Updated: Jul 19, 2021
You’ve had the family talk. You’ve had the tears, the pleas, the countless promises of “Oh but I’ll walk him EVERY DAY….!” And finally, you caved. Your family is getting a dog. Brilliant! But how will your furbaby fit in with your real babies?
It’s the worry of every parent (whether furbaby parent or human baby parent)… how will my dog and my kid get on? Will each one accept the other? (And… how on earth will I ever have any peace and quiet again???)
In recent years and especially during the Coronavirus pandemic when we were all home a lot more than we otherwise might have been in the past, more and more of us have chosen to welcome a dog into our family unit. This is absolutely brilliant news for UK families and their children – studies have proven that children benefit greatly from growing up with a hairy four-legged brother or sister. A recent article from www.countryliving.com claimed “young children from dog-owning households are better behaved, more empathic and have a greater emotional wellbeing than those without a dog”, citing research conducted by the University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute, (read the full article here) which found that playing and walking with the family dogs led to an increase in mindful behaviours in children, less chance of developing emotional problems later in life and better social interaction with other children when it came to things such as empathy and sharing.
However, what a lot of families don’t necessarily fully understand before they get their pup is that introducing a new dog into the family can be rather like having another child! It’s a big thing after all, you are gaining a family member… with all the idiosyncrasies and foibles they come with… so although there’s no 9-month wait for the big event, there’s still an enormous amount of commitment required, a fair bit of planning and some time needed for everyone to get used to their new lives together. And yet… adding four paws to your family unit is possibly the best, most life-affirming and fun thing any family can do and can be the beginning of countless happy times together.
First things first, you have to make sure you find the right dog for your family. (You can check out our guide to finding your perfect pooch here). And then it’s just a matter of everyone (four-pawed or two-legged) getting used to one another and learning how to treat each other. But training goes both ways. Kids may be the complete epitome of enthusiasm and love and affection… but there are some keys things to guide them in when it comes to the care, behaviour and body language of their new fuzzy sibling.
Let sleeping dogs lie
Did you know dogs have a startle reflex? This means they can, as a simple natural reaction, be predisposed to bite if they are startled, for example if they’re woken from a deep sleep. It’s important to note, this isn’t ‘bad behaviour’… this is simply a natural, instinctive response. As such, it’s very important that your kids learn that, as much as they ADORE their new buddy, it’s best for everyone if they give their pet a good bit of space if they’re having a rest.
In fact, in general, all dogs will need a bit of ‘me’ time… time to themselves to recharge their batteries. Puppies especially, like very young children, need to sleep a large percentage of the day so they can do their growing. Make sure your dog gets the rest he needs – for puppies, you may need to enforce nap times by putting him in his crate or pen as, like kids, he will need it but not realise he needs it. And make sure his rest is uninterrupted by little people!
10 tiny fingers… 2 grabby hands!
If you have very young children, I don’t need to tell you that they will be into EVERYTHING. They want to touch, squeeze, grab… and nothing will appear more grabbable than a soft puppy ear or big Liquorice Allsort-esque squeezy nose. It’s your job as responsible parent (of both pink baby and fur baby) to divert these grabby utensils towards something that doesn’t have sharp teeth. No puppy or dog will want to bite, but if they’re grabbed and they don’t like it, they will react accordingly. Hell… I would, wouldn’t you?!
And you thought you’d gotten through teething?
You had the sleepless nights, the dribbling, the red cheeks, the crying… and the total oral destruction of everything within a mile radius… with your pink baby. Now, I hate to say it, but, if you have a puppy, you have a similar sort of thing with your furbaby too. (Although granted, they don’t tend to get red cheeks or dribble quite as much…!) Yes, puppies go through teething too… and as a byproduct, they can get nippy. They’ll want to chew anything and everything to alleviate that soreness and pressure on their gums and at this age that can include you and your kids too I’m afraid! At the same time, they are also learning how to use these gnashers and testing the boundaries of what they can and cannot do with them, so it’s really important to have some steps in place to make sure your family doesn’t end up resembling human pincushions:
Have lots of chewy toys to make sure puppy has some ‘appropriate’ way of alleviating his need to chew and mouth – ideally having a range of toys with different textures is best as this lets pup get out all his chewy needs… whatever they may be at the time, and explore all those different textures with his mouth whilst leaving your furniture… and YOU… untouched
Always monitor play between your kids and your pup and keep it controlled and relatively low key. By all means let everyone have a crazy blast around the garden but keep it time-limited and step in when things look like they might get a bit too excited – remember that, like children, puppies can start to forget themselves when they are overly aroused/excited or tired.
If your puppy DOES mouth or nip during play… just stop. Everyone stops and takes a time out to calm down. This may mean removing yourself from pup and ignoring them for a bit and believe me, this will seem like the worst kind of punishment because to them, you and the kids are THE BEST KIND OF AWESOME. And, try (although I know it’ll be difficult) to tell your kids not to squeal and run away from puppy if they’re mouthing as, to puppy, this just makes them seem like a very lovely soft pink squishy squeaky toy!
It’s a walk… not a drag.
This sounds sad, but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a puppy being tugged… or dragged… along by a small child who’s obviously tickled pink with being in charge of their new friend… but not realising they’re not exactly treating them as such. Kids are so full of love but sometimes, sadly, they just don’t know their own strength or just don’t get that puppy may not want to do what they want him to do or go where they want him to go. On the other side of things, older rescued dogs will most likely need a bit of time to get used to walking with their new people and may not be completely sure of the small person tugging at their neck. Unless you have older children who can responsibly be in charge of leading the new dog, it’s best to take the reins yourself (metaphorically and literally speaking)… at least until everyone gets more used to one another.
And the most important thing… only my mother has eyes in the back of her head.
Quite simply, as much as you love them all… they’re free spirits. You cannot predict anyone’s actions, be they human or animal. So it’s always best to err on the side of caution and never leave a young child and a dog together without supervision. Don’t be freaked out by this bit, though, we’re not saying your dog will savage your child as soon as you leave the room! It’s just that exercising caution will always be a better, easier option than dealing with the fallout from any upset should an incident (of whatever proportion) occur if you’re not there.
And finally…. Remember that nobody’s perfect. There may be some mischief, some upset and some frustration along the way… from everyone, but that’s normal family life! Remember you can check out JMDT’s puppy classes here as well as our training options here for that added bit of support. However, the most important thing to remember is to ENJOY every moment of watching your kids (hairy or otherwise) having the best life together. Your dog won’t be there for the whole of your kids’ lives, sadly… but your kids will be there for the rest of your dog’s life and for that they will all thank YOU forever.