If you’re a parent to both a dog and toddler, you’ll know the importance of making sure that they can coexist peacefully. This is easier to do with babies as their limited mobility means that you control when and how they interact with their fur sibling, but as they move into the toddler years their growing independence can change this relationship. Building this new relationship means training both your pup and your toddler, so we’ve put together some helpful tips to help them foster a healthy relationship.
The most important step in helping dogs and toddlers to coexist peacefully is to supervise all of their interactions. Even the calmest dog can be caught off guard by a toddler’s unpredictable behavior, which can potentially result in injury. Your dog may not display any aggressive behavior, but simply jumping up and running away could cause a toddler to fall over and hurt themselves. By supervising, you can make sure that the time they spend together is a safe and positive experience for everyone.
You can teach your toddler how to properly interact with dogs, but the way they do so will still be much different than an adult. It can take dogs some time to get used to this new way of being handled, so it’s a good idea to get them used to it as early as possible. Practice handling areas where they may not normally be touched, such as their paws, legs, ears, and tail, giving praise and treats as you do so. Over time, your dog will become more comfortable with this new way of being handled and are less likely to react if your toddler does it.
Even the most patient dog will need some time away from an active toddler eventually, so you’ll want to give them a space that is just for them. An easy way to do this is by using their crate as a toddler-free zone where they can relax on a cozy bed or play with their toys uninterrupted when they need some downtime. You can even place some fencing around the crate to give them some extra space or make use of a baby gate to block off a room – these visual divides can also help your toddler understand that this area is off-limits.
When showing your toddler how to properly interact with dogs, the trick is to start early and be consistent. The first thing they should learn is how to safely approach a dog, beginning with asking a parent for permission. This gives you the opportunity to teach them when it’s to approach a dog and how to introduce themselves by letting the dog sniff their hand. The next step is to teach them the proper petting technique. To start, only let them pet areas you know your dog is comfortable with, such as their back, and remind your toddler about the importance of being gentle. During these early interactions, it can be helpful to give your pup their favorite Freshpet treats or recipes to help them create a positive association with the time they spend with their human sibling.
A young toddler likely won’t be able to identify the subtleties of your dog’s body language, but they should be able to learn when it’s an okay time to interact with them based on what they are doing. For example, you can teach your toddler that when a dog is sleeping or eating, it’s time for them to be left alone. As they get older, they can start to learn the basics of a dog’s body language and when it’s okay to approach them. For example, if their tail is wagging and their mouth is open it’s okay to let them sniff your hand and give them a gentle pat. Even as they start to understand these basic behaviors, it’s still crucial that all interactions are supervised.
If you’re not sure where to start or just want a little bit of extra guidance, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Professional trainers can teach your family everything you need to know, so you can use the best methods from the start. If you don’t know any trainers in your area, your veterinarian will be able to put you in touch with one.
We hope that these tips will help you foster a healthy relationship between your dog and toddler so that they can peacefully coexist under the same roof for years to come!