We sat down with our friends and fabulous Canine Educators, the Dog Moms (Toni and Lydia), and had an in-depth and educational conversation about the best way to nurture and enforce a peaceful and safe co-existence between dogs and children (this article is more specific to toddlers and younger children).
Before we share our eye-opening conversation with them, you may be curious about what canine educators or translators of the canine language are. Here are Toni and Lydia’s explanations:
It’s not the dogs that are the issue, but the human’s relationship with them is the issue. So usually, we translate to the human what their dogs are trying to communicate to them through their actions and how they can change their relationship with their dog by changing how they communicate with them.
Here are some questions we asked Toni and Lydia, and we are so excited to share their wisdom with you:
- What is the best way to introduce children and dogs (either newly adopted dogs, foster dogs, or dogs and newly born babies?
The best way to introduce children and dogs is by honoring the Mother Nature code, which is space.
The only dogs and children that should interact together are:
- Dogs with a solid understanding of the “place” command (further explanation of the place command is at the end of this article) or dogs that respectfully give space anytime they are asked to.
- Children who have the respect and understanding to give animals space.
- Once the dog is in a calm state of mind, whether that takes 2 seconds or 2 hours, that is an appropriate time to introduce the dog and child to one another.
Dogs make the best decisions when in a calm state of mind, so if a dog is in an overstimulated, over-excited, nervous, defensive, or anxious state of mind, they are not ready to meet a child yet. Mother Nature has straightforward rules when it comes to dogs, and being able to give space to each other when needed is a sure way to create a solid, healthy, long-term relationship between the two.
- What is the best way to involve children in a dog’s training process?
As the dogs and children develop a relationship, you can incorporate training with them both; this will involve the parents teaching the dog to wait for the child to go in and out of any spaces (doorways, cars, etc.) and to have the dog calmly relaxing on “place.” In contrast, the child eats or plays, teaching the dog to respect the child’s space until invited over. The dog must also be trained in a release command so that after the child finishes their activity, the dog can then be released from their “place” to interact freely.
- What is the best way for parents to teach children how to read a dog’s body language?
The best way to teach a child about dog body language is to show them many videos of different dog behavior/body language and what is and is not acceptable. Many online videos show good depictions of dog communication, which is also crucial for parents to understand what their dogs are trying to communicate and whether the interaction is safe.
- What would you both say is the most important rule to teach your children about the dog/child relationship?
The most important rule to teach a child is to always give space to any animal at first, and that is how you gain their trust. All dogs are naturally curious, but that does not always mean they want to be pet.
During introductions, dogs evaluate and collect information. Sometimes during this process, it can be overwhelming for the dog to be touched while trying to process their emotions and environment. Petting a dog before they are ready is how you will lose trust, and just because a dog doesn’t bite or move away while being pet does not mean that they are enjoying it. This is why understanding dog body language is so important. After the introduction ritual of smelling/evaluating is finished, if the dog stays around and goes into a calm state of mind, they are ready to interact. If a dog stays around but becomes tense, pushy, or walks away from the situation entirely, they are not prepared to interact.
If the dog or child is ever over their threshold, they need to be separated until they are back in a calm state of mind, especially if the child is too young to follow directions or chooses not to when the dog signals discomfort. Consider putting your dog in another room or kennel so the dog has time to decompress and return to a calm state of mind.
The child must first understand giving all animals space, and the dog must understand “place” or has a very strong understanding of providing space to stressors coming into their intimate space. The child should be able to respect a dog’s space when eating, drinking, chewing bones or toys, or using the bathroom. Even if the dog does not show any aggression in these instances, these are times when dogs do not want to be touched.
Whenever an animal is eating or playing with toys, a parent should always be present to create a clear boundary so the child understands to give animals space while they eat/play. If your child is too young to follow the rules reliably, it’s your responsibility as the parent to ensure the dog is separated until feeding/playing is over. Even if the dog is not aggressive during these situations, accidents can always happen, whether accidentally knocking a child over during play or biting a finger instead of a food kernel while eating. As parents, we must advocate for our dogs and our child’s needs.
The critical point, which I say over and over again, is a proper understanding of “space.” People do not understand how important space is in the dog world, and it’s a massive part of their communication. If a dog’s space is respected by the child at first until their arousal level comes down, they can coexist in a calm state of mind, which teaches both dog and child to trust one another.
The most educational point I can give a parent is always advocating for your dog’s needs. Do not expect that just because your dog has been fine with a child disrespecting their space previously, they will continue to allow it. And the same goes for your child, too; both dog and child should be taught respect and boundaries towards each other from the beginning of their relationship.
A crate is essential so the dog has a safe place to decompress and go through their emotions without worrying about outside stimuli. A dog bed to use as a place is also equally important. A slip leash is the best tool for walking, especially if a child will be walking the dog but teaching the dog how to respond to pressure appropriately is necessary for the dog to understand what’s expected from them while on a leash.
- What is the best way to keep a dog safe from fleeing or getting out of the house?
The safest way to keep a dog from running out of an open door is for the dog to understand the concept of “place,” which means staying in a calm state of mind on their dog bed until told otherwise; this includes staying in a calm state of mind on their bed while the door is open. The place is a fantastic tool to teach impulse control, preventing the dog from breaking boundaries such as doorways. If the dog hasn’t yet mastered place, putting them in a crate or another room would be the safest option to prevent them from slipping out of an open door.
- What information do you have to share about fostering dogs in a home with young children?
When you are a foster parent, it doesn’t matter where the dog came from or their backstory; it’s your responsibility to gather information about the dog who is now a part of your family dynamic. This means that, at first, the child will not be interacting with the dog while the dog is going through the decompression period. Once the dog has successfully gone through decompression, it must be taught “place.” Once the dog understands place, trust should be established between the dog and the child because the dog has been observing the child respecting the dog’s space while in place, which naturally creates trust. During the decompression phase, the foster parents should have gathered enough information about the dog during that period to know if the dog and child are an excellent match to interact safely.
As promised, here is a simplified definition of ‘place’ and how to implement this in your training.
The place command teaches your dog to be in a calm state of mind no matter what is happening. It gives your dog something to do instead of engaging in undesirable behaviors like barking when the doorbell rings, begging for food, jumping on guests, etc.
Those behaviors are replaced by a simple command — ‘place’ — that tells your dog to go to a designated spot and stay there until you give them the release word. Your dog will begin to enjoy this because it will become their job.
To learn more about the ‘place’ command, please read this excellent short article by Cathy Gait. This simple yet very effective command will change your and your dog’s life.
If you would like to get in touch with the Dog Moms (Toni and Lydia) with questions or further education, please email them at email@example.com