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Dogs and children: how to help them become best friends

Ahh children and dogs. They are made for each other and it’s well known that having a dog can benefit children in many ways.

A dog can help a child gain self-confidence, teach kindness and empathy and responsibility, and reduce anxiety and loneliness. A dog will also encourage a child to be more active and can set the child up for a lifetime of loving and respecting all living creatures. Having a pet also benefits a child’s immune system; studies have shown that children growing up with pets are less prone to allergies.

But it’s not always lollipops and roses. A dog can be the wrong match for a child, or the demands of an exuberant pet coupled with the burden of raising young children may exasperate parents. So, to ensure dogs and children bring out the best in each other, it pays to establish some ground rules from the beginning. Dogs and children can be best friends if a few simple guidelines are followed to ensure a safe and wonderful relationship.

To start, the age of your child is a factor to consider. Experts say when your child is seven or older is an optimum time to introduce a dog into a family. Younger children also benefit from having a dog but they are limited in their ability to take care of a dog. In terms of family dynamics, it’s important to consider what type of dog you are going to add to your family. Toy and small breed dogs, such as poodles or Chihuahuas, may not be the best choice because they may be frightened easily by young children. Larger dogs are better able to tolerate the activity, noise and rough play of living with children but large dogs bred as guard dogs or with a history of aggressive behaviour or biting should be avoided. Very high energy or barking dogs may not be good choices either. And puppies are a lot of work and can play too rough.

But no matter what type of dog you choose or the age of your child, both should be trained to respect each other. Most dog-child relationships are ultimately positive and will provide lifelong memories to cherish forever.
When it comes to helping children how to behave around dogs, the following rules apply:

Always approach a dog slowly and hold out the back of your closed hand slightly towards the dog but not in the dog’s face;

Never approach a dog when it is eating or chewing on a treat or a toy;

Pet a dog softly under its chin or on its chest and avoid putting hands over the dog’s face and head.

Never pull a dog’s ears or tails or poke its eyes or nose;

Avoid hugging a dog or putting your face up to a dog’s face, as this invades the dog’s personal space;

Avoid yelling or screaming around a dog because it can scare or excite some dogs.

A dog’s crate is off limits to people.

In terms of training and socializing a dog to be around children, here are a few recommendations:

Teach your dog basic commands such as sit, down, and lie down;

Teach your dog not to jump up;

Take your dog to a park or playground to socialize it with children;

Provide positive reinforcement and treats when your dog behaves well around children;

Crate train your dog to give the dog an escape route;

Train your dog ahead of time for interacting with children by giving the dog praise and treats while you gently pull its tail, hold its paws and hug it. If the dog is uncomfortable with these interactions it is probably a good idea to keep kids at a distance.

A few other ground rules for positive interactions between dogs and children include;

Never leave a dog unsupervised with young children

Don’t force your dog to make friends with a child.

And if else fails in the nurturing of a dog-child relationship, it may be worth working with a canine behavioural specialist to make sure your dog and child respond well to each other.

Resources and further reading:

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