This blog post may or may not have affiliated links on it. For more information see my Disclosure and Disclaimer page.
Getting a dog is lots of fun. It’s also hard work, just like raising a child! There are things you can do for your pet that are helpful and harmful. Over the years we have heard all sorts of training advice, and none of it better than from our original dog trainer (who used to train police dogs).
Below are some quick tips, followed by some more lengthy tricks on how to keep the peace in a family with dogs and toddlers.
Note: I’m not a dog trainer and if you’re reading this you agree that I’m not responsible for your family and pets. It is your choice and responsibility to apply or not apply the advice below, not mine.
List of quick tips for dogs
Quick tips for training
- Invest in training not just YouTube videos – even bad training will give you a good place to start. The reason I say this is because often we hear about consistency being the key, so even if you don’t go to the best dog trainer in town, you’ll still be better off. This will also give you a support network and ‘proof’ that you are not a “bad” dog owner, in case things go pear shaped. Your trainer will be able to back you up.
- No dog whistle needed – just use a high pitched voice and one key word. This key word can’t be just ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’, because you’ll say this all the time. Make it unique and short, like ‘cool’ or ‘yup’.
- Train to sit at a distance – most dogs think ‘sit’ means ‘come in front of me and sit’. Quite dangerous when there’s a road between the two of you. Tie the dog up to a post, step a few steps away and say ‘sit’ (as well as other commands if you like). Once they’ve mastered that repeat at further and further distances with praise, treats etc.
Quick tips for pooping
- Get them to sit just after doing a poo when at a park – once you’ve trained them to sit at a distance. Finding brown coloured poo on a brown and green background in autumn is a challenge. Because you’ve trained your dog to sit only a few meters away from its business you’ll find finding its package a lot easier!
- Use junk mail to pick up dog poo – as our supermarkets phase out one-use shopping bags DON’T buy rolls of the stuff, because that just defeats the purpose. Use junk mail, newspaper or recycling paper instead.
- Don’t clean up inside accidents in front of them – because that’s apparently telling them it’s okay to go there (I can’t remember the exact reasoning). Send them outside and then clean it up. Outside messes however: clean those up in front of them.
Quick tips for interacting
- Don’t play tug of war in front of you – have the dog pull the toy to the side of you, because this way you’re playing together. If you ‘play’ tug of war front on, you’re competing and the dog will try to win. The dog wins with its teeth, which could end in a nasty accident. Probably wise to not let your young child play this game with your dog either.
- Don’t play chase with each other as the targets – predators chase to kill. Instead hook your lead onto a toy and get the dog chasing that since it’s okay to ‘kill’ a toy. You don’t want to have your dog get carried away and actually catch you… which it will do with its teeth… If your child’s old enough to understand not to pick up the toy then this perhaps is a game they can play with the dog. Your child can definitely play fetch and hide and seek with your dog! Those are safer games.
- Scatter food on the lawn rather than feed the dog from a bowl – how much intellectual work does your dog do in a day? This forces them to use their nose and sight to find their food, and it helps them not inhale their food in one go. The downside to this method is that if they’ve gone off their food you may not notice right away; just something to keep in mind.
Specifically dog and toddler advice
Those were my ‘quick tips’ that were more generic about dogs. Now for the toddler and dog specific stuff.
Are you wondering how to prepare your dog for the shock of it’s life? Do you have dreams for how your dog will interact with your baby/toddler?
I didn’t have specific ideas, but I did have the general expectation that our dog would love our baby. Wrong! She wouldn’t even be in the same room as him when he was a new born!
Our dog was nervous and uncomfortable around our baby
Our dog dislikes our 19 month old son now. She doesn’t make a secret of it and try as we might we haven’t been able to change her mind.
This has meant that we have had to think about their interactions more and how to make them more positive. You learn through challenges right? Below is what we have learnt:
Don’t make a big deal about this new baby
What I mean is I noticed that our dog was really uncomfortable with this new addition. This made me worry for her, which sent her the message of ‘Mum’s not comfortable with something. Something is upsetting her, therefore I’m right in being anxious and uncomfortable myself.’ It was a downward cycle.
I’m going to change this with number two. I’m going to ‘ignore’ our dog’s insecurity and continue on as normal as if there’s nothing wrong, which there isn’t. My hope is to send her the message that I’m okay and not worried and therefore she doesn’t need to be worried.
Love bomb the dog*
Simply put, our dog gets super jealous. She wants our attention and will try to get in the way when we’re playing with our son.
The way to help her feel more secure with such big changes afoot, is to spend 15 minutes at the same time of day playing with just her. We’ll play in the front yard running to and fro, throwing balls, training her etc. As a result of spending time with her, she will start to feel more relaxed and loved.
Do we actually do this everyday? No, we’re too busy and I’m too lazy (something for me to work on obviously). But if our dog is unsettled this would be one of the first tactics I would employ to help her feel better.
Not just for dogs!
Note that this works with kids as well (in fact, the term ‘Love bombing’ is used with reference to children, not dogs). The idea is that you spend 15 minutes doing exactly what they want (within reason). They are in control and can tell you to sit and suck on a bottle for the entire 15 minutes, if that’s what they choose to do. This way you’ll connect with your child, which is great if you don’t see them for most of the day.
*Another note: I’m aware after briefly Googling the term, that ‘Love bombing’ can be used to emotionally control someone, for example to get them into a cult. I’m following the Love Bombing: Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat by Oliver James’s version of the term, not a cult’s version.
Give dog their own ‘bedroom’
You probably got a crate or cage thing when you got a dog, so that they could nap in it as a puppy. This could come in handy now. The idea is the dog gets their own ‘bedroom’ in a space where they’re still included in the family atmosphere.
This space is off limits to kids (and other animals etc). This is their safe space, where they can go to get away from being pulled and prodded and stood on.
The child is never allowed in or around the crate.
The reason I say it’s a space where they’re still included in the family atmosphere, is you don’t want to make the dog feel punished by sending it outside when it’s done nothing wrong. Perhaps your dog doesn’t feel that way. Our dog does (or at least, she gives off huge body language signs that tell me she does).
Why should Poochie have to go outside when all she was doing was lying on the ground in the sun, minding her own business, until a child came up to her and grabbed her tail. Not fair right?
Child and Dog interactions
Never leave dog and child unsupervised ever. Get the child to accompany you to the toilet or send the dog outside if you need to fetch a book from another room. For more dog and child safety guidelines Plunket has a page on what to look out for.
Even the most placid dog may snap at a child
Also, always make sure the dog and the child are in control of their actions. If either one is getting frantic or overexcited they should be separated. Accidents happen when there’s heaps of excitement with lack of control, and with children and dogs neither has a complete grasp of the consequences of what could go wrong. You as the adult do (life long injury for one, death for the other in worst case scenario).
Remember what is at stake and if in doubt separate.
Another small tip for child and dog interactions: if you’re going to let your child give a treat to your dog, take the child on your lap and let them give the treat that way. Don’t have the child and dog standing/sitting next to each in front of you to give the treat to the child to give to the dog.
Because how would you feel if your older sibling was ALWAYS given the treat first. You’d get jealous. You’d get competitive.
The idea with taking the child on your lap (I think, from my memory of being told this a few months ago) is that the treat is coming directly from the child. Subtle difference, but it gives your intended affect of helping a bond develop between your child and the dog, rather than a competitive spirit.
I really hope that some of these tips and advice will help keep the peace in your household between your child and dog. I have also written about the advantages and the disadvantages of getting a dog when you are about to have a child/already have a child. They’re worth a quick read, although I’m biased in saying that.