Kids and dogs: A perfect combination if you do it right
By Naomi Kane
Dogs and kids are magic or mayhem. The key is making the magic and keeping the mayhem to a minimum.


Dogs are dogs and kids are kids and the combination can be disastrous if not handled with responsibility and sense. I have wonderful memories of my four-year-old son rolling around on the floor with a puppy, the two of them having a blast. I also remember him crying and trying to kick the puppy because she tore up his favourite Beanie Baby. Never leave a small child alone with a dog.


First things first
Before going any further, let’s deal with the immortal words, “Please can I have a puppy, please, please, pleeeeeease? I will take care of it I promise!” Every child says it and means it passionately, and will honour their promise… for about five minutes. You the adult have to want a dog too, and be prepared to be the primary caregiver. Taking care of some puppy chores is a great way to teach kids responsibility and empathy for animals, but the real responsibility lies with the adults.

Young children don’t mean to hurt or pester, but they do things that could annoy a dog. Stepping on the dog’s tail, grabbing its toy or simply never leaving the dog alone are all potential problems. Your pet should have a safe place that is forbidden to children. The place should be accessible by the dog but shouldn’t banish the dog to the far reaches of the house. If he knows there is a way out, he’ll never be in a situation where he needs to defend himself from the kids.

Just as kids need to respect the dog, your pet has to learn to respect the kids. Dogs of all kinds are good with children, but they need to be guided by a responsible adult so they learn appropriate behaviour. There is no need to keep dogs away from kids, but it is very important that every dog learn proper manners around small persons.

Babies and dogs
I don’t recommend adding a puppy to your family if you have a child under two years old. Trying to train and socialize a puppy while caring for an infant is crazy. Puppies need constant monitoring, just as human babies do, and busy parents have no time. You cannot leave a baby on the change table to get the puppy outside before it pees on the floor or runs off with the soiled diaper and you will be in this or a similar dilemma 50 times a day.

If you already have a dog, it is important to introduce the baby as a good thing for the dog. The dog is used to being centre stage and is now being pushed to the sidelines. Remember to pay attention and reassure your dog that you still care, even though you and everybody around you are enthralled with the new baby. Allow your dog to meet and sniff the baby, under your guidance. Give your dog some new toys and extra treats when the baby is around, and ask guests to please remember to greet and fuss over the dog as well as the baby. And never leave any dog alone with a baby.

Toddlers
Dogs like toddlers because they rain food from their high chairs. But toddlers are also unpredictable. They fall down, scream, grab, pinch, bite and kick. Dogs will put up with all that if they know you’ll protect them and if they have a safe spot to retreat to. Kids do learn to be gentle and not bite – just as puppies do – but they need constant supervision while they are learning. Never leave a dog alone with a toddler.

Kids 3 to 5
Adding a puppy when kids are this young is challenging. Helping to feed the dog or filling a water dish can give children a feeling of inclusion and the dog will learn to respect the kids a bit more. Young children will clamour to hold the leash and walk the puppy. If you have a small dog, a child might be strong enough to hold the leash if the dog were to pull, but kids don’t know their own strength and do not know (or forget) the consequences of tugging on the leash. Careful supervision by an adult is very important when children learn to walk the dog. If you have a big dog and a small child, do not hand over the leash unless you have a second leash or perfect verbal control of the dog.

Kids will want to participate in training, but they can cause frustration since their timing and consistency are non-existent. Adult supervision is critical for success. Temper tantrums because the dog chewed a toy or won’t sit in the carriage with the dollies are a fact of life. Kids can start showing a dog in junior handling when they are four; your kid could be the next star handler.

Kids 6 to 9
This is a great age to add a puppy to the family. Kids are old enough to really engage in training and activities. If the dog likes to play fetch, kids in this age group will play all day long.

Preteens
Also an excellent time to add a pup. At this age, kids still don’t mind hanging out with their parents and they’ll be happy to come to training classes and spend time with the puppy. These older kids can take more responsibility for keeping the water dish filled, grooming and helping to clean up the backyard.

Teens
Dogs and teens have a special relationship. The kids, or young adults, are old enough to have the ability to train and the patience to work with a dog or puppy. There are lots of dog sports that teens can get involved in, such as conformation (dog shows), obedience, agility, Rally-O or flyball, to name a few. Or they can just hang out with their dog, go for walks and have that bond they make movies about.

Teens have a busy social life and are on their way to leaving the nest, so their attention to the dog can be sporadic. But when your kid goes away to college or travels to Europe, the nest won’t feel too empty because you’ll get to keep the dog.