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Kids and puppies: Rules, safety and responsibility

Laura Willard is a law school grad who has successfully avoided using her education for eight years and counting. She's a wife and an adoptive mom to two kids. Motherhood is the best job she never knew she wanted so much until she had it...

Happy kids, happy puppy

Many kids begin asking for their first puppy as soon as they can talk. Are you asking yourself whether you'd be crazy to add a puppy to your family? Kids and puppies can mix -- under the right circumstances. If you're ready for the commitment, keep reading to learn to how to have a happy and safe household for your children and your new pet.
Little girl with puppy

"Please Mom, can we pleeeease get a puppy?" Sound familiar? If you've really thought it through and decided to add a puppy to your family, remember there's more to it than simply picking out a cute pooch to bring home.

Colleen Safford, dog trainer and owner of the Doggy Doula and NY Walk & Train, knows a thing or two about kids and puppies and how to make it work. Follow her advice for a happy, safe home for your kids and your puppy.

Puppy duty: sharing the responsibilities

While you should most certainly encourage your kids to share in the puppy responsibilities, you shouldn't count on it -- meaning that if bringing a puppy into your family is contingent on your young kids fulfilling certain puppy care duties, you might want to wait a bit longer.

"Never get a puppy with the expectation that children will regularly share in this responsibility -- but do promote and encourage it as much as possible," advises Safford.

Should you get a dog before or after you have a baby? >>

Rules for handling Fido

"Generally speaking, young children should not pick up young puppies at all," says Safford. "Without the developed motor skills and the lack of impulse control, children can have moments of excitement that can lead to accidents." Safford says that a single accident --  a trip, tumble or dropped puppy -- could cause your newest best friend to negatively associate your kids with holding him. Instead, put the puppy on your kids' laps for short periods of calm, safe holding.

Avoid dog bites

Fifty percent of children will experience a dog bite by age 12, shares Safford. In fact, dog bites are the fifth most common reason for ER visits. Prevent your children from become statistics with these tips.

Set boundaries. Parents rely too much on their puppy's tolerance of children's overenthusiastic (sometimes overbearing) behavior, but Safford warns that at some point, even the "best" dog will have enough. "Instead of allowing children to grab, poke and prod young puppies, set boundaries for them," Safford says. Teach them appropriate behavior. Nobody wants to be flicked in the nose or have their ears pulled all day long, and this includes your new puppy.

Learn your puppy's stress signals. "There are approximately 30 signals that tell you a dog is stressed," Safford notes. "When a dog yawns, shakes (like he just got out of water) or licks his lips, the dog is telling you he is stressed." Watch your puppy and learn his cues, and make sure your kids do the same.

A parent's guide to dog bite prevention >>

Respect the growl. "Thank your dog if he growls!" exclaims Safford. "Growling is a sign of stress and anxiety. If a dog is punished for growling, this only escalates the situation and increases the chance that a dog will bite." Remember that if your puppy growls, he's telling you he's upset. "Take this information and use it to change your dog's association with the situation or to teach your child how to better handle a dog. Never punish a growl," Safford advises.

By following these tips and using common sense, you can have welcome a new puppy to your family -- and your kids and puppy can remain best friends.

Tell us: What is your best advice for helping your kids and puppy live in harmony?

More on kids and puppies

10 dog breeds for kids
Instructions for parents for introducing dogs to kids
New puppy: Including the kids in puppy training

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