How to Help Your Kids Welcome and Get Along With a New Dog

Even if a new dog has lived with kids before, rules will keep everyone happy and safe.

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Bringing home a new puppy or dog is exciting for everyone in the family, especially your children. It’s important to remember, though, that you might not know the dog’s complete history with kids. Also keep in mind that the pup will need some time to settle into a new home. But not to worry: We have some great tips for both before and after your new family member arrives that will set everyone up for success.

1. Talk to your children about what to expect when the new dog comes

If your kids are old enough, ask them how they would feel in a new place. If they are having a tough time understanding how the pup might feel, talk about feeling nervous or even scared. Create some rules together about how to interact with the new family member and about what might help the dog feel comfortable, include staying calm and letting the pup explore alone at first.

Once you talk about the new dog’s arrival, have the kids draw pictures/write up the rules. Post them on your refrigerator, so they’ll be handy.

2. Teach your kids how to greet and interact with dogs

If this is your child’s first real experience with a dog, it’s important to go over some basics for when the new pup first comes home:

  • Approach slowly, even though you are really excited, so that you don’t scare your new dog. Never sneak up on a dog.
  • Squat down sideways, avoiding direct (a.k.a. threatening) eye contact, and give the dog enough space to approach you.
  • If your dog appears nervous or frightened, don’t push it. Either stay still and wait, or try again later. If the pup seems friendly or interested, offer the back of your hand for a sniff.
  • If your dog allows pets, start with the chest or chin and then go to the ears/back.
  • Don’t bother your new dog during mealtime or naps.

Visuals can really help kids understand how to behave around dogs. Check out this great poster from Dr. Sophia Yin’s website, and be sure to model these actions, too.

3. Supervise all interactions between children and the dog

This is a good practice even if you’ve had the dog for awhile because you just never know what might happen when your back is turned. Even a dog and a child who have been well-behaved with each other for years could have a bad day. I can’t stress enough to not take a tolerant dog for granted!

Boy hugging puppy by Shutterstock.
Boy hugging puppy by Shutterstock.

4. Brush up on your dog body language

This can help you tell when you or your children may be making the dog uncomfortable, and also to manage interactions between your new pup and any existing family dogs. Check out this article on Dogster for more information, pictures, and a great video. Bite-prevention website DoggoneSafe also has a helpful list with pictures showing uncomfortable body language.

5. Give the dog some space

This one is for the adults, too. Moving to a new home is stressful for dogs, even in the case of mutual love at first sight. While you (and your children) might want to be all over the pup, it could be very overwhelming. Explain to everyone that most dogs don’t like to be hugged like humans do, but they love to be scratched on their belly (or chest or wherever your dog prefers). Also set up a dog bed or cozy kennel in the corner of the family room, or even in an adjacent room, and when the dog goes to that space, no one follows.

6. Involve your kids in training or dog care duties if possible

Training can be a great bonding experience and give your kids a sense of responsibility for the new family member. This is also a way for them to interact with each other in a wonderful, positive manner. The same goes with dog care duties, like filling the dog’s water bowl, giving the dog food, cleaning up messes, playing fetch in the yard, and going for walks. These can be great for both the child and the dog, but as mentioned previously, should always be supervised by an adult.

7. Teach your new dog the rules, too

Some dogs LOVE kids and can’t get enough of them! It’s important to teach your dog not to jump up or eat your children’s toys. The more enjoyable your dog is to have around, the more likely the children are going to want to be involved in his care.

If something happens between your dog and child that concerns you, immediately contact a qualified, positive reinforcement trainer to evaluate the situation. No matter how small the situation might be, it can’t hurt to get a professional opinion.

Further Resources: Living with Kids and Dogs covers just about any topic you might be looking for when it comes to this topic.

Top photo: Family with dog by Shutterstock.

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Abbie Mood, Dip. CBST

Abbie lives in Colorado with her dogs Daisy, Sadie, and Buster, and can usually be found outside with one of them. She is a dog trainer and freelance writer who loves to explore environmental and animal rights issues. Find out more about her at abbiemood.com and lifediscoveryproject.com. Follow her on Twitter @abbiemood and Instagram @abbiemood.

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