How Can I Prepare My Dogs to Visit With Kids?

Rule 2: Be Aware of What Your Dogs Are Saying

You are your dogs’ voice and advocate; you speak for them when they cannot. So it’s important that you can interpret when your dogs are uncomfortable or stressed and then modify the environment accordingly. This often means either removing the child or allowing your dogs to leave the situation. Here are some signs to watch for that may indicate your dogs are experiencing stress or anxiety:

  • Leaving — When a dog attempts to leave a situation he’s uncomfortable in, he’s demonstrating excellent self-control. Don’t force your dogs to stay in the situation. Allow them to leave and make sure the children do not follow. It’s helpful to give children a visual barrier, such as a jump rope on the floor, and instruct them that when the dogs pass that point, the children are not to follow.
  • Lip licking — A dog may lick his lips with quick little licks, which can be an indication that he’s uncertain and slightly anxious. If your dog licks a child with quick licks, the dog is letting the child know he’s not threatened, but he’s also not confident.
  • Yawning — If a dog yawns but doesn’t seem to be preparing for a nap, it’s an indication of potentially serious stress. Determine what is occurring in the environment and decrease the stressor (sound, proximity, movement, etc.). Also, give your dog a chance to take a break from the activity.
  • Wet dog shake — You may have seen your dogs do this after they’ve been taken off the exam table at the veterinary clinic. It’s an indication that the recent events were intense and a dog is trying to “shake off the stress.”
  • Turning face or body away — A dog may turn his head or even his entire body away, which can be a sign that he’d like to remove himself from the situation.
  • Staring or glazed look — This is an indication a dog is very upset and making a decision on what he needs to do next to keep himself safe.
  • Freezing — This is a very serious indication that a dog is anxious and close to biting. Staring along with freezing is a sign of extreme distress, and it’s a red flag that a bite could be imminent.
  • Growling or lip lifting — Growling is an indication that a dog’s earlier signals may have been missed. Don’t punish your dogs if this happens. They are asking, in dog language, for what is occurring in the environment to stop. By punishing growling, you are taking away their ability to do that and leaving them with their only other option — biting.

A dog who stares, freezes or growls will not likely enjoy interacting with the unpredictability of children.

Rule 3: Create a Positive Association

People often dote on visiting children while ignoring their dogs, but this creates a negative association for dogs that children mean they get ignored. Instead, make sure when the child is present in the room that someone is giving the dogs attention by playing quietly with their favorite toy or training them using click training and their favorite treat. When the child isn’t present in the room, pretend your pet is invisible and ignore him. Then, as soon as the child reenters the room, resume your interaction. This creates a strong association that children equal good stuff.

Kids are scary to a dog; they move, smell and sound different from adults. When something startling happens — and it will, no matter how much you attempt to control things — give your dogs treats in a happy voice and then take them to their safe place. For example, if the child squeals or falls, give your dogs a treat. This will help your dogs to learn that no matter how “odd” or unpredictable a child’s antics are, it means something good for them.

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