How to Successfully Raise Puppies and Kids Together
It always seems like a great idea: Get a puppy, and your kid can grow up with them. Unfortunately, a lot of these puppies end up getting rehomed because people find the responsibility to be just too much. It is a lot of work, and if you are not prepared or not sure what to do when situations arise, it is easy to get overwhelmed and decide your idea wasn’t such a good one.
Dogs and kids really are a great mix, however, and can teach both humans and canines a lot. Set yourself up for success with these tips on raising puppies and kids together.
Be Sure Before You Bring the Puppy Home
The worst thing you can do is to spontaneously bring a puppy home. It's best to take the time to think about, discuss with older family members and make sure a puppy will work in your current lifestyle.
If you are sure, then it’s time to start preparing!
Deciding Which Breed Is Right for Your Family
Making sure your puppy and child get along well starts before you even bring your puppy home. Start by deciding on the best breed for your house — this means a breed that’s known for being good with kids is a must.
Don’t go off “cute,” and pick a reputable breeder that breeds for temperament.
Plan Your Day
Adding a puppy into your mix is like adding another toddler. Be sure you know who’s going to take care of the puppy, who's taking care of the kids and where each will be during the day.
If you have older children, maybe they are going to share some of the responsibilities, but it’s ultimately up to the adult(s) in the home to make sure the dog is being taken care of.
Teach Kids to Respect the Dog
Another thing that’s important to do before the puppy comes is to educate your children on how to interact with the puppy. They need to learn the dos and don’ts before the dog is in the house.
There are many children’s books that can help you with this, including “Tails Are Not for Pulling.”
Teach Kids Dog Body Language
Another good thing to do before the dog comes home is to teach your kid the obvious signs a dog is scared, stressed or may even bite. This can help your child know when to leave the dog alone and come to you for help.
Dr. Sophia Yin’s website has free, downloadable dog body language posters with photos that are great for kids.
Practice on a Stuffed Dog
Now that your kids know some best practices about treating a dog, practice these concepts on a stuffed dog. This is a great way to see if your kids are ready for a puppy.
Have them demonstrate the right way to pet the dog and ask them what they should do if they see the puppy freeze, for example, or bare its teeth.
Invite an Older Dog Over
Another good thing to do before the excitement of a puppy is to ask a friend to bring over their older-kid savvy dog. Puppies are exciting and wiggly and have no manners.
If your child cannot behave around an adult dog, they are not ready for a puppy, and you might decide that adopting an older dog is better for your home.
Allow the Puppy to Settle in First
When you do bring that puppy home finally, it’s a big adjustment — not just for you but for the puppy as well. Give them time in a quiet place before they meet the excited kids.
Remind your children of the lessons they learned about correct ways to pet and interact with a dog.
One of the most important things is for you to remain calm. If you are stressed or nervous about the situation, both the puppy and the children will pick up on it.
You being worried could actually cause a situation. So, relax, take a deep breath, and then handle the situation.
Condition Your Puppy
From the beginning, you want your kids to be a positive thing for your puppy. Depending on how energic, loud and/or excited your child is, this may or may not be difficult.
If your puppy seems unsure, you can help by pairing the sight and sounds of your child with a reward for the puppy. The reward should come from you, and the child should be a safe distance away. Working with a trainer is great for this.
Give the Puppy a Safe Space
All dogs, no matter how kid-friendly, need a break once in a while. (Don’t you?) Make sure to give your puppy a place — a covered crate in a quiet area is perfect — where they can go so that they will not be bothered.
Teach your children that, when the puppy heads that way, to leave them alone and wait for them to come back. Explain that it's nap time ... maybe your child wants to nap at the same time?
Don’t Put Babies on the Ground With a Puppy
Accidents happen. Puppies can run over or push a baby down. Babies may try to use your puppy for balance by pulling on ears, fur or tail.
It’s best not to put babies under 2 years old on the floor with your puppy. Have separate “play times” for them both.
Things can happen in the blink of an eye, so don’t leave your young children and puppy unattended. One or both may get hurt.
If you are cooking dinner or doing something where your focus cannot be on the puppy and child, do not leave them together. (This is a great opportunity for crate or pen training for the puppy!)
Pick Appropriate Ways for Your Child to Play With the Puppy
This is going to depend somewhat on the age of your child and your puppy’s temperament, but you should be watching their play to make sure it’s safe for both. While tugging is generally a fine game between an adult and a dog, it can be dangerous between a young child and puppy. Your puppy may accidentally snap and get your kid’s hand or may suddenly let go, causing your child to fall backward.
Fetch is a great game if your puppy has learned to drop their toy to have it thrown. This keeps hands and fingers away from mouths.
Don’t Be Afraid of Time-Outs for Your Puppy
If your puppy starts to get too excited and is being a bit too overbearing on your child, it’s OK to put them in a time-out. When this happens, just pick up or lead your puppy calmly away from your child, and put them in another room or in their crate.
It’s OK to give them a chew or puzzle toy to burn off that energy. When they're calm, you can bring them back.
And Don’t Be Afraid of Time-Outs for Your Child Either!
The same goes for your child. If they are getting too excited, not listening to you or start to pull on the dog, it’s time for a break.
Explain to them why they need a break from the puppy, and go back over some of the dog books and posters you have about appropriate interaction.
Don’t Let Puppies and Babies Sleep Together
If you have an older child, it may be fine, but young toddlers and babies should not be sleeping on the same bed as your puppy. Sometimes, puppies startle awake and may bite, while toddlers can kick or thrash in their sleep and may injure or scare a puppy.
It’s better to wait until your child and puppy are older for the sleepovers to begin.
Include Your Child in Dog Training
Nothing will help your child learn how to interact properly with your puppy better than training.
Taking a family-orientated training class from a positive reinforcement trainer will teach both puppy and child how to communicate with each other.
Teach Your Child to Come Get You
This is a big one, as most kids worry about going to get an adult in case of punishment. Create a safe space by telling your child they will never be punished for coming to get you if something is wrong with the puppy.
It’s imperative to everyone’s safety that your child feels comfortable about calling for help.
Keep Children and Dog Toys Separate
Dogs can be possessive of toys, and until your child learns the trading game (how to get a dog to drop something out of its mouth), it’s best to make sure your dog doesn’t accidentally end up with something your child might want, i.e. one of their toys.
Plus, you don’t want your dog chewing on your baby's teething ring ... yuck!
Have Your Puppy Drag a Leash
A short leash attached to a harness is always a good thing to have attached to your puppy when they are interacting with your children.
You can step on it to stop the puppy from moving, and it gives you something to grab should a situation arise.
Teach Your Puppy Important Cues First
While tricks are fun, with kids around, there are cues that are going to be life savers and should be taught first. Leave It, Off (not jumping up), Drop It, Sit and Come will make your life a lot easier.
Puppies learn very young and are quick at that age, so training should start as soon as you bring them home.
Establish Rules (and Keep Them!)
Will the dog be allowed on the couch? Make sure your children know the rules (putting them in picture and word form on the fridge is a great reminder) — and follow them.
Some rules might be a preference, like being on the couch, whereas feeding the dog their food is a health and safety issue. Whatever rules you decide on, stick with them!
Keep Your Routine
Both dogs and kids like routine. Both will be less stressed if you keep your daily routine the same. A dog that’s used to getting fed at 6 a.m. and suddenly is not being fed until 9 a.m. can become cranky and may even grab at a child’s hand when looking for food.
Or, a puppy that hasn’t had the usual daily exercise may be too excited around the kids.
Exercise Before Interaction
Speaking of daily exercise. Both children and puppies are better behaved after some exercise.
Let them burn off some energy separately so that when they get to interact, both are calmer.
Cranky Kid? Separate!
Children can get cranky, too. Maybe they are tired or hungry. Maybe something is bothering them. Sometimes, they just don’t want to interact with a puppy. That’s OK.
If you see signs that your child is getting frustrated or annoyed with the puppy, it’s time for a break. Just like your puppy has a safe space to go, give your child one as well.
It’s OK to need a break, from the child, from the puppy or from both!
Maybe grandma wants to take your child for a weekend, so you can focus on puppy training, or vice versa.
Take Your Puppy to Doggy Daycare
If you have a high-energy, social puppy, they may enjoy doggy daycare. This could help burn off energy, so when you and the kids get home, the puppy is better behaved.
Instead of jumping all over your child, they will be happy to curl up and sleep next to them on the couch. It also gives your puppy socialization. It’s not right for every dog, but it can be good in the right situation.
Don’t Wait to Ask for Help
If you start seeing things that worry you about your puppy or child’s behavior, don’t wait or think, “They’ll grow out of it,” because they won’t — it will just get worse. Find a reputable, positive reinforcement dog trainer that specializes in family dog training and establish a relationship with them. That way, if problems arise, you have someone to call.
Getting training early on can prevent a lot of bad behavior, which is why it’s so important for raising puppies and kids together successfully.