Thank you Laura for your questions! 

Laura blogs at www.strollerparkingonly.com. She lives in Canada with her husband, her baby girl, and her rambunctious Labrador Retrie

I asked Jennifer to answer a few questions for me on the topic of creating a safe and happy home for the baby and the dog.

  1. What are the most common mistake parents make in terms of how they teach (or don’t teach) their kids to interact with their dogs?
  2. Recently, my dog has realized that when my daughter’s eating in her high chair, she generally has food on her hands.  He has started coming up and licking the food off her hands. She thinks this is hilarious and while it is really cute to watch, I have a feeling I shouldn’t be letting the dog do this. What do you recommend?
  3. My dog lives to chase balls. I know that as soon as my daughter is able to throw a ball, even if she can only throw it a few inches, the dog will want to retrieve it. How old should a child be before a parent should allow them to throw a ball for their dog?

  4. How do you teach a non-verbal baby not to grab the dog? 

What are the most common mistake parents make in terms of how they teach (or don’t teach) their kids to interact with their dogs?

Great question! Many parents encourage the child to interact or approach the family pet.  This is not a good idea.  If the dog or cat chooses to come over to a child or baby then teaching with “parent guided” touch is acceptable.  All too often I see parents wanting their child to “hug” or “kiss” their dog as it is cute but…. it is unsafe.  See my own home and hubby here.  I teach parents “invite decreases frights and bite.”  Toddlers who are unsteady often startle dogs.  Inviting the dog to you while you are holding your toddlers hand is a better and safer option.  Always allow your dog to “opt out” and choose to not engage if the child is there.  Dogs that are forced to interact with children that make them uncomfortable will become more stressed and that is not good and easily can lead to a bad outcome.

Recently, my dog has realized that when my daughter’s eating in her high chair, she generally has food on her hands.  He has started coming up and licking the food off her hands. She thinks this is hilarious and while it is really cute to watch, I have a feeling I shouldn’t be letting the dog do this. What do you recommend?

My dog lives to chase balls. I know that as soon as my daughter is able to throw a ball, even if she can only throw it a few inches, the dog will want to retrieve it. How old should a child be before a parent should allow them to throw a ball for their dog?

Yes, I remember this stage all too well!  I do not like dogs to “clean” babies in general but I also think your dog needs to not have free access to the source in this situation.  I would suggest that you use an indoor tether or have your dog go to their bed and enjoy a frozen or stuffed KONG toy while your baby eats.  Certainly once she is all done then you can invite your dog to “clean up” the floor once the chair is moved away and your daughter is no longer a temptation.  I even encourage using the hand signal “all done” so that the child and you can let the dog know …now they may clean up.  After all…. dogs do a better job even over a broom!

My dog lives to chase balls. I know that as soon as my daughter is able to throw a ball, even if she can only throw it a few inches, the dog will want to retrieve it. How old should a child be before a parent should allow them to throw a ball for their dog?

I love a toddler friendly fetch game. This is best with two adults if the dog is a really enthusiastic ball hound. 

I do it all the time in my consults and at home.  I have my toddler stand on a stool so she is higher and this is safer.  I stand next to her.   My husband has the dog on leash or long line.  He hands me the ball and I hand it to our daughter.  She then can throw it.  The dog gets it and brings it to my husband or me and then we hand it to our daughter again.  Now if your dog knows a “back” cue and sits well then you may not need the second handler.  There must be an adult with the toddler at all times in case the dog is over enthusiastic.  Again the height of the chair helps keep the child out of the dog’s reach and allows more throwing opportunity.  I will have to videotape a session of this.  Email info @ dogsandstorks.com for a handout on this.  The important thing here is NEVER should the child take the ball from the dog. 

How do you teach a non-verbal baby not to grab the dog? 

You can’t!  At least you can’t count on it at this stage. You proactively prevent! Grabbing is a normal phase and it is great to practice gentle touch with a stuffed animal but not so much with the real dog.  If you allow your daughter to pet your dog I suggest that you invite the dog over to you and have your daughter sit on your lap.  You can then put your hand over her hand to pet the dog making sure she is unable to grab.  Parent “guided touch” is the only way young babies or toddlers should interact with a dog or cat.  When they are at this stage you must be diligent about management.  Although her verbal skills are coming and she understands you well her gross motor skills are making your dog uneasy for sure.  This is one of the reasons I suggest parents invite the dog over to them vs. they going to the dog.  Unsteady toddlers make many dogs uneasy.  Dogs rely on body language and predictability.  Inviting the dog over to you gives him the option to “opt out” of the interaction.  If you notice your dog-avoiding coming to you when your toddler is near it may be due to discomfort.  Don’t force him to come over.  I remember as a kid being forced to hug relatives even if I was uncomfortable…I hated it and it made me avoid them.  Dogs often feel the same if they are not comfortable with children.  Respect your dog’s comfort level and make interaction positive and short.   Active supervision is a must.   I invite all parents to learn more about dog body language and how they communicate so that you can increase safety and fun for all!

Thank you again for great questions and I look forward to more!  🙂