How to Teach Toddlers to Pet Dogs?

By Christopher Quinn – a former U.S. Army Medic and current dog enthusiast who has been writing for several years now, covering nearly any dog-related topic you can imagine.

He’s the loving father of two very rambunctious pups of his own, a 9.5-year-old Jack Russell Terrier/Border Collie mix and a 3-year-old Beagle. Chris has worked with countless dogs in his lifetime, focusing on agility training and his overall passion- behavioral rehabilitation.

How many times have you heard of the importance of socializing dogs with children?

Most of us have been told how important it is to teach our dogs to act appropriately around kids, but this is a double-edged sword.

Knowing how to teach toddlers to pet dogs is just as important!

At first, our toddlers might think the family dog is just like them. Stomping doesn’t really hurt because they are wearing shoes! What are tails for, if not to be pulled?

Young children wouldn’t understand these things can be very uncomfortable, sometimes even painful. It’s up to you to teach toddlers to pet dogs the right way!

You have a dog, and you have a toddler. For whatever reason, they haven’t interacted much before today. Perhaps you want to know how to teach toddlers to pet dogs the best way and have simply waited until now to begin.

Socialization is Key to Happy Encounters!

Socialization, both for your own child and your dog, is really the key you’re looking for here! Teach both parties that the other means good things for them, and is a pleasure to be around. Associate rewards and praise.

What Could Go Wrong?

Even if you socialize your dog well, young children sometimes can have trouble understanding appropriate physical contact.

Toddlers might have trouble understanding boundaries, which is natural. This is human nature, and we can’t fault our children for their mistakes if we don’t teach them better.

Please make sure your toddler knows appropriate behavior.

It isn’t fair to ask our dogs to put up with abuse because our children don’t know any better.

At the earliest age, you can begin to teach the fundamentals of respecting animals and their boundaries.

Our dogs aren’t infallible either and don’t always understand humans can be vulnerable in ways that dogs aren’t. No matter how well trained or perfect we want to think our dogs are, they are still dogs and react instinctively.

It’s important for every parent to be aware of this.

Author’s Story

I remember a story about a friend’s young daughter that applies to this situation.

This girl couldn’t have been more than six at the time, possibly younger.

This mother and daughter had been at a friend’s house for whatever reason. The little girl did something innocent to the friend’s sleeping Labrador, though I can’t remember exactly what. She may have simply tried to pet the dog while it was sleeping or screamed for some reason.

The Labrador, startled out of her slumber, instinctively bit the little girl’s face. The girl was rushed to the hospital, requiring stitches and then minor surgery to prevent facial scarring.

Now, that Labrador was a friendly dog! She was socialized as well as any could be, and absolutely loved kids.

However, jolted from sleep like that, she reacted without thinking.

Had she been alert, she never would have bitten that little girl.

This example should remind parents to always be cautious around young children and dogs!

This should also remind us to teach our children not to get too close to a dog’s face.

You probably want to know what happened! The little girl healed just fine, though she is more cautious around animals now.

Her mother understood what happened and didn’t blame the Labrador, who in turn wasn’t punished for her accident. Her owner was probably more cautious after that.

After all, it was a natural response and could have happened to anyone.

Teach Your Toddler to Keep His Face Away

If this little girl hadn’t had her face so close to the Labrador’s, she wouldn’t have been bitten in such a vital area.

It’s easy for us to forget this rule sometimes, but it’s important that we try to be ever vigilant when we teach toddlers to pet dogs.

Teach Your Toddler the Importance of Being Gentle

Have you ever noticed how young puppies will ‘mouth’ everything? They experience the world through their mouths like we do with our hands. This is natural!

Important Rules of Thumb:

  • Don’t pull your dog’s ears.
  • Don’t pull your dog’s tail.
  • Don’t grab your dog’s fur.
  • Don’t stomp on your dog’s paws.
  • Don’t sit or ride on your dog.
  • There is no bouncing on the dog.
  • Don’t hit or kick the dog!

Teach Bite Inhibition

A dog’s ability to control his bite pressure, or mouthing force, is called bite inhibition.

If they continue to nip, stop the play session immediately. If you’ve been training your puppy to sit, you might also redirect them by asking them to sit and rewarding with a toy.

This has probably happened to almost any dog owner who has raised a puppy, and isn’t hard to imagine!

Many dogs might not realize a toddler isn’t like a grown adult when it comes to discomfort, and accidents can happen when the two are playing. Ideally, your dog should learn to avoid human skin altogether.

Always Supervise!

Do you know how to cope with a dog that bites a child? There really is only one way, and it might not be what you are thinking.

Prevent this from happening in the first place!

No matter how gentle or calm a dog might seem, young toddlers need to always be supervised around them. If you can’t supervise, simply separate toddler and dog. This might seem harsh, but it is for the protection of both parties.

Adults should personally welcome interactions between toddlers and dogs. If there isn’t any adult around to welcome these interactions, they shouldn’t be happening.

Management of interactions and consistent, full adult supervision are both critical when ensuring great interactions every time!

Keep Food Separate!

You’ll want to get into the habit of keeping your dog’s food bowls on your kitchen counter now, before your baby becomes mobile. A young toddler isn’t going to understand boundaries or the concept of resource guarding right away.

  • Teach your toddler to leave the family dog alone while he is sleeping or eating.

Snatching handfuls of your pup’s food could cause resource guarding problems.

Photo: Berkay.


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