Welcoming a new furry family member is a very exciting time! For families with small children, you’ll want to make sure the introductions and settling in period go as smoothly as possible so your new pup feels confident and happy in their new pad.
Young children and puppies have a lot in common (excitement, curiosity, not to mention endless amounts of energy!). When introduced in the right way, this helps to set the foundations of a great relationship with their new canine companion.
The pet wellness experts at Itch Pet have put together a handy guide on introducing a new puppy to a child, to help you get their relationship off to the best possible start.
When should you introduce your puppy to your child?
Most puppies go through an important period of development when they’re between 2 and 4 months old. This is when they’re more likely to adjust well to different people and environments.
Socialising your puppy at this age should increase the chance of them feeling comfortable around small children fairly quickly, but it’s worth noting that many vets recommend waiting around a week after vaccinations before any public walkies and mingling.
Set Boundaries with Your Child
For a young puppy, small children can be an intimidating whirlwind – they make sudden movements, unexpected loud noises and don’t really get the concept of personal space (are we right, parents?). That said, with the right guidance and giving your child lots of praise for interacting with your pup in a calm manner, your puppy can rapidly develop a positive bond with your little one. In the lead up to the first meeting between your child and new pup, it’s a great idea to sit down with your child and explain to them how they can help to make your new puppy feel as happy in their new home as possible.
Try to cover off the following points:
· Ask them to try and speak in quiet voices when they’re around your new pooch. Try to explain that loud or unexpected noises may frighten your new puppy.
· Encourage gentle handling, and teach your child not to be too rough when interacting with your pup. Instead, show them how to very softly pet the dog and where your puppy might like to be stroked. They could even practice on a soft toy.
· Tell them where the dog’s safe place is. Your child is used to having run of the home, but there are now some places – like your puppy’s crate – where they should be told to leave your new family member in peace, so there’s always somewhere your puppy can retreat to.
· Your child may want to play with your new dog before your pup is fully ready. We know puppies are irresistable, but try to encourage your child to be patient. If they can hold off until your dog is ready, your puppy will be much happier for it!
How to Prepare Your Home for a New Puppy
There’s also a handful of things you can do to make your home extra welcoming for a new puppy. While it may sound silly, it’s a good idea to sit on the floor so you can spot any hazards down at puppy level, and block up any gaps behind appliances or under cupboards that they might be able to nose their way into.
If you’re going to use a puppy crate, make sure it’s fully kitted out with a comfortable bed, and placed somewhere that’s not draughty or cold. Keeping it in a social area like the lounge or kitchen may help them to adapt to human background noise too.
Check Your Puppy’s Body Language
Your puppy will soon let you know if they’re not happy through their body language, so understanding these visual cues is key. Here are some common body language signals which are handy to know:
– Tail position. While a wagging tail can sometimes be a result of joy or excitement, a tail that’s wagging too fast can also be a sign of alertness – for example, if they feel they may be in danger.
– Body posture. You can tell a lot about a dog’s mood from their posture. If they’re leaning with their chin to the ground, and their bum in the air, they’re feeling playful and friendly, while a cowering dog hunched forward is usually quite unhappy.
– The position of their ears. Ears that are tilted upwards often signal curiosity, while relaxed ears can mean your dog is calm. Contrastingly, ears that are flattened down may be a sign of fear or aggression.
– Raised hackles. Also known as piloerection, raised hackles literally mean that your dog’s hair is standing on end. This can be a response to stress or fear, but also excitement.
– Yawning, or licking their lips. Both of these habits are a way of coping with nervousness, and can be a telltale sign that your dog is anxious or stressed.
Tips for Introducing Your Puppy to Your Child for the First Time
This is the exciting bit – puppy coming home time! Here are our top tips for making the introductions go as smoothly as possible, for everyone in the family:
1. Introduce them in an open space.
We recommend choosing an airy space in the centre of a room for the first hellos so your dog doesn’t feel cornered, and can easily walk away if they get anxious.
2. Approach you pup slowly and quietly.
Encourage your child to approach your puppy from the side, slowly and calmly. Once they’re close, let your dog come the rest of the way in their own time. They may want to have a sniff and get used to their smell.
3. Ask your child to hold out their hand.
Your child can slowly hold out the back of their hand for your puppy to investigate – this will also keep their fingers safe from being nibbled by a curious pup.
4. Time for some gentle stroking.
If things are going well at this point, you can invite your little one to gently stroke the puppy around their head or under their chin. Make sure they avoid any vulnerable areas to start with, like the tummy, ears and tail. Keep an eye on your pup’s body language to make sure they’re enjoying the fussing!
5. Don’t leave your child unsupervised with your puppy
We recommend supervising your puppy and your child whenever you can in the long run, but it’s especially important for these first few meetings when they’re getting to know each other. Having a person around that your puppy is already familiar with (you), means they’re more likely to stay calm throughout the interaction, and your child will be able to ask you questions if they’re unsure too.
When can you start using commands and training techniques?
Puppies have very short attention spans, and generally you’ll want to wait until they’re settled in your home and used to everyone in your family before you start to train them properly.
At 7 to 8 Weeks
You can start to socialise your puppy at 7 to 8 weeks, providing they’ve been vaccinated at least 7 days prior. They might also be able to understand simple commands like ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ at this age, especially if you incentivise them with tasty treats!
At 10 to 12 Weeks
At this point, you can introduce the lead or a harness if you’re planning to use one. Let them wear it around the house before you take them for a walk, and show your child how to hold it safely without pulling too hard.
At 12 to 16 Weeks
Your puppy should have developed slightly better bladder and bowel control by this age, and learned to communicate when they need to go.
At 4 to 6 Months
After this point, you may be able to start implementing some more complex commands like ‘heel’ or ‘roll over.’ They should also be able to manage slightly longer walks, and begin to feel more comfortable around other dogs and children. Early socialisation is key!
At 6 Months and Over
At 6 months old, your puppy should ideally be house trained and understand a handful of basic commands, but every dog is different. Get your child involved with the routine of walks and feeding, and encourage them to keep spending time together to help build their bond.
For more expert tips on caring for a new puppy, head over to the Puppy Life section of our website.How to Introduce a Puppy to a Child – Top Tips from the experts Click To Tweet