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A. The first question to ask is if your dogs want to interact with children. Sometimes we just assume our dogs should be social with all humans when, in reality, that’s not what they would prefer. Some humans prefer to not interact with children, and dogs are no different.
The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Have your dogs been exposed to children in the past, and what was that experience like? Keep in mind that babies, toddlers, children, teens and adults are all very different “animals” to a dog, so consider each experience with those age groups. If a dog has had no experience with a child, that often equates to a bad experience later in life. This is especially true if a dog did not meet children during puppyhood, specifically 4 to 12 weeks of age.
The second thing to consider is whether your dogs have the characteristics that make them a good candidate for interacting with children.
If you believe your dogs would enjoy being around children, be proactive and set ground rules before the visitors arrive. Be sure to also discuss these specific rules with the child’s parents.
Supervision is the key component for keeping your pet and the visiting child happy during the visit. You cannot prevent or intervene in a potentially frightening experience if you aren’t there to see it. Supervision should be from a team approach with both the pet owner and the child's parents on the team. As the pet owner, your supervision should focus on how your pet is handling the visitor, while the parent's supervision should be on the child's behavior. If the roles of supervision are discussed ahead of time, it will decrease miscommunication, hurt feelings and confusion during the visit.
You want to use both proactive supervision (preparing the environment to prevent issues, such as planning for your dogs to go to a safe place when the child has a snack) and active supervision (keeping both eyes on the child and dogs at all times). Avoid passive supervision, which means you may be watching but distracted. Passive supervision is a recipe for disaster because your dogs’ signals of stress could be missed, putting you into a reactive situation with little information as to what occurred.
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