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How to introduce pets to your children

Colleen Pelar, CPDT, CDBC, author of Living with Kids and Dogs...Without Losing Your Mind, is America's Kids and Canines Coach. Colleen has more than 15 years' experience as the go-to person for parents trying to navigate kid-and-dog iss...

A new dog with old kids

Getting a new family pet can be exciting. But, it's important to introduce your kids to your new family member slowly so that everyone can get along and play nice.

Dog and Kids

My three sons have been raised with dogs and have attended more bite-prevention events than they care to remember. They know how to be respectful and kind to dogs, so they've been a little puzzled by some of the rules I've set in place to help our furry family member adjust to living in our home.

Supervision

It's hard to train an adopted pet or new puppy. However, the hard work will pay off in the long run. No one likes to clean up accidents or have household items chewed up. The first few days after adopting a new pet keep, him very close and use his leash to tether him to you. Once you feel confident that he is reliably eliminating outdoors and not prone to chewing up random objects, begin to offer more freedom. This means that instead of keeping him in your site at all times, follow him each time he moves from room to room.

More freedom for him will mean less for you. But giving him room to explore while still supervising his every move ensures that he won't get into anything he shouldn't. If you're unable to watch him all the time, ask another family member to do so. If your kids are taking over, be sure they know that if he has an accident or chews something on their watch, they'll be doing the cleanup.

Quieter play

Older dogs tend to be unflappable. They can tolerate kids screaming and chasing each other around the house. Younger dogs, on the other hand, need some time to adjust to living with several people. They need to learn that kids can be loud without being scary. It's also important to teach your kids to modulate their play; even if it takes some reminding. They should be aware that the pup won't mean to hurt them, but might have a tendencey to bark or act up if they unintentionally frighten him. The goal is to have a dog that loves kids and is unfazed by their antics, so it's worth toning things down a bit for the short term.

Time out

Every now and then, Edzo, our family puppy, wanders into his crate, lies down on his cozy bed, and takes a nap. I am happy to see him choosing downtime on his own. I love when dogs learn to self-regulate their arousal levels. At times, you should put your dog into his crate and close the door for an hour or so. It's really important that new dogs be given some downtime to rest up and be ready to have more new experiences when they wake.

Keep in mind that everything in your household is new to the dog and that if the dog has never lived with kids, he'll be introduced to some behavior he's never seen before. When's the last time you invited adult guests over to play hide and seek or to build a fort out of couch cushions in the living room? Kids are different. Dogs can adapt well to change, but it's important to give them a balance of busy and quiet periods.

Meeting friends

Your kids will be excited to have their friends meet their new family member. At first, you should be present when other kids meet the new puppy, in order to orchestrate the introductions. You'll want to be sure that your new dog doesn't jump on anyone and that the kids learn the proper way to meet a dog.

I encourage children to let the dog sniff their hand and then to pet the dog gently under the chin or on the neck, but never on top of the head. It's natural for people to reach over a dog's head to pat him, but it's very disconcerting for the dog to have someone reaching toward his blind spot. I seize every chance to teach kids how to make dogs like them, and meeting friends for the first time is a prime opportunity.

Your pet is sure to fit in beautifully with our family if you insist that you all take the time to ease him into your routines and to help him adapt to a busy household. A little advance planning and extra effort on a parent's part can go a long way to having a dog that loves kids.

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