Dogs and children do best when put into situations and environments that naturally support success. Inclusive activities build strong and appropriate relationships. In other words, doing fun things together is crucial.
The golden rule of Family Time is that if everyone feels safe and comfortable (dog, child, parent), you are doing it right! If someone is not having fun, or feels uncomfortable, then stop the situation and make a change.
Adults should ask,
1) “Is the dog comfortable?”
2) “Is the child comfortable?”
3) “Is the situation stable (unlikely to change suddenly)?”
If the answer is yes to all three questions, great. Keep it up, and have fun! If not, add a barrier, change your approach, or end the interaction.
- Teach dogs to enjoy children
- Teach dogs to trust that adults will protect them
- Teach children to enjoy dogs
- Teach children to trust that adults will protect them
- Teach children empathy and to think about how others (people and animals) are feeling
- Create boundaries and limits (for both child and dog)
- Produce structure and routine which can build confidence and trust (for both child and dog)
- Create healthy habits that reduce risks when a child interacts with all dogs
- Provides physical and mental exercise to both dog and child
This is a neither a comprehensive list, nor is every activity appropriate for all dogs or children. Rather, the resources below are intended to inspire you and get you thinking about what might be a good fit for the unique needs of your family. Seek professional guidance as needed, and always provide 100% adult, awake, and attentive supervision of young children and dogs.
- Body Language Resource Page
- Parker and the Baby video example: youtu.be/mWI0GXToxyM
- Recognizing Tolerance vs Enjoyment: www.dogcharming.com.au/blog/the-saga-of-measuring-a-dog-for-a-muzzle-tolerating-vs-enjoying-handling
- Treasure Hunting: A versatile game with many possible adaptations. Check out the video for more details and step-by-step instructions.
- 1-2-3 Game: A simple and easy concept with many adaptations. This may not be appropriate for all dogs, or use a barrier to help everyone be successful. https://youtu.be/xuWqNxYhW90
- Tubes and Gates: Perfect for early toddlers, preschoolers, and even older children: prettygooddog.com/tubes/
- Bucket-o-Fetch: Fetch is a great game for many dogs. Try including children by using a bucket or basket of balls or toys. The child holds still and throws toys, one after another, so there is never a need for the child to try to take a toy back from the dog. When the bucket is empty, it’s the dog’s turn to hold still while the child runs around to collect the discarded toys.
- Mind your Manners: Something as simple as practicing basic tricks (sit, down, come) when kids are around can be wonderful. Not only are you practicing useful skills with your dog, you are also building confidence. Older children can help teach new tricks, while younger kids can practice skills the dog has already mastered. Use positive reinforcement-based training methods (no punishment, collar corrections, or scolding allowed).
- Teach a New Trick: School-aged children often make better dog trainers than adults. Here are some kids in action: https://youtu.be/ImSobs9v4hM. Check out resources like the Family Dog (https://www.thefamilydog.com), Good Dog in a Box company (https://www.gooddoginabox.com/), and how-to videos from Emily Larlham (https://www.youtube.com/user/kikopup) for inspiration.
- Muffin Tin Game: Have children help hide the treats and place the balls while the dog holds still. Then the child holds still while the dog works on the puzzle. https://youtu.be/WjX2oVE_sB0.
- Puzzle Toys: There are a wide variety of puzzle toys that children can help fill for a dog. Puzzle toys are also a great way to allow for parallel play – where a dog works on a puzzle in one area while a child plays nearby (but behind a gate or at a safe distance). Kongs are one simple example. Nina Ottosson toy example: https://youtu.be/3wVgbzOT-3U
- Build a Plastic Bottle Puzzle Toy together: Or make your own Plastic Bottle Dog Treat Puzzle Toy by Fixed1t Rescue Dogs: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
More Inclusive Activities:
- Just Chillin’: Arrange furniture or position yourself strategically between dog and child such that the dog can lay down and rest and a child can play nearby. Reward the dog periodically (with praise, petting, play, or food) for remaining calm and relaxed.
- Family Meals: Particularly while children are using a highchair, meals can be a great time for dogs to learn to love kids. Train your dog to lay nearby on a mat or dog bed. Reward your dog for calm and relaxed behavior. If you are comfortable doing so, you can release them to “clean up” any crumbs that make it to the floor. Use a tether at first (or always) if your dog needs help staying still and in their spot.
- Take a Hike! If you and your dog enjoy the great outdoors, family walks can be an amazing family bonding time. Strollers or baby carriers can provide a level of confinement for your child, making it easier to juggle everyone as you venture out. Never tie a leash to a stroller, and fixed-length leashes are perfect. Extendable ‘flexi-style’ leashes create safety risks and are to be avoided when kids are involved.
Petting, cuddling, and meeting/greeting:
- Invited Interactions: Asking for consent before and during petting reduces risks and promotes strong relationships. prettygooddog.com/invited-interactions/
- Guided Touch: A version of Invited Interactions appropriate for young children. prettygooddog.com/guided-touch/
- Pat Pet Pause: A video for kids and adults on how to interact with dogs by The Family Dog – https://youtu.be/VPEwHhXF6pU
- How Kids Should Meet Dogs Video: https://youtu.be/ulHrRKvZtdk
- Be-A-Tree Program dog safety program from Doggone Safe: http://www.doggonesafe.com/Dog_Safety_for_Kids
- 5 types of Supervision handout: prettygooddog.com/supervision/
- Safe Dog Bite Prevention Program from Good Dog in a Box: https://www.gooddoginabox.com/safe-dog-bite-prevention-program/
- Stop the 77 dog safety program: http://stopthe77.com