Toddlers and Dogs

Archived Q&A and Reviews



The value in toddlers interacting with dogs

I want my 2-year old daughter to grow up with a love of animals especially dogs. I do want her to be safe around them and not to walk up to strange or unknown dogs. thanks!

My daughter loves dogs and so we have had to help her be informed about them. We never get close to a dog without asking the dog's person first. Then start by letting the dog sniff her hand, then moving on to patting. Dog owners are very helpful by either saying yes, or not today or this dog isn't friendly to kids so it is better to just look. We have started studying and explaining dog body language. If a dog looks interested in us (or wants to be left alone), what is friendly, energetic, scared, unfriendly dog body language. It has deepened her interest, understanding and compassion for these animals.

I would like to put in a word in favor of dogs interacting with toddlers, with the caveat that, of course, it depends on the individual dog. We have a lab and a toddler, and I have been delighted with the lessons and love my son has learned from the dog. He has learned how to pet him gently, how to hug the dog and generally how to have fun with him. Most importantly, he has learned not to be afraid of animals, but at the same time to give them their space and treat them respectfully. Labs are, as a rule, great with kids. My dog will let my son pull at his mouth and tail (believe me, not something I encourage, but I caught him doing it) without doing anything, or, if it really gets bad, giving a gentle warning growl. It warns the kid away, without scaring or hurting him. The dog also seems to protect my son, looking on with suspicion when someone strange picks the baby up until I tell him its ok. Dogs are used to dealing with puppies and small things, and seem to have an inate sense of when to look out for the little ones. Yes, the dog has knocked my son down a few times as they rush around the house in opposite directions, but never intentionally or in a way that hurt him. I generally think that new walkers are going to get bumped and fall over occasionally, and as long as he doesn't seem hurt or in any danger I don't worry about it. And it is amazing how quickly my son has learned to stand still when the dog is rushing in or outside and let the dog go by before going on his way. (When he does that, the dog just goes around him) So, to sum up this long winded response, as long as you have generally friendly dogs, and it sounds like you do (don't they already have a baby in the house?) , I think the lessons learned and the love from the pets far outweighs any problems. Obviously, some kids will be scared of animals no matter what you do, but if you can teach your kids early to love and respect animals, I think it will serve them well.

Toddler Hitting Puppy

Our 2 3/4 yr. old son has just started hitting our puppy and chasing and harrassing our cats (immitating the worst behaviours of the puppy). He is on his own initiative making the big change from diapers to potty, and I heard that some regression is to be expected due to that.

I mentioned the hitting this morning to our daycare provider, and she said he and his 3 y.r old best friend (also a boy) have started hitting each other and her dog, as well as poking each other and the dog with sticks (yuck). Our son also recently went through a phase of calling us names like stupid and jerk. I personally find it easier to handle (ignore) the verbal assaults. I would really appreciate reading about how other parents have dealt with these problems.

We certainly do spend lots of time explaining to our son that the puppy (who weighs more than our son already) is our responsibility, that pets are to be taken care of and loved. We always stop him from hitting the pup and chasing the cats. We sometimes put him on timeout for his actions, and never hit him to discipline him. I am weary of having explained what is acceptable over and over without seeing any change in his behaviour. On name calling: we were told by other parents that using swearwords is mostly done to get a reaction, and so we handled the name calling in the way that was recommended for swearing. We told him that what he said was mean and could hurt peoples' feelings and then we let it go.

This is a response to Laurie, who is concerned about her 2-3/4 yr. son who is hitting, kicking, and name-calling.

You mentioned that you have been dealing with this by ignoring the negative behavior. While there is some evidence that ignoring bad behavior will eventually extinguish it, I found that this was not always the case. Sometimes ignoring it had the opposite effect--i.e. the negative behavior escalated.

I don't think there's a rule for how to deal with this--it depends on the child. You might try to restrain your son when he is abusing pets or other children and explain (calmly) that this is not an appropriate social behavior. Encourage him to express anger verbally, but don't tolerate verbal or physical abuse--and please don't ignore it. There are no guarantees about the outcome, but I think it's important that he understand that he shouldn't treat others this way. If you ignore him, he will not necessarily know that it's because he is hitting the puppy (or another child).

We took a hard line when our children were toddlers: no hitting or rough play with our pets (we had two cats and one dog at the time). Toddlers aren't too young to understand that animals have feelings, and also that animals might retaliate if hurt or frightened. If I saw one of our children hitting a pet, I'd immediately grab his or her hand, say no! very forcefully, and move the child away from the pet. I'd explain that animals feel pain, and that animals need to be treated gently. This needs to be reinforced and--as with other disciplinary issues--be dealt with consistently.

We also never tolerated name calling by our children. Even though they are too young to understand the meaning behind the words, they can get the message that certain words should not be used (like stupid or jerk) with their parents or with anyone else. If they say something they shouldn't (and this is true today when our kids are 10 and 12), we make it very clear that it's not to be said again. When they are toddlers, they know by tone of voice (we used the strong, parental, deep-voice tone and said No! ) This would often reduce the child to tears, but we knew we got the point across. We would then hug the child, and say something like We love you, but you can't talk like that...or can't hit the dog....making it clear what our disciplinary tone was about. As they got older, time-outs worked. And now, loss of privileges is effective in getting our point across. But we never stop telling them how much we love them and what the reasons are for our actions.

My husband and I believe (and it seems to have worked) that once children start walking and talking, even though they don't fully understand the ramifications of what they're doing or the meaning or impact of what they're saying, that they're not too young to start understanding limits. Through positive and negative feedback, and lots of love, they can learn to respect their pets, playmates and Parents! It's not fun living with a child who talks back, says naughty words, or who can't be trusted with a beloved pet. And you also want him to start responding to your voice and taking you seriously....because one day it may stop him from running into the street and getting hit by a car!

A vary small child should never be left in the same room with a dog, without having an adult in the same room paying close attention. No matter how good natured the dog may be, the small child has no judgement concerning dogs, and may do something that the dog cannot tolerate, like pulling hard on his fur. The dog cannot be blamed for biting, and a bite could be a serious matter.