Introductions Must Be Safe For Both Dog and Child
When you get a new dog, you may be eager and excited to welcome this new member of your family into your home. And your kids will likely be consumed with giddiness and anticipation of having a new best friend. But before your kids try to smother your new dog with hugs and kisses, you need to consider how best to introduce your new dog to your children.
It’s important to take time to set up a step-by-step plan of introduction that will help ensure your new dog and children meet and get to know each other in a safe way and in a safe environment—which will maximize the chance for a safe, loving, long-term relationship.
Create an Introduction Plan
Each family should create a structured plan that is right for them and their new dog. See my recommended list of five questions to consider as you develop your unique plan in my article How to Introduce Your New Dog to Your Other Pets. That article also talks about how (and why) you can use tools to help during introductions, including positive reinforcement, pheromones, and walks and playtime to tire out your pet beforehand. Depending on how old your children are, you may also be able to go into detail about your structured introduction plan and why it’s important for your new pet and your family.
Talk to your children about the importance of being calm and gentle with their new pet. Let them know your dog may be nervous, afraid or over-excited and may not know how to react to their new family.
Explain and show them dog body language they should watch out for that could let them know that their dog is uncomfortable. You can review and download this great Doggie Language poster by Lily Chin for guidance. Your children should know in those situations that they need to back away and let the dog have its space, and they should know these in advance of being introduced to their new dog.
Introducing a Dog to Kids
As you prepare for the introduction, make sure young kids, and their clothes, aren’t covered in food stains and scraps. You don’t want your new dog knocking your kids down in their eagerness to get a taste of food!
When doing these dog-to-kid introductions, it’s critical for at least two responsible adults to be present and engaged during the introduction. One adult will need to focus on the dog, while another (or more) focuses on the kid(s). If you have multiple children, it can be helpful to do introductions with just one or two kids at a time, depending on your children’s ages and their ability to be calm.
Now, I’d like to focus on specific strategies to use when introducing your new dog to your children. Ideally, your children will have met and helped to select the dog at the shelter, rescue group, breeder or other environment. This will help to start the bonding already and give children “buy-in” to the entire process. But regardless of whether or not your children were a part of the initial dog selection process, below are strategies you can use when doing the dog-to-kid(s) introductions when your new dog finally comes home.
- If the new dog knows how to “sit,” you can show the kids how to give this cue and then reward the dog with praise or a food treat when it responds correctly by putting its rump solidly on the floor.
- Be on the lookout for dogs that don’t know yet how to take food treats with a soft mouth—better to avoid having kids giving food treats to these dogs for safety reasons! In this case, treats can be dropped on the ground rather than given directly to the dog’s mouth; they can be given with a flat hand rather than from a fist, or the dog can be taught a “gentle” cue.
- Show your children how to pet the dog gently and how to praise the dog when it behaves well. Monitor the dog’s body language to make sure that everyone, including the dog, is comfortable during each of these interactions.
- Going go for a walk through the neighborhood together, as outlined for dog-dog introductions, can be a helpful way for everyone to get comfortable with each other in a neutral environment. This also allows for multiple short interactions through the walk, rather than a single, long interaction at home.
- When you start allowing less-structured interactions between the new dog and children, it can be helpful to leave a short, lightweight leash attached to the dog’s collar, for use as a “handle” to regain control quickly and easily if things start getting out of hand in any way.
- Be mindful of toys, long-lasting food items or chew toys, or other objects that might turn a peaceful greeting into a rough-and-tumble play session, or that might be guarded by a dog who is still a bit unsure about its new environment.
Introductions to your new dog should be an ongoing process, not a one-time, high-stakes encounter. Taking the time to educate your kids and create the right environment for these introductions will improve safety (for everyone) and maximize your chances for a loving, healthy relationship between your new dog and your children that will be a joy to watch for years to come.
What have your experiences been with introducing a new dog into your home? What's worked for you? What hasn't? Share your new dog introduction stories and tips in the comments section below.
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