Introducing Puppies and Children

Puppies and children can have a loving relationship when introductions are done right. Find out how to get their relationship off to a flying start.
puppy with young girl
puppy with young girl
puppy with young girl

Just like our children, our dogs are part of our families. It’s only natural that we want them to get on and become lifelong friends, but getting them to that stage can be tricky. If you’ve recently got a new puppy or had a new baby, you may be wondering about dogs and children and how to begin the relationship. At Purina, we’ve put together this useful guide that tells you how to introduce a dog to a baby or child and the first steps you should take to create the building blocks for a loving, understanding friendship.

toddler with a puppy

Introducing dogs and children

If you’re expecting a new puppy and have a young child, you’ll need to educate them how to approach dogs with care and respect their boundaries. Put yourself in your dog’s shoes – children are small, make sudden movements and are known to make high pitched noises, all of which are things that will intimidate and frighten a dog. Additionally, because puppies look cute and cuddly, children will often associate them with soft toys or teddy bears and are likely to treat them as such. So if they’re not taught from the start to be gentle, they’ll probably squeeze and chase them.

Another factor to consider is that when children are very young, they don’t have the social skills to identify when a puppy is scared or uncomfortable. They’ll also struggle to identify dog’s body language and won’t understand when they’re being aggressive or telling them to back off. You should explain to your child that you should never poke, squeeze or pull at your dog and only use quiet voices when around them. It’s also a good idea to tell them never to wake a sleeping pup as this may cause them to snap. If you need more information on educating your child on dog ownership, take a look at Purina Pet school, an interactive tool for teaching the pet owners of tomorrow.

Steps to introduce puppies and children

The best way to introduce puppies and children are as follows:

1. Get your child to calmly approach from the side, then allow your puppy to come the rest of the way. This will enable your dog to meet them on their own terms.
2. Once the puppy is close enough, tell your child to offer a closed fist for your dog to sniff – a closed fist eliminates the possibly of nipped fingers.
3. When your dog is comfortable, ask your child to gently stroke their head and neck, avoiding sensitive areas like the ears, tail, feet and stomach.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to introduce dogs and children outside, so your pup doesn’t feel trapped. Alternatively, if you’re introducing at home, choose a large room with a relaxed atmosphere that will allow your dog plenty of space to run away if they want to. Don’t give treats or toys during the first meeting either, your dog may get excited and snatch, which may frighten your child and get the relationship off on the wrong foot. Never leave puppies and children alone either, no matter how kind or tolerant your dog may be.

girl hugging a dog

Benefits of looking after a dog

There are so many benefits to dog ownership and looking after one can have lifelong advantages for your child and can teach many valuable lessons. Some of the key benefits are:

  • Looking after a puppy helps children learn responsibility 
  • Caring for dogs increases empathy and helps your child to understand the cycle of life
  • Having a puppy also provides plenty of opportunities for exercise and fun
     

How to introduce a dog to a baby

If you’ve recently had a new-born, you may be wondering how to introduce a dog to a baby safely. It’s much easier if you have a dog that’s a little bit older, as puppies have less impulse control and require much more dedication and with a new baby, it’s likely you won’t have enough time to care for both. Ideally, your dog should know basic obedience commands and understand that no means no. This will be invaluable when getting your dog used to your new baby.

When considering how to introduce a puppy to a baby, it’s important to remember it’ll be a huge change for your pooch. You might need to get them used to a new routine that’s centred around caring for your baby and they’ll need to get used to other objects, such as walking with a pram and understanding that the baby’s toys don’t belong to them. On the whole, try not to treat your puppy any differently, they won’t understand the sudden shift in your behaviour and this could cause behavioural problems. 

Whenever your dog approaches your baby calmly and gently, reward them with plenty of fuss and praise. It’s also a good idea to install baby gates in your home, these are much more effective than shut doors as your dog will still be able to see what’s going on, thus removing some of their anxiety. When you’re busy with your baby, keep your dog busy with toys, also ensure to exercise your dog lots to avoid frustration and boredom. If you’re not able to dedicate enough time to exercise, hire a dog walker or enlist the help of a family member.

That’s our guide for introducing dogs or puppies and children. Want to find out more about getting a new dog? Take a look at our content hub, full of useful information for helping your new pup settle in.