So I was one of those people that was never going to have kids. I mean my 'regular proper' job is teaching many small humans, did I want to spend my down time with kids too? Not really.
Then my tiny human arrived. I'm still not a 'kid person' but adore my own tiny human.
Kids and dogs is a hot topic. That's because many people have kids, and dogs, but every year there are thousands of incidents with dogs, many of those occurring to kids. Head and neck bites are increasingly occurring in younger age groups.
My own tiny human shares a house with seven dogs (and one cat who thinks he's a dog). This is not easy!
Here's the thing. Tiny humans don't look, sound, or smell like regular humans. They're unpredictable and often do things dogs find unpleasant or scary. They also often arrive and abruptly our canine family members get less attention, time, and exercise.
Preparing for a tiny humans arrival
Here's a few of the things that we did to prepare for our human's arrival, to try to make the transition easier for the canine family members:
We made sure the household physical changes were completed really early (a couple of months early), so the dogs had time to sniff and adjust. This means having the baby room set up (new paint, furniture, sound machine and lights, smells, nappies and all the other baby things. Also the bassinet in our room for some time before it was actually used.
We made changes to where dogs slept early. Chace our older dog usually got to choose where she slept and would sometimes sleep in a crate in our bedroom, we started closing the door and making her bed in the spare room super comfy. We were concerned that she wouldn't deal with the bassinet being in the way of her bed, and the noises and crying at night. The terrier used to sleep on the bed with us and Flori, and he was put back into a crate (though still in the bedroom).
I made many many meals up in advance, and stuffed and froze all the Kong's and other enrichment items for when we were away extracting the tiny human, and the first few weeks at home.
I organized for places for all the dogs to go, or be looked after, for when we were in the hospital / birthing center. We also staggered how long they were staying away, and when they came home.
We ensured there were many dividable spaces in the house e.g. baby gates up in multiple places. It was important to me that all the dogs had the opportunity to have comfortable space to themselves if they didn't want to be around the tiny human.
I did some desensitization to baby noises. If you search in YouTube there's a number of tracks there you can use for free.
Introducing the new human, and assessing the dogs behavior
Please note that if you are not experienced in dogs and behavior, I highly recommend getting a professional to help assess your dogs behavior around tiny humans.
We introduced Blake to the dogs in a way that she was safe, and would allow us to read the dogs behavior to figure out who needed more management. This involved allowing them to sniff her (bum end!), and then be around her with her contained and higher, so they could still smell her but also hear some of the noises she made.
Watch the video to see some of the introductions, and see if you can figure out why we decided that Deo (the small blue merle terrier cross) needed the most management and desensitization around Blake.
Management, management, management
So in the previous section I talked about assessing which dogs needed more management. Here's the thing... ALL the dogs need extensive management around the tiny human. All the time. This is in the best interest of both Blake, and the dogs. However some of them are more predictable (note not trustworthy.... because I trust all my dogs).
ALL dogs have the potential to cause harm to tiny humans. It doesn't matter how gentle they are, how used to kids they are, or how good their temperament is. A dog moving away, showing whale eye, growling, lunging, or nipping is normal dog behavior, and unfortunately children are not capable of reading these behaviors and reacting appropriately.
My two spaniels are School Support dogs, so have spent literally thousands of hours around kids of various ages. But they would be entirely appropriate (however unlikely) in growling at her if she hurt them (like by pulling ear hair). They are also 'enthusiastic' players and can be know to sprint around the lounge playing. This gives potential for accidental injury to Blake by stepping on her, or knocking her over.
So how we manage the dogs with Blake can be different dog to dog, but will also most definitely change as Blake grows, and will likely change as the dogs age. For example how we manage Blake around Flori is likely to change, as she has orthapedic issues and will likely be sore and less mobile when she is older.
Teaching kids when they are old enough
Teaching your kids how to appropriately act around dogs can start really early, but it's important to recognize that management is still required until a child is much older, and able to not only control their own behavior, understand the rules around dogs, and also understand dogs to some degree.
So how are some ways that you can teach kids?
Model this behavior to them. Make sure you are showing them the right things to do, not the wrong things!
Have simple house rules in a place that you and your kids can read together. Make them simple, and add images to help them understand and learn.
Refer to the rules! In both a positive manner 'I love how you are moving away from Fido while he eats a treat, that's awesome!', and a negative manner 'I'm not going to let you pull Fido's ears'.
Positively reinforce kids when they do great stuff. Yip, positive reinforcement isn't just for dogs.
Read them some of the awesome books that help kids learn about dogs and behavior (listed below).
Books and other resources
Keep an eye out for these upcoming Dogs and Kids blogs:
💜 Kids and Sports Dogs
💜 Kids and Dogs at School