What Adopted Dogs Wish People Knew: Tips for a Family with Children

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Many of our shelter dogs are adopted into homes with young children or expecting parents. But often times, adopting families are unaware of how the presence of children can affect how a dog adapts to his or her new environment. Of course, the problems that can arise from this situation are entirely avoidable. Here are a few home management techniques that shelter staff can share with parents for improving safety around dogs and prevent common canine-human miscommunications:

  1. Adopt a dog who seems to enjoy the company of children. The shelter staff can direct you towards a dog who seems to like children. They also often have anecdotal information about a dog’s interactions or relationships with children from their previous owners in the case that a dog was surrendered. Our Match-Up II Behavior Evaluation also has a subtest that explores a dog’s reaction to a toddler doll, which can help the shelter staff understand how that dog may respond to a young child in the home.
  2. Create a home that is safe for your children and your dog . There is downtime and then there is playtime. The dog needs a quiet place to stay away from the children when needed.
    • Use a crate or gates to create stress-free zones for the dog.
    • When interacting with children, the dog should always have two escape routes.
    • Avoid cornering the dog.
    • Make sure that the dog can move away if he chooses to.
  3. Always supervise when your child interacts with the dog and intervene if necessary. Being in the same room does not always mean supervision! The intention of the child might be to be nice to the dog, but the dog might not tolerate it.
    • Learn to read your dog’s stress signals and body language. Intervene when you see the dog:
      • cowering
      • licking her lips when no food nearby
      • panting when not hot or thirsty
      • moving in slow motion, walking slowly
      • acting sleepy and yawing when not tired
      • suddenly not eating
      • moving away, looking away
      • pacing
      • hyper-vigilant, looking in many directions
  4. Teach the children how to interact with the dog. Always invite the dog to approach instead of approaching the dog. Guide the child when touching a dog. Never allow the child to chase or be chased by the dog. No wrestling with the dog. Hugging the dog might not be something that the dog likes.
  5. Teach the dog obedience. It’s important that you teach your dog basic manners like come, sit, down, stay, leave-it, walk on a loose leash, and name recognition to build a communication bridge between you and your dog. Enroll the dog in a dog training class. Most of the shelters offer or would refer you to a place that can help you train your dog. The key to safety around dogs is prevention. Be proactive. Educate your child and supervise your child’s interaction with your family dog. Read your dog and help him get out of situations that he cannot control.