Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Dogs & Toddlers: Don't pet the dog.

You want your toddler and your dog to be pals. You work hard on teaching your child"gentle" by showing her how to nicely pet Fluffy. You may even take her hand and help her stroke the dog correctly and gently. 

What if I told you to stop letting your toddler pet your dog? What if I told you that your toddler has no reason to pet your dog?

For the sake of stating it over and over in this blog, when I use the word "toddler" I'm referring to children in the 2-4 years of age range.

It's best that toddlers have has zero access to the family dog unless a parent is in the room and proactively supervising (planning and preparing safe separation with a gate, crate or x-pen) or actively supervising (actively interacting with the dog and child on proper interactions between the two).  

Successful separation can be done via crates, gates and x-pens with what Family Paws Parent Education has coined as "Success Stations"(read my blog on Success Stations here.) See the poster from Family Paws Parent Education on supervision stages to the right. Click the picture to download it.

The thing with toddlers is that they are mostly impulsive and parents aren't being proactive with supervision because they don't realize how critical this is. This is when I usually get the call because the dog reacts aggressively after being pestered for the last time. Parents are at the point of blame for the dog when in fact the dog reacted normally for an animal in response to being pestered and/or hurt.

So, for this age group it's best to have very short interactions with the dog and those should be respectful toward the body language of the dog. Does the pet want to be petted or scratched? You'd be surprised how many people don't know when a dog really does not want to be petted. (I wrote a blog that explains how you can tell when and when not to pet a dog.)

Even if a dog does want to be petted I am still not completely on board for allowing children in the 2-4 age group to learn to pet a dog. Yes, you heard that. And yes, you may feel like clicking off here now.  You may be thinking ––"My child cannot pet the dog?! Why?!!! That's absurd!" But hear me out . . .

My training focuses on teaching you to have children that appropriately co-exist with the family dog, and how to make that last for the life of the dog. This can include a few things such as: dropping food on the floor (treats) a couple of times or having the child set the food bowl down at mealtimes. You can also have the child throw a toy or ball for a dog that enjoys that.

The above are appropriate interactions that still allow the child to hang out and interact with the dog while each party is in a respectful place and mindset. Once this is achieved your child and dog will form a lovely relationship and petting won't be a concern, over time.

Children in this age group just aren't good at physical touch, in regards to pets. They are often too forceful with touch, do too much stroking (over and over), or they become a bit aggressive. This might include hard petting, pulling hair, tails and/or ears, or even hitting. These aren't ok, and because gentle petting can escalate to more aggressive forms of touch quickly, it's best to not encourage any forms of touching with toddlers.

Having a toddler learn to pet a dog isn't a goal you should have. Your child will grow up and there will be plenty of opportunities for your child to be able to pet and touch your dog. Your goal should be a dog and child that coexist and get along well together. Petting will come later.

I evaluate each family, dog and child to set up a plan of action specific to each family's needs.  Each program is specific to help your dog and your family. So I will not go into any training plans on this blog. 

I do virtual consults all over the world and can help with more great tips, tricks and fun ways to teach your child to have appropriate interactions with your dog if you'd like to go deeper into this!  Email me if you need help! –– stacy@sunshinedog.com