How To Keep Children And Dogs Playing Safely
Dogs are an integral part of millions of families across the UK. In fact, our nation has the second highest dog population in Europe (Statista). But as we celebrate our furry friends during National Dog Month this August, it’s important to remember how to incorporate them into our families safely. Children and their pets can build strong, lasting bonds that will be cherished for years to come, but — especially with young children and toddlers — we should handle dogs carefully and remember that they can be unpredictable.
To help you protect your little ones as best you can, child safety experts Safetots have shared their top tips on how your family can play safely with dogs.
The most important thing to remember when you have young children and dogs is maintaining clear boundaries. No matter how well-trained or calm you feel your four-legged friend may be, you can never fully guarantee their reaction to a small child. So, especially in the early stages of their life, you should always keep your child’s nursery or bedroom as an off-limit zone.
“It’s important to remember that no matter how placid and playful a dog may be, you can never guarantee their reaction to a small child.
Be sure to use standard stairgates, or versatile gates designed for pets and children alike, to keep your dog out of their nursery. This can give you peace of mind as a parent, allowing you to maintain full control over their interactions and never leave them together unsupervised. Play pens can also a be great way to ensure your little ones are protected while your dog has free movement or indoor playtime in your downstairs rooms.
Other important boundaries are making sure your dog never licks your baby or toddler, as this can be unsafe and unhygienic. Similarly, never let your pets eat off your child’s plate — in fact, it’s best to keep their mealtimes at separate times and in separate rooms so your dog doesn’t associate your children’s dinnertime with their own. If you’ve crate-trained your dog, this can also be a good way to give them their own space away from your children’s play area, which can often be noisy and overwhelming for your furry friend.
Training and reinforcement
If you already have a dog and are planning to start a family, it’s wise to start training them as soon as possible. Create a command such as ‘Gently!’ which they learn to associate with being careful, and practice this by having them slowly and softly take treats from your hands. Reward this with lots of positive reinforcement, such as hugs, walks, and playing with their favourite toy. When they start to associate this behaviour with positive things, test out their training on an adult visitor in your home. If they still understand the command and know how to be gentle, your pup is more likely to respond to your instruction when meeting children in the future.
Similarly, if your dog has the habit of jumping up at people, now is an important time to correct this behaviour. Not only are some adults not comfortable with this, but larger dogs also run the risk of knocking children over and hurting them, even if they just want to play. As most parents can confirm, it’s much better to train your dog now, before you have little ones to run around after!
Teaching children dog-friendly behaviour
Although training your dog is of course the priority, children should also be taught how to play with dogs safely and responsibly. As well as never leaving them alone with your pet unsupervised, it’s important that your little ones know what is acceptable and what isn’t. For example, while young children can be curious and eager to interact with new things, explain to them that tugging the dog’s tail, ears, or climbing on them can hurt the animal and isn’t allowed. Even if your dog is well-socialised with children and normally of a quiet disposition, this may cause them to react instinctively, growling at your youngster or even biting them.
When your kids get older, they can start building more of a relationship with your dog, but it’s wise to still supervise their playtime so you can make sure that everyone is safe and sound.”
Instead, show your children how to approach your dog gently and carefully, and most importantly to leave them alone when they are in their crate, eating, sleeping, or playing with a favourite toy. This is when dogs can feel the most possessive of their space, meaning they could lash out at your child without meaning to.
Playing with older children
When your kids grow up, they can start form a closer relationship with your dog and may even become firm friends. Pets can be a great way to teach your children about responsibility and caring for others. However, you should still supervise their playtime, and make sure your pup still remembers their command to play gently. Often, involving your children in training the dog or teaching them tricks can be a better option than rough and tumble play with toys, and this can also strengthen their bond in the future.
Peter Boast, Managing Director at Safetots comments:
“It’s important to remember that no matter how placid and playful a dog may be, you can never guarantee their reaction to a small child. So, when first introducing your children to a dog, do so at a distance and never leave them alone. While dogs may be seen as the primary safety risk, children also need to be taught how to play gently with pets so as not to accidentally hurt them and provoke a reaction.
“Especially with babies or toddlers, dogs can be suspicious of this new arrival or even get jealous over having to share your attention. In these early stages, you should always keep your dog and child separate by using stairgates and safety barriers, so that they can’t wander into the nursery or bedroom. When your kids get older, they can start building more of a relationship with your dog, but it’s wise to still supervise their playtime so you can make sure that everyone is safe and sound.”