Your kids may be doing great with the family dog, but what about their friends? Kids coming into your home have no idea about your kid-dog rules, and they will likely do things that make your dog scared or uncomfortable (with the best of intentions!). Children who are nervous around dogs may claim they were bitten, even if your dog just licks their hand. Who wants to try to explain that to their distraught parent? We’ve put together some tips to help you avoid all those headaches and keep playdates at your house fun and safe.
1. Know the kids and dog involved
Some dogs are perfectly okay with your herd of monkeys, but freak out when other kids are in the house. Some kids love dogs so much that they want to treat them like a stuffed animal (making the dog super uncomfortable). Other kids are terrified of dogs and will squeal if the dog even looks at them. Get a feel for how your kids’ friends act around dogs as well as how comfortable your dog is with extra kids in the house. Use that information to help you decide if you’ll allow the kids and dog to interact with your supervision, or if you’ll keep them entirely separated.
2. The leash is your best friend
The leash is a great tool to give your dog freedom while still keeping him by your side where you can prevent trouble. If your dog is a chronic or recovering jumper, use a front clip harness (leash attaches to the chest instead of the back) and attach a second leash to the chest ring. When your dog is about to greet a child, step on the second leash midway up. You want your dog to have room to stand on the floor comfortably, but not have enough room to get his front paws off the floor. Keep your hold on the first leash (also attached to the chest ring) to make sure your dog doesn’t escape. Your dog will likely give up trying to jump and sit down. Give plenty of treats when he does!
3. Have kids toss treats
Treats are a great way to help your dog associate the kids with great things. But having the kids hand your dog treats doesn’t always turn out well. Your dog could get excited and nibble the kids’ fingers along with the treat, scaring them. Or your dog may not be truly comfortable with coming that close to the kids. You never want to use a treat to entice your dog to approach a child before he’s ready. The solution? Have the kids toss treats toward your dog. That way, everyone stays safe and comfortable, plus your dog gets to build a happy association with visiting kids.
4. Ask the dog if he wants to interact
If your dog is calm and happy (loose, wiggly body, relaxed ears, and mouth open in a goofy grin), and the kids are gentle and quiet, they can invite the dog to come over for some lovin’. If your dog doesn’t want to go to the kids, that’s okay. Never force your dog to interact. But if he does walk over to them, teach them to gently stroke with only one hand, from collar to tail. Many kids want to pat the dog abruptly on the top of the head. Since dogs have a blind spot on the top of their head, they’re not comfortable with hands going over their head and will often react by swinging their muzzle upward. That leaves the child with their hand super close to the dog’s teeth. Or kids want to pet with two hands, leaving the dog feeling trapped. Using one hand and stroking from collar to tail keeps dogs happy and kids safe. After a few seconds, ask the kids to pause petting to see if the dog moves away or leans in for more. That way, you know for sure if your dog is truly enjoying the interaction, not just “tolerating” it.
5. Play a game together
Your kids may want to go off and do their own thing. But if they’re in the mood to play with the dog, it’s time to put the games to work. When you play a game with the kids and your dog, you are:
Keeping them out of trouble
Teaching them to be kind and respectful to each other
Keeping everyone safe
Making fun memories!
Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
6. Kids and dogs shouldn’t be left alone
A LOT can happen in just a few seconds. (Why is it that the worst stuff happens when we turn our back?) Even with the best dog in the world. Kids and dogs need an adult with them at all times, actively helping them all interact safely and happily with each other. If you need to fold laundry, read emails, or do anything that takes your attention from the kids and dog, don’t feel guilty about separating them. Give your dog something to chew on behind a gate or in his crate. Or have the kids play in the other room while you keep the dog with you.
7. “When in doubt, get the dog out.” - Lisa Edwards
Is your dog being a little too rowdy around the kids? Are the kids having a bout of the crazies and making your dog nervous (i.e. turning away, lip licking, ears back, tail tucked)? Is your parent instinct telling you something isn’t quite right? Time to separate the dog. Listen to your gut, and intervene before the situation ends in tears.
It takes some extra work, but it’s well worth it to be the hero and plan ahead when your child’s having friends over. We hope this makes it easier for you!
Need more help getting your crazy doggo in check? Get access to our FREE mini course, the Family Dog Makeover here!