Bringing together dogs and kids has its own special rewards and challenges. My dogs weren’t raised around kids, so I was a little nervous when we brought home Jack. Fortunately, the dogs have adapted fairly well to having a baby in the house. Now that Jack is crawling, and almost walking, it is a whole different ball game. My dogs have two different reactions to anything fast moving and noisy (aka Jack). Rusty gets scared, and Torchy’s herding instincts kick in. The first time Jack crawled toward Rusty, I swear Rusty’s life flashed before his eyes. So, we have been working with both dogs on calm behavior when Jack is crawling around the house. We have also been working with Jack on being gentle with the dogs. It is definitely a work in progress.
Rusty and Torchy in a down stay while Jack removes gets out all of his toys.
Here are my rules of thumb when the dogs and Jack are in the room together:
- Watch the dogs’ body language
- Keep it positive
- Set clear boundaries
- Give the dogs an exit
- Give myself a break
Signs of stress in dogs can be as subtle as lip licking or a slight freeze, or it can be obvious like a growl or a snap. Subtle signs precede the more obvious signs in behaviorally healthy dogs. When Jack first started crawling, he was headed for a toy, and Rusty was in his path. As Jack crawled, Rusty’s eyes dilated, and he froze momentarily. I saw the behavior and picked up Jack, which allowed Rusty make a safe exit. I want the dogs to learn to leave any situation where they are uncomfortable. When the dogs are out with Jack, I have to keep an eye on what their body language is telling me. If it looks like the dogs are stressed or overly excited than I have to stop and switch tactics. That might mean moving the dogs to a different area, switching to an activity Jack can participate in, or breaking out some higher value treats. (If your dog growls at anyone, especially your child, seek help from a certified trainer or talk to your veterinarian).
Jack being Jack. Seriously, he is like a mini tornado.
From the day we brought him home from the hospital, Jack’s presence has been paired with the dogs’ favorite things. Treats are always nearby, and whenever I can, I include Jack for Frisbee games and walks. I also actively prevent Jack from accidentally hurting or scaring the dogs. Yes, that involves me pretty much following him all over the house if the dogs are nearby. Recently Jack has started wanting to pet the dogs. He is only allowed to touch the dogs if I am helping him so that we practice gentle touches (open flat hand, preferably with only two fingers) and only if the dogs come to him. There is no chasing of the dogs.
Setting boundaries is a little trickier, but by having them in place now, I am hoping we are laying the foundation for happy boy/dog relationships. Of course Jack is too young to understand any kind of actual rules, but they are still there. Right now we are focusing on using gentle touches to pet the dogs (and the cats).
Kit Kat is much more tolerant of Jack's attention then the dogs. She is rewarded well with treats for her patience.
Rusty and Torchy have their own rules to follow, they both have to be calm and have all four feet on the floor if Jack is nearby. They also have to respond to me when I give them commands. I always make sure the dogs have an exit so they can move away from Jack if he gets to be too much for them. That may be leaving the room, or it may be getting up on the couch while I redirect Jack’s interest to a toy or other activity.
Rusty and Torchy waiting for Jack and I to come out and P-L-A-Y (the dogs know the word so we have to spell it or they get too excited).
I love my dogs and I want to have them out in the house. Right now though, if they are out with Jack I am right there the whole time. It can be exhausting. We all have to be having fun or we stop and take a break. The dogs can go outside for a while or hang out in another room with a peanut butter stuffed Kong. When Jack naps, the dogs can relax a bit with me. Some days are easier than others but we are slowly learning to navigate the world with two active dogs and an almost toddler.
Stephanie and her family moved to Indianapolis from Texas in 2015. She and her husband John have been happily married since 2010. They have a one year old son named Jack. They share their home with two dogs, Torchy and Rusty, and two cats, Timmy and Kit Kat. Stephanie has a BS in Animal Behavior from Southwestern University and a DVM from Texas A&M University. She is an associate veterinarian at VCA Animal Hospital o f Plainfield and has a special interest in veterinary behavior. Stephanie is passionate about being a wife, a mom, and a veterinarian. She loves spending time playing with her son, cooking with her husband, training and playing with their two dogs, and snuggling with her cats on the couch. When taking time for herself, she enjoys yoga, running, reading, and the occasional massage . The views expressed in this article are Stephanie's and do not necessarily reflect the views of her employer.