do dogs and toddlers mix?

The short answer is yes, but when dogs and toddlers spend time together, it’s vitally important to make safety a top priority.

Dogs and toddlers can be great pals. Some canines are naturally easy-going around young children — but others are afraid or even anxious, especially if the youngsters are active and noisy (and most are!). So it’s important to consider the safety of both dogs and toddlers when they’re in the same vicinity, especially when family and friends are visiting and your dog might already be a bit stressed.

Keep in mind that toddlers are unpredictable

“Toddlers can be very unpredictable,” says holistic dog training expert, Tonya Wilhelm. “They sometimes fall, grab, scream, run and throw things.” A nervous dog can easily be scared by this behavior, and any dog can be injured if a toddler throws something at him or pulls too hard on an ear or leg. “The ideal situation is to teach toddlers how to
gently and kindly interact with dogs,” Tonya advises. “This will also teach your dog that little humans are friendly and enjoyable, not something to fear or feel they need to be
defensive around.”

Unfortunately, some people don’t teach their children how to behave around animals, and may even think that dogs should put up with anything a young child does to them. “This is not only dangerous, but unfair to the dog,” says Tonya. “No dog should have to tolerate being yelled at or hurt.” As well, relationships with family and friends can be damaged if someone’s toddler scares or hurts someone else’s dog, and ends up getting snapped at or even bitten. Because you can’t predict what toddlers will do, or know if their parents have taught them how to treat animals properly, it’s important to
maximize safety by teaching your dog how to interact with small children.

Preparing your dog for toddler interactions

1. Socialize him with children

Socializing your dog with people of all ages is vitally important. While your dog is still young, introduce him to kids so he’ll learn to be comfortable around them. Ensure
the experiences are positive so he won’t feel threatened. For example, take your dog to a playground and allow him to watch the kids from a distance. Give him treats as he watches, then walk him a little closer so he’ll become familiar with the noise and activity.

Do dogs and toddlers mix - practical safety tipsEven an older dog can be socialized around toddlers. Give him lots of treats, and stay near him when small children are in the vicinity. Talk calmly to your dog and if he shows any signs of stress, simply remove him from the area and try again another time.

2. Get him used to noise and handling

Expose your dog to some handling, human noise and activity before you introduce him to any toddlers. Give him big hugs and tug gently on his tail. Look inside his ears, and tickle his legs. This gets him used to being touched. Again, it’s best to start while the dog is young; older dogs may find this kind of handling stressful if they’re not used to it, so proceed slowly and carefully, and watch for any signs of stress. Once in a while, yell playfully or laugh loudly to help your dog get used to these sounds.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Never leave your dog alone with a toddler

This applies even if you’re confident that the child will be kind and gentle with your dog. A toddler’s quick movements or high-pitched cries can cause some dogs to react in
unexpected ways. It’s best to be cautious and provide supervision when young kids are around your dog.

Even if they’re outside and there’s lots of space, dogs and toddlers need to be watched. Kids often run around screaming and jumping when they’re outdoors, and may pick
up sticks and other objects and swing or throw them around. This kind of behavior feels threatening to many dogs, who may then try to defend themselves and their territory.

Never punish your dog

Never yell or discipline your dog around toddlers, even if he’s showing signs of unfriendliness. He may feel confused about what you want and why he’s getting punished. Yelling in anger can cause your dog to panic, which means he could snap at you or the child. Stay calm and have a set strategy to deal with your dog when toddlers are around.

Never allow a child to bother your dog when he’s eating or sleeping

Teach toddlers who come into your home that it’s never safe to bother a dog while he’s eating, sleeping, or chewing on a toy. Dogs are protective of their food, toys and beds, and may growl or snap if they feel those things are threatened.

Never allow a toddler to run up to your dog

A dog can be easily startled if a small child runs up to him, and may lash out in defense of his territory. Teach toddlers to call the dog in a friendly voice, then tap the side of their legs to invite the dog to come to them.

Dogs and toddlers can be a great combination if they know how to respect and get along with each other, and they’re always well supervised when together. It means
extra work and vigilance on your part, but the sweet reward of watching your dog and toddler play happily together is well worth it.