By Gemma Abbott, Expert & Educator in Dog & Baby and Dog & Toddler Dynamics. We would all love for our little ones and canine family members to have a great bond and relationship but the reality is sometimes miscommunications can happen between even the best dogs and little ones. Here are some top tips to set all family members (human and canine) up for success! 1. Learn About Canine Communication Becoming familiar with and understanding how dogs communicate via body language will enable you to read, recognise and respond to them to help keep them comfortable. Subtle signs of stress that dogs display include lip-licking, yawning, turning away, sudden sniffing or scratching, showing the whites of the eyes (whale eye/half moon eye) amongst others. 2. Active Supervision We all know to Supervise right?! But do we know exactly how we should be supervising effectively to keep everyone safe and any interactions within comfort levels of both the dog and baby/ toddler. Family Paws Parent Education offer a great description of the ‘5 Types of Supervision’. ‘Active Supervision’ is full awake present supervision focusing on your little one and dog and any interactions that may take place between them, as an adult try to remain in between your dog and little one and keep excitement levels low.
3. Baby/Toddler Free Time When Active Supervision is not possible it is best to give the dog some child-free time and space (ProActive Supervision). This can be achieved by setting the dog up in a ‘Success Station’, a designated area that they are limited to so they have no option but to succeed. This may be in putting the dog in another room behind a dog gate or in a crate with a tasty treat/chew to keep them busy. It is also possible to set up ‘Success Stations’ for your little one as opposed to your dog, for example putting your little one in a travel cot, play pen or use of a room divider. 4. Parent Guided Interactions Left to their own devices it is likely that our little ones will interact with dogs in a way that is ‘normal’ to the child but the human way, not the dog way. Dogs can feel uncomfortable with many natural human interactions such as hugging and kissing so these types of interactions should be avoided. It is up to us as parents to guide interactions and to teach our little ones what we would like to them to do by showing and demonstrating rather than telling and explaining. It is also our job to teach our dogs what we would like them to do and how we would like them to behave in different circumstances with our little ones. Dogs should be invited over for any type of interaction so they have the choice to ‘Opt-Out’ should they not wish to take part (this choice should be respected) and at any point during interaction taking place the dog should always be able to choose to leave. 5. Inclusion WITHOUT Contact Inclusion and interactions with your dog in daily life with your little one does not need to encourage or promote physical touch. If anything the absence of physical contact can promote an even stronger bond between them as comfort levels are less likely to be breached. Activities like reading a book with your little one on your lap and your dog relaxing nearby; your little one could sing a song to your dog or blow them a kiss. The two of them could engage in what is referred to as ‘Parallel Play’ whereby your dog is engaging in one activity and your little one in another with you as a parent in between. Mutual respect in relationships, daily positive encounters and associations, quality of time rather than quantity of time that your little ones spend together with your dog are all important for building bonds and a great relationship between them.