Holiday Tips: Help Kids and Pets Play Together Safely

Reward your dog for calm behavior. Treat your dog for holding a sit or down stay during greetings. If the visiting child is comfortable with your dog, you can let her offer the reward. Small children can be taught to toss treats on the floor for your canine, while older children can learn to offer a treat on a flat, outstretched hand.

Carefully introduce the baby gear. Keep in mind that the strange equipment that comes with children, like strollers, car seats, walkers and toys, can be frightening for a dog. Let your dog investigate these things at his own pace and reward him with treats for his bravery.

Supervise all interactions. I can’t say this enough: An adult needs to be present for every encounter between your dog and any visiting children. Contain your dog in a safe area when supervision isn’t possible. If either your dog or the child is uncomfortable in the situation or indicates a need for space, the interaction must stop immediately.

Give the dog some space. Children should be told not to approach your dog while he is sleeping or eating, or when he has a special toy or chewy. As a safeguard, feed your dog his meals or edible chews inside areas secured by barriers.

Teach the right way to touch. Petting should be allowed only when the dog initiates contact and should be done in the direction of the dog’s fur, avoiding sensitive areas. Children should never ride or lie on the dog, and they should not be allowed to kiss the dog or put their face near his.

Keep paws on the floor. Do not encourage or allow children to pick your dog up; there’s a real risk that the child may drop the dog or that your dog may panic when he is restrained. If a child wants to hold your dog, have her sit cross-legged on the ground and let the dog move onto her lap on his own. If your dog wants to move away from the child, he must be allowed to do so and should not be held in place or followed.

With careful supervision, clear rules and appropriate redirection, most dogs are able to settle in and relax even when children are present. In fact, your dog may even come to relish the chance to spend time with children, which makes the holidays that much sweeter for everyone.

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