There is nothing more beautiful than seeing your children and dog together actually enjoying each other’s company. But let me tell you, building relationships and bonds can take time. Understanding this from the start and not rushing it, will help the relationship between your child and dog to grow in the right direction from the very beginning.
Today, I am going to help give you some things you CAN do to help build up that relationship between your child and dog that is going to be safe and positive for both. As parents we are so quick to say, no don’t do this, no don’t do that… But generally, when our kids hear this, the more they want to do those things. So just as you want to say “no no no” – stop yourself, take a deep breath and think – what CAN they do? Let’s start being proactive and not reactive. So, in this article I will provide you with proactive and fun tools you can use when your child or your dog wants to engage but you want to ensure the interactions are safe and everyone is enjoying themselves.
How to help build bonds between your dog and child.
Be understanding that building bonds, building relationship can take time. Children can be scary and unpredictable to many dogs, especially the younger they are. Trying to rush or force a relationship between your dog and child can be really damaging as it is important that our dogs have choices. So, let’s start by giving dogs a choice. Do they want that pat? Do they feel like playing? Do they want to engage? Or are they resting and just want to be left alone? Teach this to your children early on. Instead of approaching your dog, call him over to you. Give him the choice to say no. If he doesn’t come then leave him, he’s not interested. If he does, give a couple of pats and see if he’s enjoying. If so, keep going, if not, stop. A saying from Family Paws which I love is – “Invites decrease bites”. Please remember that as parents, modelling these behaviours is super important, so you should absolutely be doing this too.
Supervision means nothing if you don’t understand your dog’s body language. I know todays post is all about being proactive and not reactive. But if you haven’t already read these articles, please read them first. Understanding our dogs body language is key to helping to build bonds between kids and dogs as it allows us to see when a dog is feeling happy in a moment versus when they are not. As is teaching kids what is appropriate and what is not around dogs. Dogs shouldn’t have to tolerate a child pulling their ear or tail or lying on them, for example. What we want, is for them to actually enjoy their interactions. Once you’ve read these and gotten yourself educated on dog body language, then adding on these fun activities I’m going to run through next will start building up the relationship between your dog and child…
- Our dogs are always communicating let’s learn to understand them and help prevent dog bites to children
- Good Intentions Aren’t Enough. We want dogs to enjoy their encounters with children rather than just tolerating them.
- Teach your child to interact safely with dogs and know the warning signs to look for
- Three steps to Teach your children how to safely say hello to dogs.
- Click here for what Active supervision looks like.
Ok so what CAN you do?
Dogs learn via association and consequences so from the beginning we want them to learn to associate your baby, toddler, or child with all the good stuff! We want kids to ALWAYS be the fun ones and never be the ones to tell the dog off or take something away from the dog. So, including children in fun and safe games, training, feeding, and enrichment is what is going to help build a bond and relationship. And this can start as young as newborn stage if safe to do so. For example, popping baby in the baby carrier and throwing your dog some favourite treats is a much better approach then dangling your newborn baby on the dog for a cute photo.
Please note that each dog is different, and each child is different. Once we understand our dogs body language, we can find the activities and things our dog LOVES to do. And then we can start including our children safely into those activities. If you are unsure of how your dog will respond to these or feel it is going to be unsafe to have your dog and child interacting together at all, please get in touch with myself or another professional before trying the following, safety must always come first. And please make sure all the activities below are done using active adult supervision.
Fun Tools to Help Build Bonds Between Children and Dogs at Different Ages
- Training: Practice some fun training skills with your dog whilst wearing your baby in the baby carrier. Make sure to use treats as we want the dog to start building that positive association with the baby being close by. If you are unsure how your dog will go with this, you can stand on one side of a baby gate and have your dog on the other. Try Doggy Push-ups – ask for a “sit, down, sit, down” this is great brain work for your dog too!
- Play the “Find it” game with your baby in the baby carrier: Instructions for this game, further down in article.
- Get out for a nice walk together: If safe to do so, and your dog enjoys getting out for walks, take your dog and baby for a walk together either with baby in the pram or in the baby carrier. This is not for everyone. But if you can, it is great for your own mental health too. Make sure to practice walking your dog with your pram before the baby is born. And if you haven’t, and you are unsure of how your dog will go, always be safe! I recommend going with someone else first so one person can have the baby and the other the dog. Always take treats with you too so you have something to distract and redirect your dog if needed.
- Interact from a distance: Teach your child to start Blowing kisses and waving to the dog!! Especially when the dog is asleep or resting and your child really wants to engage. Or when you child calls the dog over and the dog isn’t interested.
- Start teaching children to call the dog over to engage for a pat: Then show them one handed patting – show your child, guide them with your hand, place their palm in your palm and guide them so they can’t grab the dogs hair. Show them how to touch and pat the dog gently – if safe to do so of course and with the dogs consent. Talk about where and how they like it. And when to stop.
- Play Games: think about what would be safe for a toddler to play with your dog. This will depend on the age of the toddler, the size of the dog etc. Again Find it is a good one. Hide and Seek. Parent Guided fetch. Some explained below – plus check out my Instagram in my IGTV for lots of video demos of these games.
- Help with enrichment toys: have your toddler help to stuff a Kong with treats, mash a banana into a Lickimat, make a kibble trail, scatter the dogs breakfast in the garden, the list goes on. These all must be done with the adult, guided by the adult and toddler is to be the helper. If safe to do so, have your toddler be the one to put it down on the ground for your dog. Have your dog on the lead, ask them to SIT and then the toddler can pop it on the floor for your dog to enjoy. Make sure to stand back and leave the dog alone whilst it is eating.
- Nose work games: child can help to hide treats around the house for a nose-work game.
- Get out for a nice walk together: Again, only if safe to do so, you know your dog best. So only do this if your dog enjoys getting out for walks, and your toddler enjoys sitting in the pram. Always take treats with you too so you have something to distract and redirect your dog if needed. And from experience – take snacks for your toddler – your walk will last longer!
As your child gets older
- Play Games: freeze tag, puppy ping pong, hide and seek, find it – a couple are explained below and they can all be seen on my Instagram on my IGTV.
- Be Fun! Just play your dog’s favourite games – do they love to tug or to play fetch? Do they have a favourite toy or ball? Again depending on the dog and the age of the child, these still need to be supervised and guided by the parent.
- Teach your dog! Training and tricks are a beautiful way to build a bond with your dog and a great way for your dog to learn to listen to you child – children can always using food when training.
- Give treats! Feed the dog and help with enrichment toys like above, scatter feed in the garden, make kibble trails, fill Kongs, Lickimats – and be the one to give them to the dog. Just keep building a beautiful positive association – and what dog doesn’t love food?!
- Coming along on the walks: Once your child is older, they might want to scooter or ride a bike with you as you walk the dog. Or just come along and walk with you or even go for a run. Again know your dog and only do this if safe to do so.
- Walking the dog: I don’t recommend children walking the dog until they are about 12-14 but this is dependent on the child and the dog.
Here is how to play some of these games.
- For baby: have baby in baby carrier. For Toddlers: have your toddler on your lap. For older children: have them standing on a stool for this game so they are taller than the dog.
- If you are unsure how your dog will go with this, have your dog on the other side of a baby gate so there is safe management in between.
- Have some treats or kibble ready to go.
- Say “Find it” and throw a treat/kibble for your dog.
- Wait for your dog to eat it and return to you.
- Wait for eye contact or for your dog to sit, then throw another.
- Repeat – you can make it harder by throwing the treat/kibble further and further each time.
Puppy Ping Pong (this game needs 2 people)
- This game is better for toddler age kids or older but can still be played with baby in the carrier. If toddler aged kids, I recommend an adult standing with each child so you can help. And have the child up on a stool again to give them some height.
- Have your treats or kibble ready to go.
- The two people are to stand about 1-2m apart to begin with.
- One person is to shout out in a happy voice “Cooper, Come!!” (insert your dog’s name). If your dog doesn’t have good recall skills yet, say it and then show a treat and run backwards.
- When your dog comes, ask for a Sit and then give the treat. If the dog is a little snappy when taking treats, ask the child to drop the treat on the floor rather than giving directly to the dog.
- Once the dog has finished the treat, the next person is to call the dog over. And give the treat when the dog comes and sits. And then repeat again so it turns into a game of ping pong!
- Repeat theis stepping further and further away as the dog starts to understand the game.
- Once your dog has this – you are ready to move on to Hide and Seek – which will literally be the same thing but you can start hiding!
Hide and seek (best with 2 adults)
- This game is better for toddler age kids or older but can still be played with baby in the carrier. If toddler age kids, I recommend an adult being with the toddler so they play together.
- Have your treats or kibble ready to go.
- Have your dog sit and stay (or have another person holding the leash with your dog).
- The person with the baby in the carrier, or the toddler with the adult or the older child, can go and hide. Start out in an easy spot.
- Shout out in a happy voice “Cooper, Come” and wait quietly until your dog “finds” you.
- Once you are found, make a big fuss and give your dog a treat. Make sure this is safe to do so, if necessary you can drop the treat on the floor, so you don’t need to bend down with the baby in the carrier as some dogs might react to that bending and getting up with dangling baby feet in a carrier… And same with the toddler – they can also drop the treat on the floor if safer.
- If playing with another person, they can then shout out “Cooper Come” and as your dog goes to find them, you hide again. If you are playing with one person/team, you can toss treats in a different direction and calmly walk to a new location, waiting for your dog to find you again.
- As your dog gets it – you can make your hiding spots harder and harder.
Bonds develop overtime.
Remember – every dog and family are different. Relationships take time. Don’t rush this. Don’t force it. It will happen. You now have lots of fun ideas of things you CAN do. Make sure the interactions your children have with your dog are short, sweet, safe, positive, and predictable. Make sure all interactions are supervised and safe. And if you need any help, please reach out.
Disclaimer: Cooper and Kids will not be liable for anything that happens to you, your dog or children by following the advice and tips in this article. If you have real concerns or worries about your dog and/or safety of your children, please seek out a professional to come and assess the situation asap.