Children will naturally be very excited about getting a furry addition to the family, but you need to explain that it’s important to act calmly. Wild movements and loud sounds are something of a speciality of the younger child, but they can be frightening to a dog, especially if that dog is feeling a bit anxious and unsettled in their new environment.
Show your kids how to approach their new canine pal from the side and not make them feel trapped. They should avoid patting the dog on the head, instead stroking from underneath. One of things that can be most tricky to explain to kids is that a lot of dogs do not like to be hugged (hugging being a human behaviour, not a canine one).
It’s also important to get your kids to understand that dogs who are sleeping or eating have a metaphorical “Do not disturb” sign up and should always be left alone.
You’ve heard the expression “sniff something out” and for dogs, whose sense of smell is very important, this is a literal thing. Show your child that when they first meet the new dog, before trying to pat them, they should stand still and allow the dog to come to them and sniff them up close.
Of course, it’s a two-way street and, just as you need to get your children to treat your dog respectfully, you also need your pooch to put their best paw forward.
No doubt you already spoke to the shelter staff to make sure the dog you were thinking of adopting was likely to deal well with children. However, it’s still important to tread gently at first. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep the dog on the lead when they first meet the younger members of your household. You can then work up to off-lead interactions, relying on commands such as “sit” and “stay” if the dog is getting a little overexcited.
Dogs should also be taught not to jump up because, even if this doesn’t bother you, it can be extremely frightening, not to mention dangerous, for a little person who could easily be knocked off their feet.
Kids love toys, dogs love toys – a win, win situation, right? Well, yes and no. Encouraging your kids to use dog toys with their new furry friend can cause territorial issues or just result in the dog getting over-excited and a bit rough.
It’s also worth bearing in mind the effect children’s toys can have on the four-legged member of the family. A lot of toys make loud, unexpected noises which can be alarming to a dog who is not used to them.
If your dog’s tail is rigid, their ears are back and their fur sticking up, they are trying to tell you something. Learning to read your dog’s body language and, assuming your kids are old enough, teaching them to recognise it too can prevent problems occurring.
As well as making sure your children know how to act around the family dog, it’s important to teach them how to behave around dogs they don’t know. Ironically this can be more of a problem for families with a pooch themselves as a child who is used to a “friendly” dog may assume they are all that way. This isn’t good because, while no parent wants their child to be frightened of dogs, they do need to exercise caution. Teach them to always ask permission to pet a dog and look out for any signs their attentions may be unwelcome.
Never leave young kids and dogs together unsupervised. Even the most gentle, patient, well-mannered pooch might snap if their tail gets trodden on or their leg bent back.