When my little one was just a baby, I thought that I understood how dogs and growing children would interact together. I watched like a hawk, set my expectations for my dogs and baby, and I saw beautiful friendships blossom. Now, though, we’ve reached the infamous “terrible twos,” and things are definitely a little bit different than they were when she was just crawling and rolling a ball for the dogs.
When a baby turns into a toddler, quite a few things change. Your little one is more independent (MUCH more), and has ideas all her own that she’s ready to try. She is filled with curiosity, and loves to experiment to gain a better understanding of how the world works. She loves, loves, LOVES to imitate you, and the things that you do throughout your daily life. She’s extremely mobile, and everything is all running, climbing, and jumping. Little ones weren’t made to sit still, and that quickly becomes apparent as they reach the next phase in life.
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Keeping all of these changes in mind, there are some ground rules that are absolutely crucial for your child to understand about your dog. Dogs, in general, are loving, kind, and very forgiving animals. However, it’s your job as a parent, and as your dog’s owner and advocate, to make sure that your child doesn’t overstep her bounds and harass or frighten your dog.
1. Your Dog is Not a Toy.
Because toddlers are so filled with curiosity, but they are still learning the ins and outs of empathy, caring, and understanding of others, this one is very important to lay out and enforce. Toddlers love the opportunity to poke, prod, stare, climb, and ride on dogs like they are inanimate objects, and it simply cannot be allowed. As your dog’s advocate and your baby’s parent, you need to make it clear that your dog is a living, breathing friend, rather than a furry jungle gym to be played with however she sees fit!
The bright side is that your child loves to imitate you, so a lot of demonstration on how to pet your dog properly, feed treats, and play appropriately (see number 3 for more details on that) is definitely a big help. When you show caring and concern for your dog, you convey to your toddler that your dog is a living animal, with feelings and thoughts, that should be loved and respected, rather than treated like a toy.
2. Your Dog Needs Rest Time Too.
Along with understanding that your dog isn’t an on-call jungle gym, it’s important for your little one to understand that your dog needs break time from play. The idea of a “nanny dog” is just not fair to the dog in question, and it’s your responsibility to ensure that your dog gets breaks from being with your little one if he needs them. This post goes into greater detail regarding how to set up safe spaces for your dog, but having conversations with your toddler about your dog’s rest time is important as well.
Let your child know that when your dog goes into his safe space, whether it’s a crate, a bedroom, or a spot behind the couch that he found all on his own, the dog is off limits. He needs some rest time, and is not to be disturbed. This gives your dog time to de-stress and unwind after being on his best behavior with your baby, and it gives your toddler some healthy limits as well. Comparing your dog’s rest time to your child’s nap time, quiet time, or rest time will help your little one to understand the importance of your dog having a break during the day.
3. Your Dog Likes to Play…Appropriately.
While it’s crucial that your toddler understands that your dog is not a toy, and deserves compassion and respect, it’s also important to teach them the best ways to play with your dog! Rather than focusing only on what NOT to do with your dog, you can put in a component of the best ways that your dog likes to play.
Wrestling isn’t an appropriate way for your toddler to play with your dog. Even if that’s something that you enjoy doing with your pup, it’s not a safe game for your little one to engage in. Your dog can become too overly excited and end up hurting your toddler, or vice versa. Also, wrestling doesn’t have any hard and fast rules for your child to stick to while playing. It’s more of a feel as you go sort of interaction. Instead, teach your child how to throw a ball or a toy for your dog, if your dog likes to fetch. Show her how to toss treats for your dog if your dog DOESN’T like to fetch.
Show your child how to pet appropriately, and show her how to give your dog commands and give treats for them. One of my daughter’s favorite things to do with our dogs is to have them come and touch her hand, and then reward them with a treat. Getting your child involved with training processes is good for everyone! It teaches your child a fun game, and it teaches your dog that your child is someone to be listened to and obeyed.
Setting healthy limits for your toddler is always a good thing. While they may rail against them for a few minutes, they thrive in understanding what they are allowed to do, and what they are not. Limits involving your dog, in particular, are so important because appropriate respect, compassion, and attitude toward each other can head off a boatload of troubles and difficulties that can not only be inconvenient, but very dangerous as well. Instilling a love for your dog, and a respect for his personal space, rest time, and playing preferences will put your little one well on the track to having a great friend in your dog!
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