How to Create Safe and Fun Interactions Between Your Child and Your Dog

May 16, 2015

As a trainer with Four Legged Scholars LLC, dog training Salt Lake City,  I notice many families allowing their children to interact with their dogs in unhealthy ways.  When a dog feels uncomfortable, he / she becomes more likely to growl, lunge, snap or bite. I want you to create safe and healthy interactions with your child and your dog!

1.) Give your dog plenty of alone time.

No dog wants to be around children all of the time.  Children’s movements tend to more jerky, direct, loud and fast.  As a result, your dog needs a break from this high energy.

Here are some ways to give your dog break from your child.

  • Put a baby gate between your child and your dog.
  • Put your dog in his crate and keep your child away from crate.
  • Train your dog to go to his “place.” Your dog can learn to go to his bed on command and stay there until released.  Keep your child away from your dog’s place.
  • Put your dog in a separate room with the door closed.

It is also especially important to do the above when your child is being extra hyper and will not follow your directions.  Your dog will feel more calm and loved if he is not forced to be around a hyper child.

2.) Supervise your dog when he or she is with your child.

It is easy for your child to do things unintentionally that can make your dog feel uncomfortable.  Keep your child safe by always watching your dog when your dog and your child are together.  If you are not able to watch their interactions, put your dog behind closed doors away from your child.

3.) Learn about calming signals.

When your dog is stressed he will demonstrated certain behaviors to help himself calm down.  If these signs are not acknowledged then your dog may bite.  When your dog is exhibiting these signs, it is time to give your dog space and alone time. This will diffuse the stress.  However, if your dog is exhibiting these signs frequently around your child, it is important to do some dog training. Salt Lake City has many professional dog trainers that you can contact.  Make sure the trainer uses positive reinforcement dog training methods.

A list of some calming signals.

  • Lip lick
  • Shake Off (Your dog is shaking as if he is covered in water and is trying to dry off.)
  • Scratching
  • Sniffing
  • Yawning
  • Look Away (Turning his head away.)

On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas is a great book to read to learn and understand more about calming signals.

4.) Create positive interactions between your dog and your child.

If your dog has many enjoyable interactions with your child, he will be more relaxed and happy.  If most of the interactions that your dog has with your child are stressful, then, your dog will mostly feel stressed around your child. This will increase the chance of a dangerous interaction.

Here are some great games to play with your dog and your child.

  •  Begin by having a baby gate between your child and your dog. Give your dog a treat every time he looks at your child. This is a good game to play if your dog demonstrates fearful or aggressive behavior around your child.  We strongly advise that you seek a professional, Salt Lake City, dog trainer to address this issue.
  • If your child is able to give treats calmly to your dog and your dog is able to gently eat treats from people’s hands, have your child give your dog treats. To prevent your child from constantly chasing your dog, have a baby gate between your child and your dog.
  • If you have  toddler, have your dog clean up the food scraps on the floor after your child is done eating.  In my household, I have my dog stay on his bed (“place”) while my daughter eats.  When she is done eating and still sitting in the high chair, I release Seiki off his place to eat her leftovers off of the floor.
  • Play fetch with your child and your dog.  Make sure you are able to keep your dog calm with this game to avoid jumping.  If your child is unable to throw the ball you can still have them participate.  My daughter is only 1.5 years. This past week I played a game of fetch with a baby gate between my dog and my daughter.  My daughter held the ball in her hand and reach over the baby gate.  I asked Seiki to “get the ball.” When he grabbed the ball, I would click to reinforce the positive interaction with my daughter.  Then I would ask Seiki to “drop” the ball.  Lastly, I would throw the ball.  This process was repeated.
  • Take your child on walks with your dog. Remember to increase safety measures you can walk with your dog on leash. You can also have your child in a stroller or a carrier.  I personally love the ergo carrier and it is usable until your child reaches 40 lbs.

5.) Teach your child to interact with your dog appropriately.

As  a professional Salt Lake City dog trainer, I personally recommend to teach this at a very early age.

  • Teach them to pet your dog softly.  Every time your child softly pets your dog praise him / him.  When your child forgets gently remind him / her to pet gently.  Personally I taught this to Iris when she was less than a year old.  Now she is 1.5 years and she says “soft” when she touches Seiki, people, and our cat (Batty).  I have to say it is adorable!
  • Teach your child to stay away from your dog while he is eating any meals.
  • Teach your child to stay away from your dog when he is laying on his “place” or when he is in his crate.
  • When your child is old enough, teach him / her to give your dog a treat for sitting.
  • Teach your child to move slowly and talk nicely around your dog.  Yelling and running will definitely increase your dog’s arousal level.
  • If your child is 3 years of age or older, play the board game Doggone Crazy.  This game will teach your child how to read dog behavior and how to interact with dogs appropriately.

An entire book can be written on how to create safe interactions between your dog and your child. We have only touched-based on this issue. If you are interested in learning more we recommend working with a dog trainer.  Salt Lake City has a large variety of positive reinforcement dog trainers.  We also recommend that you read Living with Kids and Dogs … Without Loosing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar, CPDT.

Your Turn!

We want to hear from you!  Please write a comment below.  Which ideas above will you apply with your child and your dog to create more positive interactions?  What are some of your favorite games to play with your child and your dog?

Happy Training!

Johanna Teresi, Professional trainer and owner of Four Legged Scholars LLC, dog training, Salt Lake City

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  1. Patricia

    My dog loves to be “chased” so I used to carry my babies on my back chasing the dogs. Great exercise when they were young, now they spend a lot of time playing together 🙂

  2. fourleggedscholars

    Patricia that is hilarious when I think of that vision! How awesome of you to honor your dogs’ needs and your children’s needs. Thank you for sharing!!

  3. anjara

    I love it!
    I love your tips to give space to our furry family members. Many people forget to teach our kids to behabe and respect our dogs.
    My dogs love kids and love playing with the little ones ^_^

    • fourleggedscholars

      Awesome!! I am glad that your kids and dogs are so great with each other!