Many people believe their dog “Loves all kids” and make this generalization. This, in fact, is usually far from the real experience of the dog. Dogs that accept older children
(like in photo left) might not feel comfortable with unsteady toddlers.
The unpredictability of toddlers may make dogs uneasy. The frequency of child visits and exposure to a dog also impacts how strong the bond is in that particular child and dog relationship.
Dogs do not generalize kids as a group but rather dogs measure each encounter with each individual child. Our job as adults, is to make a child-dog encounter a positive one and begin each encounter as if new every time.
We also must consider the comfort level of each individual child.
Is the child comfortable with dogs? If not, then an introduction creates stress right away.
Does the child have dogs at home? That can cause a reaction from a dog when the child visits. The dog may be very curious about all the scents the child brings with them. Dogs love sniffing people all over when they smell like other interesting dogs.
Children have the right to say, “No” to meeting, touching or engaging with a dog. When a child does not want to meet a dog, then dog management at a distance is a priority. This is an opportunity for the dog to stay at a success station such as outside space, another room, behind a barrier. This is the perfect opportunity to allow your dog a yummy frozen goodie to enjoy while in their success station away from the kids.
Dogs also have the right to say, “No” to a child visit. Dogs do this through their body language. Turning away, Whale eye, licking lips and many other subtle signals may indicate they are not interested in interaction. When a dog shows stress signs as a child visits, the dog needs a way out such as a path to retreat. Praising the dog for choosing to leave will reinforce a safe retreat when needed.
Dogs and children have different comfort levels with each new person and animal they encounter. We must listen and respect what they communicate with us.