are good news. Supervise carefully, of course, just as a parent would do. Show kids how to offer treats in the palm of their hand instead of between their fingers. Nervous children shouldn’t be pushed any more than nervous dogs.
Teach Kids How to Properly Pet Your Dog
[[AdMiddle]Since not every child’s caretaker will have read my previous article, be ready to coach kids in how to pet your dog. No thwap-thwap-thwap on the top of the head, please, no matter how patient your dog is. And bear in mind that even the most child-loving dog can get tired and a bit grouchy. If several children have surrounded your dog, gently insist that they take turns in petting and treating, and excuse yourself while your dog is still relaxed and having a good time. If a child handles your dog roughly or has the bright idea of barking in his ear, bail out. The privilege of meeting friendly dogs comes with the responsibility of being nice to them!
Old Dogs and Kids
Finally, there may come a day when even the most kid-loving dog needs to retire from the petting zoo. If your dog’s sight and hearing have diminished, she may be more easily startled and scared than in her youth. Or a dog who used to bounce and wiggle if a kid ricocheted off him may respond differently when his old hips ache and creak. Be your aging dog’s advocate and limit the hellos to children with quiet demeanors.
What to Do If Your Dog Doesn’t Like Kids
You’re going to feel like hell if your dog scares or bites a child, to say nothing of the potential lawsuit. So be observant, proactive, and honest. If your dog hides behind your legs when she sees a kid coming, she will not enjoy meeting him. If she sits with her mouth drawn tight and her head averted while kids pet her, this is not her party. If she has growled or snapped at a child, get thee to a competent behavior professional ASAP.
If your dog is uneasy with children, protect her and them. Refuse requests to meet the doggy. Step between your dog and rapidly oncoming kids. Get out of the way if you can. Hold out your hand flat and shout “Stop!” if you have to; hurt feelings are better than a bite. If your dog has bitten anyone on the street, think hard about walking her with a muzzle.
A friendly, well-trained dog can help children learn to behave safely around dogs without fear. How often do you get so much entertainment while doing good?
That’s it for this week. You can follow The Dog Trainer on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini, as well as on Facebook, and write to me at email@example.com. Phone me at 206-600-5661. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and I answer as many questions as I can. That’s all for now. Thank you for reading!
Dogs and Storks and Living with Kids and Dogs are excellent websites chock full of resources for helping kids and dogs coexist happily. I also recommend two books by Colleen Pelar, who owns the Living with Kids and Dogs site: Living with Kids and Dogs … Without Losing Your Mind (C&R Publishing, 2005) and Kids and Dogs: A Professional’s Guide to Helping Families (Dream Dog Productions, 2009). The latter is intended for trainers and behavior consultants, but I often recommend it to clients anyway.
Learn about canine body language from these excellent books:
Collins, Sophie. Tail Talk (Collins, 2007).
Handelman, Barbara. Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook (Woof and Word Press, 2008).