Children and pets can share a special bond, but both need to be taught how to behave around one another. Leanne Coste shares some practical strategies for helping your toddler and your dog have a happy and safe relationship.
With luck, you've successfully used the tips we shared in Paws for Thought: introducing your baby to your dog, and your four-legged pal has adapted to life with an extra very small person. Now however comes another challenge for your dog, because as your baby grows into a toddler their behaviour – to your dog's eyes at least – becomes more unpredictable and even a bit scary. We want your dog and your toddler to enjoy a positive relationship, so here are a few things to bear in mind.
Remember that dogs are pack animals and work on a hierarchy system. Their rank is established by way of acknowledgement and control of space and resources. So, to ensure life goes as smoothly as possible, it's essential to train both your dog and your toddler about what is and what isn't acceptable.
Any dog, regardless of breed or temperament type, can bite. Unfortunately when these incidents occur, there have been many warning signals that busy parents may have missed. Many a family dog has been punished for growling at or biting children, when in fact the child has unknowingly created this situation. At the risk of pointing out the obvious: dogs are not humans! It's really important to keep this in mind when we are teaching them how to behave appropriately.
Dos and Don'ts
Do ensure your dog has a safe area to relax in. A crate is preferable as it acts like a bedroom for your dog and cuts down the time you will need to take keeping an eye on your four-legged child. This also ensures that it is not able to access your toddler's toys. A dog bed is a good alternative.
Do teach your toddler that when the dog is in its crate or on its bed that it is to be left alone. Your child should not be allowed to approach the dog when it is trying to sleep or have a time out.
Do supervise games your toddler can play with your dog. This teaches your dog that the toddler is a senior pack member and is a fun, positive way to strengthen a bond.
Do teach your toddler how to pat a dog appropriately, i.e. under the chin or on the chest (not on the head or back of the neck) and encourage them to stand sideways-on, as standing front-on can be perceived as threatening.
Do teach your toddler never to approach a dog while it is eating or drinking.
Do teach your toddler not to give direct eye contact; this is a direct threat to many dogs.
Don't leave your toddler unattended with any dog.
Don't allow your toddler to pull a dog's ears or tail, sit on a dog's back, or hug a dog around the neck. These are all situations that dogs find uncomfortable and can result in nipping or biting.
Don't encourage your dog to chase your toddler, even if playing.
Don't allow your child to tease a dog or play with your dog's bones or toys.
I hope that by following this advice, you will be able to further strengthen the bond between your dog and your child, and continue them on their path to a lifelong friendship.
Please note: this article is written for general guidance only. All situations and circumstances are different. If you have any concerns at all, I would advise that you contact a professionally qualified dog behaviourist.
Leanne Coste is the director of Urban Dogs Dog Daycare & Wellness Centre in Albany, Auckland. For more information check out Leanne's website Urban Dogs