Ultimate Guide: 24 Things You Need to Know When Introducing a New Dog to Your Kids

September 8, 2017

When welcoming a new dog into the household – be it one you adopt, or getting a puppy from the breeder – you want to make sure that your new furry friend fits in with your tribe, including with your kids.

When trained correctly, dogs are excellent for children, as they provide endless love, companionship and hopefully teach kiddos responsibilities. But there are times when new owners, unknowingly, set the dog’s and child’s relationship up for failure, which could only create a dangerous situation but one where an animal becomes dumped at a shelter for no fault of his own.

To set yourself up for success, we reached out to top-notch trainers and asked for their advice about introducing a new dog to a household with children, some tips to help make the transition easier and ensuring a strong bond is formed.

This guide is exhaustive, thorough and provides a step-by-step strategy. Read it and then read it again and again.

Before bringing a dog into your home

Prior to welcoming a pup into your home, you should make sure you are ready, have done your homework and have prepared.

Related: Using Art, Program Teaches Middle Schoolers About Animal Cruelty — And What They Can Do to Make a Change

Shelby Semel of Shelby Semel Dog Training offers up some advice on what to consider before welcoming a four-legged friend into your home. An expert in dog training and behavior, she is Certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). She is a thought leader in the world of dog training and has been featured in BuzzFeed, Barkbox, Inc. and more.

Here is what Shelby suggested:

1. Select the right breed by doing extensive research.

Although, you can never be 100 percent certain based on breed (as each dog is unique), you can increase your chances of a positive relationship by picking a dog that is great with children, has already met your children and done well(if rescuing) or is a new puppy that isn’t timid.

Also, assess what works best for your children and your living situation. If a larger, excitable puppy will make your sensitive child nervous, try an older rescue or a smaller breed of dog. Or if your child is older and looking forward to walking your puppy, a maltese or other small breeds may be a better choice than a huge great dane who may end up walking your child.

Image Credit: Josh Puetz/Flickr
Image Credit: Josh Puetz/Flickr

2. Get a pre-dog consultation.

It’s a common misconception to only hire a trainer or go to a vet after you welcome the pup into your family. Think about starting the conversation prior to getting a dog, as both are happy to do a pre-consultation with you. They are able to help assess your breed options and guide you on the perfect breed for you and your family.

Also, here is an online questionnaire to help you assess your lifestyle, living environment and needs. While it does provide a recommended breed at the end of the survey, it is important to keep in mind that sometimes mutts are way better – and can do just as well.

3. Search for a great puppy through a breeder.

If you are selecting your dog from a breeder, look for ones who properly socialize the pup to children in advance, as this can make a difference when introducing your family and children to a new four-legged friend. Also, the puppy should be exposed to other things early on: different sounds, busyness and certain situations (e.g. strangers coming over).

You should make sure the breeder is passionate and caring about their dogs and not just breeding for money (also known as puppy millers). Check out the breeder’s home to make sure the puppies and their parents are in a loving, caring environment, and not stuck in cages, unsocialized and neglected their entire lives. I usually prefer a breeder who only breeds one to two breeds of dogs and has a few litters throughout the year.  Usually if there is a waitlist and not four puppies ready to go on the website that’s a good sign. Also, the breeder should be suggesting positive reinforcement methods and checking in on the dog’s development, too.

Here are a few questions you should be asking:

1. How many dogs do they breed (smaller is better)?
2. How many litters do they produce each year (shouldn’t be continually breeding their dogs)?
3. Are they registered with any club?
4. How long do they guarantee the puppy’s health?
5. Are you allowed to meet the mom and dad (if say no, huge red flag)?
6. What are the parents’ temperaments like?
7. Can you provide references from other buyers?
8. What if it doesn’t work out (a reputable breeder will always take the dog back)?

Often, a breeder can help with selecting a puppy from the litter who would make a great fit for the household. The breeder may choose a calmer, more laid-back dog for families with children.

4. Find the perfect dog to adopt though a rescue.

Adopting a dog is a great opportunity to get a pet who is out of the puppy phase, acclimated to living in homes and is looking for a second chance to love a family. If you are wanting to adopt a dog, look for rescue sites, like Petfinder, that provide a feature to show dogs that are good with children.

Image Credit: Richmond Animal League/Flickr
Image Credit: Richmond Animal League/Flickr

When meeting a rescue dog or inquiring about one, here are a few questions to keep in mind:

1. What is the dog’s story? How did he end up in the shelter, or with the rescue organization?
2. How long has he been at the rescue?
3. How would you describe his temperament?
4. Was he around children in his previous home?
5. Has he met children during his time at the rescue? How has he done?
6. Does he have any behavioral issues we should know about?
7. Do you recommend this dog for families?
8. Has the dog had any training?
9. Is it possible to introduce kids to the dog before you take the pup home?
10. What if it doesn’t work out (a rescue organization should always take back the dog)?

5. Get prepared by getting the right supplies.

While you should have a checklist of supplies all dogs need – food, a water bowl, leash, collar, toys and treats – with children in the household, there are some other essentials.

New dog parents should invest in a crate, a baby gate and/or playpen. All items are highly suggested as they provide a safe containment area, which helps with managing your new pup.

Crate: As for the crate, it can act a safe spot for your dog to go to when she needs some alone time or may need to relax for a bit. I prefer a wire crate for durability.

It is also important to note that the crate should be large enough for when your dog is fully grown to stand and turn comfortably. For larger dogs, I recommend a divider for the crate.  Here is a simple but solid one. I would recommend putting a blanket on the bottom, along with a toy. Also, don’t leave your dog in it all day; it isn’t a babysitter.

Image Credit: Frisco
Image Credit: Frisco

Baby gate: This can help when the dog needs to be separate from the kids or when the pup isn’t allowed in a certain part of the house. Here is a great one that is flexible for different dog sizes.

Image Credit: Carlson
Image Credit: Carlson

Exercise pen: The exercise pen is also great, as it has a dual use as a pen and can be used to block off an area. If you have a breed known for high jumping, such as an Aussie or poodle, make sure you purchase an extra tall pen! Here is one that is great for the shorties, or a tall one for the jumpers.

Image Credit: Midwest
Image Credit: Midwest

Setting up your kid and dog for success

While welcoming a new furry friend into the household can be challenging and an adjustment for everyone, dog included, there are a few things you can do to make the introduction between your kids and your dog go smoothly.

Trainer Sarah Fraser of Instinct Dog Behavior & Training provides insight into making the transition as seamless as possible. As a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and evaluator for the AKC Canine Good Citizen program, Sarah has seen it all, helping hundreds of owners with severe aggression, fear and anxiety issues.

Here are some best practices:

6. Help your new dog with the adjustment.

When first training dogs to navigate new situations successfully – being off-leash without running away or visiting Grandma’s house — I rely on a few simple but effective strategies:

1. Teach the dog what to do in those situations, instead of just telling them what not to do

2. Practice those skills in advance, so the dog is already great at the pre-selected good behaviors when the big day comes.

3. Set up the environment to make “good choices” easier for the dog

These same strategies can be applied to kiddos, too. Before the big day, do the following:

7. Understand dog body language.

I love teaching kids about dog body language prior to the arrival of the new canine family member, so they can be better aware of how a dog is feeling in response to their interactions and attention. There are some great, free videos on YouTube, including this one from ZoomRoom.

There are also excellent, kid-friendly handouts on dog body language, including one from the late Dr. Sophia Yin.

Before the dog arrives, make your kids some doggy flashcards, and quiz them about different body language cues. Studies show that pet owners are great at accurately identifying happy body language in dogs, but are less skilled at identifying fearful or anxious body language, so this exercise will help.

8. Teach your kids how to interact with a dog appropriately.

To be most effective, keep instructions short, simple and framed in the positive, especially with young children. For example, instead of saying, “don’t hug the dog,” you can provide specific coaching, “always pet with one hand at a time,” “pet her on her shoulders, like this,” “pet for 1-2-3 seconds, then stop.”

 

Remind your kids about dog body language as they interact with the dog, by regularly asking questions like, “How do you think he’s feeling right now?”

9. Practice in advance.

After your kids have learned about dog body language and have received some coaching on the “how-to’s” of dog interactions, have them test out their new skills on a couple of practice dogs. Depending on their age, this may mean purchasing a stuffed dog, or having your kids interact with a friend or family member’s dog who is social, confident and experienced with kids.

Related: Abused Dog Now Helps Abused Children

Practicing in advance can also mean rehearsing the first introduction with your kids, so they know what to expect on the big day. Here is an example of what you can say:

“Mom is going to pick up our new dog from the foster home and bring her here. The dog may feel a little overwhelmed at first, because she doesn’t know we’re her new family just yet. We’re going to do our best to make her feel comfortable by taking her for a nice long walk first, all together as a family. We’ll bring yummy treats and offer them to her if she approaches us. We’ll talk in quiet, happy voices and let her just get used to being around all of us. After the walk, we’ll come inside and, if she’s up for it, we can practice the petting skills you worked on! Then she’ll likely need to take a nice long nap.”

10. Get the excitement out.

It is important to set up the environment for a successful introduction. Keep in mind, welcoming home a new dog is EXCITING for kids! It’s understandable that they want to jump and scream and give their new dog a big hug. Unfortunately, all of those very natural responses can be overwhelming and scary for a new dog. Rather than trying to suppress all that excitement, encourage your kids to have a 30-second “New Dog Celebration” before meeting the dog. You can participate, too. Jump up and down, cheer, give each other hugs and get all that excited energy out. Then, spend some time calming down and reminding everyone what a big important job they have: to help their new canine family member feel welcome and relaxed in their new home.

11. Meet outside.

If possible, meet outside and go for a family walk with your new dog first, either along a quiet street, or even around your backyard. This will allow both kids and dog to get to know each other in a low-stress setting. Be prepared, giving everyone a few yummy treats to keep in their pockets, so they can share with the new dog if he or she approaches to interact.

12. Plan a relaxed, low-energy activity.

After coming back from your walk, settle the family in for an afternoon of dog-themed movie watching — 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp and Homeward Bound, to name a few. Settling the kids in to watch a movie is a great way to keep them quiet and relaxed during the dog’s first few hours in a new home, and will allow for some nice bonding time together.

dogs and kids 1

Avoiding the doggy-danger zone

There will be times when things don’t go right in your household – either your dog doesn’t have a good day, or your child is having a “moment.”

Trainer Anthony Newman of Calm Energy Training shares some advice on prevention and how to deescalate certain situations. Anthony is a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and a Cesar Millan ambassador. He has also been featured in Tails Magazine, The Huffington Post and The New York Daily News and was named Best Dog Trainer by New York Magazine.

Here are a few tips from Anthony:

13. Start off on the right foot.

The new dog may have a lot of pent up energy, so get everything out. If you can, take him on a walk (as mentioned above). Or if he is social with other dogs, taking him to the puppy park to burn off energy is an invaluable way to start.

When you bring him home, leave the leash on, or buy something I call an “indoor leash,” which is a lightweight lead specifically for home use that he won’t associate with going for walks. Lead him around to each room to sniff; it will minimize messing, chewing and marking.

Also, have at least one dog bed. I like dog beds with sides, as I have found they make dogs calmer and more obedient. As already mentioned, have supplies ready to go. You should already have his food/water bowl, toys, and ideally chews like bully sticks (though look out for resource guarding). Utilize those baby gates and gradually over the first few weeks start to give the dog freer reign of the home, as he gains your trust.

14. Realize that with kids, it is a two-way street.

Most owners are surprised when I tell them it’s the norm, not the exception, for dogs to be wary of, and even reactive or aggressive toward, children. Kids are wobbly, too loud, unpredictable and don’t respect physical boundaries. They also aren’t naturally calm leaders. Though this can temper over time, especially if your kids help walk, feed and train the dog, you also need to train your children to respect the dog’s needs and boundaries. Some good ground rules to follow: let sleeping dogs lie (don’t disturb him when in bed or lying down); don’t approach him when eating, chewing a bone, or enjoying any other valuable “resource” and don’t hug, pull ears/tail or play rough.

Related: Millennials Think of Their Dogs Over Kids and Marriage When It Comes to Buying a Home

15. Pay attention to the signs.

You’ll often hear that growls should be respected. If he’s someplace more “powerful” — the couch, your bed, or what have you — he can be sent off if he growls. But in most cases, respect the growl and teach your kid to respect it. When the dog’s in his bed, steer clear. When he’s eating or chewing a bone, same thing. A growl indicates discomfort with the situation; we want to respect that communication and help your dog feel safe. Other similar signs are ears pinned back, tail tucked under body, licking, shaking and looking away, all signals of dog stress. By respecting these, we can change them back to happy, floppy goof balls within minutes.

16. Keep your dog calm with kids around.

Kids smashing around, making your dog scared and nervous? Use the “jolly routine,” including a happy, fun voice. Sit right next to your dog, and give him loads of belly rubs! Even non-treat-focused dogs love belly rubs. In my experience, it’s the most universal reward outside of running in the park. It doesn’t only reward your dog for calm peacefulness, but also communicates to him that you, his leader, aren’t freaked out by that tiny loud whirlwind. You’re leading by example, communicating calmness and happiness to your dog.

Image Credit: Valerie/Flickr
Image Credit: Valerie/Flickr

17. Handle scary interaction between your dog and child.

Be prepared. Realize there could be problems that arise between children and dogs. The first thing you need to do is focus on safety. Make sure you have whatever tools you need to guarantee the safety of your children — baby gates, closed doors, leashes, crates, even muzzles.

If a bad incident does occur, you need to “repair” the situation to the best of your ability. Think of it this way: If your dog growls, barks, snaps, bites or runs away, and you tell the kids to go play in the other room, your dog could think his aggression worked — and is more likely to continue in the future. That’s conditioning 101; it’s how dogs learn.

Related: Adorable Therapy Dog Lifts the Spirits of Young Fan with Rare Neurological Disorder

Instead remain calm and ease the situation, keep your dog from being aggressive and also from running away (i.e. blocking both the “fight” and the “flight”). This can help create a positive, social, situation together. Only, then send the kids (or dog) away. That’s the last thing he’ll remember. The aggression didn’t send his enemies away; being calm and peaceful did.

18. Have a safe spot for your dog.

As for specific obedience behaviors, I love “go to your bed” (mentioned earlier) Having multiple beds around can be a huge help. I’ve trained my dogs so when my toddler comes stumbling over, smashing the floor with a toy fighter jet, the dogs jump up and move to a different bed — even to a different floor.

We started with baby gates, light leashes and working the “leave it” and “go to your bed/crate/kennel/home/whatever” obedience commands, and now they’ve internalized it. To snap at my son, or any kid who comes over for a playdate, my dogs would have to be completely trapped in a corner. Otherwise they move of their own accord to a different bed. Again, you have to train and enforce this at the beginning — then they’ll start to generalize.

19. Manage dog behavior that isn’t kid-friendly.

There’s a distinction between behaviors that are appropriate and ones that aren’t. Being jumpy, overexcited, dominant, demanding, pushy, snappy, and the like, tend to be behaviors that deserve correction and redirect to calm, peaceful, submissive, obedient alternatives. Keep in mind, these are very different from growls or hard stares that happen near the dog’s food, bones or bed.

What do we do about misbehavior? First, minimize with as much outdoor off-leash mental, physical and social fulfillment. Then we want to stop those behaviors and bad mindsets before they explode. Practice a “leave it,” though the typical treat-focused way of doing this isn’t always effective. Always redirect to a calm, peaceful, happy alternative — like a bed, bone, walk or toy. We want to stop the dog’s bad behavior and encourage them to good behavior instead.

20. Focus on exercise, socialization and leadership.

Just like kids, dogs need exercise, socializing and leadership, or what I like to call the “Calm Energy Recipe.” The first two are best found off leash in a dog park — at least an hour a day for regular-energy dogs. Hire responsible walkers who go to the dog park, so you can keep the routine consistent even when you’re working, sleeping in or busy.

dogs and kids 2

Leadership happens on leashed walks and all other times your dog is getting something he wants. Basically, if you give your dog all the things he loves when he’s calm, quiet, peaceful, trusting and respectful, that’s how you’ll condition him to be. If instead he gets good things and has fun jumping up, barking, running away, stealing or being dominant or aggressive, that’s how you’re training him to be. As mentioned before, my favorite at-home obedience command is “go to your bed.” Use it before feeding, leashing up, belly rubs, Kongs, chews and pretty much anything he loves. Then load him up with cuddles and love — it’s why you got him in the first place.

Maintaining the strong bond

Training with your dog is key to maintaining a long-lasting bond. It helps communicate consistency and structure in the dog’s life.

Twahlee Rollins, the owner of Metro Dog Training, is an experienced trainer. Prior to founding his company, he worked with a top-rated dog training company in California. He has also been voted New York Magazines Best Dog Trainer, and focuses on developing a clear line of communication between owners and their dogs. He understands that the bond is imperative and should be cultivated over time.

Here are some suggestions from Twahlee:

21. Assign your child dog duties.

Have your kiddo chip in and be responsible for some of the dog’s daily activities, like walking, feeding and exercising. These are moments in the day that your dog will look forward to and bond with the person who is providing these resources and activities.

Related: After Girl’s Plea for Missing Dog Goes Viral, Her Best Friend Is Returned

Feeding treats is a classic way to gain a dog’s trust, but to take it to the next level, handful by handful, dispense the dog’s breakfast and dinner out of your hand. (This shouldn’t be done with wet food, though.) This engagement will sharpen your dog’s focus and obedience and is a way to help maintain your bond for years to come.

22. Have safe play time.

Bonding can be maintained and developed through playing with your pup. Throwing the dog’s toys and keeping your pup entertained is a great way for a child to establish and fortify a bond with your pup. However, make sure to have multiple toys, so there is a clean transition from one toy to the next, limiting the chance for conflict and keeping the fun going.

Image Credit: John Samuel/Flickr
Image Credit: John Samuel/Flickr

23. Focus on positive reinforcement.

It’s important for your child to communicate with your dog using positive words or phrases associated with treats, affection and general positive reinforcement. If used often enough, these words will embed deep into the dog’s psyche and will generate excitement and a positive experience, which you can use as a bonding tool.

24. Ensure your dog is part of your child’s everyday routine.

Simply taking walks and having the dog be around as your kid is reading a book or hanging out in the living room are moments that your dog will learn to love. Take them with you to the park, quick jogs to the store, frequent walks in the park. Doing these things helps keep your dog’s spirit and drive up.

But keep in mind, bonding activities do not always need to be filled with energy, food or play. Just simply being next to them and petting them helps grow the relationship.

By following these tips, you are setting up your dog and child to form a special friendship that will only get stronger as the years go by. But keep in mind, this guide doesn’t replace getting professional advice from a trainer. When in doubt, seek out professional dog help.

SOURCES:

Shelby Semel
Shelby Dog Training
https://www.shelbydogtraining.com/
Shelby@ShelbyDogTraining.com
516-637-3750

Sarah Fraser
Instinct Dog Training
https://www.instinctdogtraining.com
info@instinctdogtraining.com
212-828-3647

Anthony Newman
Calm Energy Dog Training
http://calmenergydogtraining.com/
Anthony@calmenergydogtraining.com
646-942-1979

Twahlee Rollins
Metro Dog Training
http://metrodogtraining.com
training@metrodogtraining.com
914-513-4267

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