Here are some things that need to be prevented for everyone’s safety -- and sanity.
Published: December 31, 2019
By: Rebecca Mason CPDT-KA, CTDI, M.Ed.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if your child is less than eight or nine years old and you get a dog, you’re in for a challenge! This is even more the case when that dog is a puppy!
Many pet owners want their children to grow up with a dog – as the mom of a 10-year-old boy, I totally get this, but when your child is a toddler, you may find yourself in a world of hurt and wishing you hadn’t gotten this teething, jumping, mouthy bundle of fluff. What’s a mom/ ”dogmom” to do?
First, supervision is your best friend. It’s your job to protect your child from your dog and your dog from your child. Most pups would never purposefully try to hurt anyone, but in a split second, your puppy can steal food from your toddler’s hand and injure him by accident, nip him in the face if he goes in for a hug (dogs don’t typically like hugs), or knock your him down out of exuberance.
Given that young puppies don’t really know commands — and don’t yet have the maturity and training experience to perform commands with the high-level distraction of a toddler whose face is covered in spaghetti sauce — tremendous patience is going to be required of you, the owner. Here are some things that need to be prevented for everyone’s safety — and sanity:
- Knocking the child down
- Nipping the child’s hands or face
- Licking food off of the child’s hands or face
- Playing with or chewing on the child’s toys
- Picking up dropped pacifiers or blankets
- Nosing around in the diaper pail
- Running outdoors if the child opens them
- Being injured by (or becoming afraid of) the child
This is just the beginning! This is asking a LOT of a puppy — even of an adult dog. You’ll need to keep in mind what might be reasonable expectations.
Training is very helpful and should be started as early as possible, with an emphasis on come, leave it, drop it, off, wait at doorways or baby gates and stay. However, a dog who can come or stay in a quiet room is not going to be able to do these things with 100 percent accuracy when there’s a child toddling around! I recommend finding a certified trainer who uses positive reinforcement and can show you how to teach your pup these important skills.
Please note the emphasis on “positive.” Many owners become frustrated and want a quick fix, and in their desperation, they resort to using aversive tools such as shock collars in order to correct a pup for jumping on their child or trying to steal his snack. This can go very badly as dogs are quick to form mental associations between something uncomfortable or painful (the shock) with something or someone they are interacting with (the child). This is likely to cause the dog to fear the child or become aggressive toward him. Then you will have a much bigger problem! This is why it’s important to teach dogs what you DO want them to do, then reward them for making those good choices.
Be sure to check out next month’s article on specific management strategies for dogs and toddlers, including parallel play.
Rebecca Mason is a certified dog trainer and owner of Love Them Train Them LLC in Birmingham. She is a former elementary school teacher and is passionate about working with families to channel their dogs’ energy positively.