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Toddlers and Dogs
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Advice about Pets >
Toddlers and Dogs
I want my 2-year old daughter to grow up with a love of animals
I do want her to be safe around them and not to walk up to strange or
My daughter loves dogs and so we have had to help her be informed about
them. We never get close to a dog without asking the dog's person first.
Then start by letting the dog sniff her hand, then moving on to patting.
Dog owners are very helpful by either saying yes, or not today or this dog
isn't friendly to kids so it is better to just look. We have started
studying and explaining dog body language. If a dog looks interested in us
(or wants to be left alone), what is friendly, energetic, scared,
unfriendly dog body language. It has deepened her interest, understanding
and compassion for these animals.
I would like to put in a word in favor of dogs interacting with
toddlers, with the caveat that, of course, it depends on the individual dog.
We have a lab and a toddler, and I have been delighted with the lessons and
love my son has learned from the dog. He has learned how to pet him gently,
how to hug the dog and generally how to have fun with him. Most importantly,
he has learned not to be afraid of animals, but at the same time to give
them their space and treat them respectfully. Labs are, as a rule, great
with kids. My dog will let my son pull at his mouth and tail (believe me,
not something I encourage, but I caught him doing it) without doing
anything, or, if it really gets bad, giving a gentle warning growl. It warns
the kid away, without scaring or hurting him. The dog also seems to protect
my son, looking on with suspicion when someone strange picks the baby up
until I tell him its ok. Dogs are used to dealing with puppies and small
things, and seem to have an inate sense of when to look out for the little
ones. Yes, the dog has knocked my son down a few times as they rush
around the house in opposite directions, but never intentionally or in a
way that hurt him. I generally think that new walkers are going to get
bumped and fall over occasionally, and as long as he doesn't seem hurt
or in any danger I don't worry about it. And it is amazing how quickly my
son has learned to stand still when the dog is rushing in or outside and let
the dog go by before going on his way. (When he does that, the dog just
goes around him) So, to sum up this long winded response, as long as
you have generally friendly dogs, and it sounds like you do (don't they
already have a baby in the house?) , I think the lessons learned and the
love from the pets far outweighs any problems. Obviously, some kids will be
scared of animals no matter what you do, but if you can teach your kids early
to love and respect animals, I think it will serve them well.
Toddler Hitting Puppy
Our 2 3/4 yr. old son has just started hitting our puppy and chasing and
harrassing our cats (immitating the worst behaviours of the puppy). He is
on his own initiative making the big change from diapers to potty, and I
heard that some regression is to be expected due to that.
I mentioned the hitting this morning to our daycare provider, and she said
he and his 3 y.r old best friend (also a boy) have started hitting each
other and her dog, as well as poking each other and the dog with sticks
(yuck). Our son also recently went through a phase of calling us names
like stupid and jerk. I personally find it easier to handle (ignore) the
verbal assaults. I would really appreciate reading about how other parents
have dealt with these problems.
We certainly do spend lots of time explaining to our son that the puppy
(who weighs more than our son already) is our responsibility, that pets are
to be taken care of and loved. We always stop him from hitting the pup and
chasing the cats. We sometimes put him on timeout for his actions, and
never hit him to discipline him. I am weary of having explained what is
acceptable over and over without seeing any change in his behaviour.
On name calling: we were told by other parents that using swearwords is
mostly done to get a reaction, and so we handled the name calling in the
way that was recommended for swearing. We told him that what he said was
mean and could hurt peoples' feelings and then we let it go.
This is a response to Laurie, who is concerned about her 2-3/4 yr. son who
is hitting, kicking, and name-calling.
You mentioned that you have been dealing with this by ignoring the
negative behavior. While there is some evidence that ignoring bad
behavior will eventually "extinguish" it, I found that this was not always
the case. Sometimes ignoring it had the opposite effect--i.e. the
negative behavior escalated.
I don't think there's a rule for how to deal with this--it depends on the
child. You might try to restrain your son when he is abusing pets or
other children and explain (calmly) that this is not an appropriate social
behavior. Encourage him to express anger verbally, but don't tolerate
verbal or physical abuse--and please don't ignore it. There are no
guarantees about the outcome, but I think it's important that he
understand that he shouldn't treat others this way. If you ignore him, he
will not necessarily know that it's because he is hitting the puppy (or
We took a hard line when our children were toddlers: no hitting or rough
play with our pets (we had two cats and one dog at the time). Toddlers
aren't too young to understand that animals have feelings, and also that
animals might retaliate if hurt or frightened. If I saw one of our
children hitting a pet, I'd immediately grab his or her hand, say no! very
forcefully, and move the child away from the pet. I'd explain that animals
feel pain, and that animals need to be treated gently. This needs to be
reinforced and--as with other disciplinary issues--be dealt with
We also never tolerated name calling by our children. Even though they are
too young to understand the meaning behind the words, they can get the
message that certain words should not be used (like stupid or jerk) with
their parents or with anyone else. If they say something they shouldn't
(and this is true today when our kids are 10 and 12), we make it very clear
that it's not to be said again. When they are toddlers, they know by tone
of voice (we used the strong, parental, deep-voice tone and said "No!" )
This would often reduce the child to tears, but we knew we got the point
across. We would then hug the child, and say something like "We love you,
but you can't talk like that...or can't hit the dog....making it clear what
our disciplinary tone was about. As they got older, time-outs worked. And
now, loss of privileges is effective in getting our point across. But we
never stop telling them how much we love them and what the reasons are for
My husband and I believe (and it seems to have worked) that once children
start walking and talking, even though they don't fully understand the
ramifications of what they're doing or the meaning or impact of what
they're saying, that they're not too young to start understanding "limits."
Through positive and negative feedback, and lots of love, they can learn to
respect their pets, playmates and Parents! It's not fun living with a
child who talks back, says naughty words, or who can't be trusted with a
beloved pet. And you also want him to start responding to your voice and
taking you seriously....because one day it may stop him from running into
the street and getting hit by a car!
A vary small child should never be left in the same room with a dog,
without having an adult in the same room paying close attention. No
matter how good natured the dog may be, the small child has no judgement
concerning dogs, and may do something that the dog cannot tolerate, like
pulling hard on his fur. The dog cannot be blamed for biting, and a bite
could be a serious matter.
this page was last updated: Apr 28, 2011
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