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How to Introduce Dogs to Kids & Kids to Dogs: The Ultimate Guide

A dog is known as man’s best friend, right? What about kids, though? Dogs and kids require a little more work to introduce them properly if you want things to flow well later on.

How to introduce dogs to kids & kids to dogs: the ultimate guide: The only way to introduce dogs to kids is in a controlled, safe environment that is comfortable for both the dog and kids. Think about safety and your goals for the animal kid relationship. An introduction will most likely take more than one meeting.

We’re looking to get a new dog and with three young kids to think about, I want to make sure I know everything I can on the best way to introduce them to each other. Take a look at your ultimate guide to a good introduction.

Create a Plan for the Introduction

You can’t just decide on a whim to introduce your kids to a dog, this could spell disaster. Instead, you need to come up with a plan for a smooth introduction. Think about these things when you’re planning your introduction.

  • Get your dog settled first
  • Plan to use positive reinforcement
  • Prep your dog for some kid interaction
  • Prep your kid on how to interact with the dog

Get your dog settled first: If the dog is completely new to your home, you need to get him settled before you even think about introducing kids to the equation. This means giving him a few days, if possible, to get used to his new space without little ones bounding all over.

It also helps to spend some quality time with your pup. This might mean taking a day or two off work to dedicate to helping the dog get settled. Don’t go overboard with the affection during this time either; instead, keep all your interactions with your pup calm if he’s new.

Puppy Love
Puppy Love

Plan to use positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement never hurt anyone, kids or dogs. The introduction between the two is a great time to break out the treats and praise.

Think about more than just treats as positive reinforcement options. Playtime is also a special treat. Maybe the dog loves a certain chew toy; bust that bad boy out. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes playing can increase a pup’s excitement, so keep an eye on that excitement level.

Prep your kid on how to interact with the dog: It’s important that your kids know how to interact with the dog before they actually interact with the pup. It’s much easier to make a smooth introduction when your children already know how to act rather than trying to teach them at the moment.

The first thing your kids should know is that any petting they do should be gentle and kind. You can even have them practice a “gentle touch” with a stuffed animal to make sure they really understand. Showing them a gentle pet on their own arm is also a good idea.

When the kids are petting the dog, they should pet it on its back not its head and they should pet the way the fur grows not against the fur.

Here are some other no-no’s to point out to your kids before the introduction:

  • Never pull on a dog’s fur
  • Don’t get in a dog’s face
  • Leave whiskers and tails alone
  • Don’t bother the dog if it’s eating or sleeping
  • No yelling or quick movement (I know some kids may have a hard time with this, but try to encourage them beforehand – maybe some bribery can come in handy here.)

Prep your dog for some kid interaction: Once you have the kids prepped for the introduction, it’s time to get your pup ready. It’s important to establish who the boss is from the get-go. Your dog should know these basic commands before the introduction.

  • Sit
  • Stay
  • Down
  • Off

Act like a kid around your dog, at least to some degree. Pet a little more roughly, touch their tail, move a bit quicker around your pup. Ideally, your kids will be calm and gentle when they meet the dog, but this isn’t a perfect world and we know that won’t always happen. Getting your dog used to the type of activity your kid might display helps.

Making the Introduction

Now, that your dog is settled and you’ve prepped both parties, it’s time to gather your treats, another adult and make the introduction.

Another adult is helpful so that one of you can man the dog and one of you can supervise the kids. This allows both your dog and kids to have your full attention. Also, put your phone down. Now is not the time for pictures or videos. You’ll have plenty of time for those later if the introduction goes smoothly.

Before you even make the introduction, take 15 to 20 minutes to tire out your dog. Take him for a long walk or throw the ball with him out in the yard. A tired pup is much more likely to lie calmly and not be chomping at the bit to run and play wildly.

Once you’ve worn your dog out, keep him outside where it’s nice and open. If you want to head inside, choose a large room with plenty of space. It may seem obvious, but before you bring your kids in, make sure they don’t have any food in their hands or on their face for that matter.

Bring your kids out to the dog or have them sit in the room if you’re inside and you can bring the dog in. You might even consider keeping your dog on a leash to keep things under control.

Let your dog check out his surroundings first. This might involve the dog giving your kids a sniff. Encourage your kids to just let the dog sniff without reaching out to pet him just yet. Once your dog seems settled, you can move on.

Have your kids come up to the dog with a closed fist and slowly reach out as they get closer to the dog. Let the dog sniff their hand and if all goes well, then encourage your child to pet the dog. Remember to keep pets on the neck or back.

A good rule of thumb is to have your child count to five as they pet the dog, then pause. Wait to see if the dog wants to be petted again.

If the petting goes well, this would be a good time to offer some treats for positive reinforcement. Depending on your dog’s personality and temperament, you can have your kids offer the treats. Just keep a few things in mind.

  • Have your dog sit or lay first
  • Remind your kids to keep a flat hand when offering the treat
  • Have your kids drop the treat on the ground if you’re worried about your pup snatching the reward
Mutual Respect and Trust
Mutual Respect and Trust

If at any time during the introduction, your pet acts aggressively or shows fear, stop the meeting and put your dog in another room for 30 seconds or so. After that, bring the pup back in and try again. You can repeat this process a few times. If the introduction continues to go badly, it might be time to come up with a new plan.

Keep in mind, also, try not to punish your dog if he does growl. Dogs use growls to communicate. This is his way of telling you he’s not happy with the situation. He’s trying to warn you to fix it before he lashes out.

Watching for Dog Body Language

It’s important to keep your eye on your dog’s body language. If you have older kids, you can talk about some of the signs they can watch for to help know if the dog is enjoying the introduction or not.

The major signs to watch for are if your dog’s fur is standing up, his ears are back or his tail is rigid. These are all negative signs and mean the dog is not quite ready to say hello yet. It’s better to step away from the introduction and give it another try later.

Here are some other signs you and your kids can watch for, both negative and positive.

Body Language

What it Means

Ears up

Alert

Ears up and leaning forward

Suspicious

Crouched low and bunched up

Anxious

Leaning back and barking

Threatened

Barking and lunging

Angry

Licking nose or lips

Stressed

Laying turned away but glancing

Give him some space

Soft ears and blinking

Relaxed

Curved body, leaning up

Friendly

Head tilt

Curious

Mouth open, tongue hanging out

Relaxed

Yawning

Tired or stressed

Don’t just assume that the above body language means exactly what the table shows. It’s important to look at the whole situation and the whole dog. Maybe his tail is wagging, but his ears are pinned back. While a wagging tail seems like a positive sign, ears pinned back are not.

Here’s a look at some different things tail movement can mean:

  • Wagging tail, but barking and staring: frustrated, don’t approach
  • Tail low and between legs: lack of confidence, nervous, fearful
  • Tail high and wagging slowly: checking out the situation
  • Tail extended and curved: tense
  • Tail that wags around like a helicopter and wiggling bottom: friendly

It’s important to remember, also, that even if your dog’s body language shows he is relaxed and ready to be friendly, you should still take your time with the introduction.

Happy Pets and Kids
Happy Pets and Kids

Being able to read your dog’s body language won’t just help with the introduction to your kids, but anytime your pup meets someone new.

Reasons Why Kids Are Intimidating

Kids are just cute as can be, so why are they so intimidating to dogs? Even cute kids are a bundle of energy. If your kid is like my son, he doesn’t walk anywhere. He runs, skips, bounces, jumps and just generally moves quickly ALL THE TIME.

This quick movement can be scary to dogs and can sometimes result in dogs getting their paw or tail stepped on. Dogs aren’t sure exactly what a quick moving kid is going to do and it makes them uncomfortable.

It’s not just quick movements that can make dogs uncomfortable, it’s the size of kids. Smaller children are really right in a dog’s face, so a pup might see them as more of an equal or even a subordinate in the pack.

Kids are also loud. I always say my son has two levels, sleeping and loud. He’s not being crazy, but he’s just a high strung boy who talks, plays and laughs loudly. Besides loud noises, crying or wailing can also cause a fearful response in a dog.

Just like a dog uses his body language to communicate, he watches body language to figure out what others are trying to say. A quick-moving, bouncing, loud kid can send out some major mixed signals to a dog. They can’t get a good read on the environment with this body language and therefore may be uncomfortable.

Risks Involved With Kids and Dogs

The risks involved with interactions between kids and dogs go both ways. Sure, you really only hear about instances where a dog hurts a kid, but kids can hurt dogs as well.

Here’s a look at some of the risks to kids from dogs.

  • Bites
  • Internal parasites
  • Fleas
  • Intestinal bacteria (i.e. salmonella)

Bites: The most obvious risk between a kid and dog is that the child gets bit. Unfortunately, thousands of kids are treated for dog bites every year, but this can easily be avoided by taking the proper steps I talk about in this article.

A dog almost never bites a kid for no reason at all. Your kids should use all the precautions we talked about for your first introduction. They should know how to pet the dog gently, listen to the dog’s vocal cues such as growling and watch the dog’s body language.

If the pup ever seems uncomfortable, your kid should know to stop interacting with the dog. If your kids aren’t old enough to recognize these signs, it’s your job to keep your kids and dog safe.

Internal parasites: A yucky, but real concern from dogs is that they might bring internal parasites like roundworm and tapeworm into your home. This risk is easily managed by regular vet checks and vaccinations, and various treatments. Here’s one type of treatment for worms available on Amazon.

Fleas: A dog who isn’t treated for fleas can easily bring them into your house. Those tiny, jump critters can cause a whole lot of itch and are a huge pain to get rid of, so prevention is your best friend in this case. Keep your dog on flea prevention year-round to keep the critters off your pup and out of your house. Here’s one preventative medicine from Amazon.

Intestinal Bacteria: It sounds gross and you’re probably wondering how your kid can get intestinal bacteria, like salmonella, from your dog, but it’s possible.

If you’ve never had a 2-year-old run around your house where dog food is easily accessible, you’re in for a treat. There are very few toddlers who haven’t sampled a handful of dog food at least once in their lives.

Those same toddlers also aren’t the best at keeping up with hygiene. This means if they touch anything that has been contaminated, it’s likely going to end up in their mouth.

On the flip side, here are some of the risks to dogs from kids.

  • More stress
  • Poisoning
  • Traumatic injuries
Dogs and Kids
Dogs and Kids

More stress: Some dogs can handle all the poking and prodding and tugging and chasing that comes with interacting with little kids, but some can’t. All this activity can stress a dog out. Even a dog that generally doesn’t mind, might decide he’s had enough after a while.

Poisoning: A lot of kid’s items can harm your pup if they eat them. Things you probably have out often like infant pain reliever or diaper cream should be kept away from dogs.

We always called our dog the human vacuum cleaner because he cleaned up any dropped scraps. This is normally pretty handy to have around, but some food items such as grapes and raisins are poisonous to dogs.

Traumatic injuries: Traumatic injuries, like broken bones, are an issue especially for puppies or smaller dogs. Tails or paws can get stepped on or they can accidentally be dropped and get hurt.

They might also just be trying to have fun with the kids and take a flying leap off the couch and land wrong. Keeping an eye on interaction is the best prevention for this risk.

All of these risks are exactly why introducing the dog and kids right the first time is so important.

Benefits for Kids Who Own Dogs

Childs Best Friend
Childs Best Friend

Now that I’ve probably freaked you out about all the risks involved with owning a dog and having kids, let’s look on the bright side. If the dog-kid relationship is done correctly, there are so many benefits.

Children that have a good relationship with their dog often have higher self-esteem and self-confidence. A dog can even be a special friend to your kids. Maybe your kid can share secrets with your pup. Generally, pups are more than happy to lend a listening ear and offer lots of love in return.

If you have anxious kids, a dog can actually lower their stress and anxiety. A less anxious kid means less anxiety for everyone in the family.

If your kids are old enough, they can help out with taking care of your dog. Whether it’s feeding the dog, walking the dog or even cleaning up the dog’s business in the backyard; a pet is an awesome way to develop responsibility.

Dogs can also help provide some helpful science lessons. If your dog ever has puppies, you can teach your kids about reproduction and birth (assuming they’re old enough). If your pup is sick or hurt, they can learn about how medicine helps.

Finally, as tough as it is, your kids learn about grieving through the eventual loss of your pet. We call this the “circle of life” in our house and while tough, it is a learning experience for kids.

Precautions With Kids and Dogs

Not to freak you out, but even if you have the safest, kindest dog ever, you should never leave your kids alone with the dog. Even the nicest dog can react negatively if something startles him or hurts him. It’s not always intentional, but just a natural reaction. The bottom line is kids and dogs should always be supervised when they are together.

Remind your kids that your pup is not a horse or toy. There’s no “riding” the dog, playing rough with him or pulling or pushing him. A game of fetch never hurt anyone, but tug of war, especially with small kids, should probably be avoided.

If a dog seems uncomfortable with their interactions with kids, take him away from the situation. Help him to find a safe, quiet place where he can regroup.

Also, while it’s helpful for older kids to have some responsibility in caring for a dog, too much responsibility may be overwhelming. Keep an eye on how things are going and if they’re slacking on their responsibilities, it’s your responsibility as a parent and pet owner to step in and help.

See also: Here’s Why the Dog Shouldn’t Lick the Baby (and How to Prevent It)(Opens in a new browser tab)

Picking the Right Dog for a Family

Part of what will help your introduction between the dog and kids to go smoothly is picking the right dog for a family.

The three main things you need to consider when choosing a dog for your family are the type of temperament you’re looking for, the size of the dog, and the energy level.

Temperament: If you’re looking for a dog that is going to have a lifelong relationship with your kids, one with an agreeable, calmer temperament is probably a better companion.

Size: Size is important depending on where you live and how much space you have available. It also sometimes factors into a dog’s temperament, too. While big dogs may be intimidating, sometimes they’re actually calmer than small dogs, which can be excitable.

Energy level: This varies with each family. If you can devote a lot of time to your pup, maybe a dog with high energy is okay. Long walks, playing fetch and running are all requirements for an energetic dog, though.

If you don’t have a lot of time, a dog with a lower energy level might be better. If you’re gone for hours at a time, you don’t want your dog chewing through every shoe in the house because he’s bored.

Other questions to consider when you’re adding a new dog:

  • Whether or not you’ve owned a dog (a large, high energy dog may not be best for your family if you haven’t)
  • Tolerance for barking (If a little, yippy dog is going to drive you crazy, it’s a bad idea)
  • Tolerance for shedding (If you don’t want to vacuum every day, a poodle might be a better choice)

Once you’ve considered the above questions, take a look at this table for some of the breeds that are considered the most family-friendly.

Breed

Characteristics

Bulldog

Devoted, patient, affectionate, docile, loyal

Beagle

Calm, energetic, sturdy, smart, friendly

Bull Terrier

Friendly, loving, sturdy, mischievous, energetic

Collie

Friendly, gentle, predictable, trainable, mild-mannered

Newfoundland

Intelligent, lovable, protective, patient, gentle, kind

Vizsla

Active, energetic, gentle, loyal, affectionate, obedient, smart

Irish Setter

Playful, energetic, social, trainable, smart

Poodle

Smart, gentle, obedient, playful, very little shedding

Labrador Retriever

Playful, patient, loving, protective, reliable, intelligent

Golden Retriever

Confident, smart, kind, loyal, patient, affectionate

It’s best to visit with a dog before you bring them home if possible. Rescues are good places to start. Often dogs picked up by rescues are put with foster families. This makes it easier for you to see how they interact with kids or other animals.

See also: The 5 Best Dogs for Scared & Shy Children(Opens in a new browser tab)

Best Friends 1
Best Friends

Meeting a Dog Outside the Family

While this article deals mostly with introducing a family dog to your kids, there are probably plenty of times your kids will see another dog and want to pet it, especially once you have one in your family.

Much of what we talked about in this article still holds true when meeting a dog outside of the family. Respecting a dog, watching their vocal cues and body language and reacting accordingly is still important.

In addition to these tips, there are some other things to keep in mind.

  • Kids should always ask a dog’s owner if they can pet the dog
  • Stand sideways by the dog, make a fist and put it down low by the dog
  • Wait for the dog to come close, then pet it on its back
  • Teach your kids to stay calm if an unknown dog runs toward them, fold their arms and look at the ground (dogs interpret staring as a threat)

It’s important for introductions and encounters to go smoothly even if they’re just one time. If your kids are bit or scratched by a dog even once, they may always be uncomfortable around them.

Dogs and kids can have amazing lifelong relationships, but both parties have to respect each other and play by the rules. Part of playing by the rules is making sure that the first introduction goes as smooth as possible.

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