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How to introduce your puppy to children, friends and family

Because life's always better when the pack gets along

Written by Paws

May 2, 2019

Your puppy is the newest and cutest member of your family. So it’s important that they get along with everyone in your inner circle, from your two-year-old toddler to your neighbour across the way.

For this, there's no better place to start than with the first introduction!

These initial interactions provide the perfect opportunity to lay down some important ground rules, for both your puppy and the people you’re introducing them to. They’re also the time to take action against any social fears or phobias from forming in the future.

To ensure these meet-and-greets go off without a hitch, a growl or a grumble, you’ll need to be prepared. So to help get you there, Paws vet Steph has compiled this list of top tips for introducing your puppy to your children, friends and family.

The basics

1. Create a safe haven for your puppy

Introductions can be nerve-racking stuff. For this reason, you should have a designated ‘safe space’ in your house where your pup can retreat to if things become too much. This could be a crate, a dog bed or even just a blanket bundled up on the floor. Whatever it is, just make sure all the humans in the house (especially any little ones) understand that this space is off-limits.

2. Always discourage jumping

The behaviour your dog learns as a puppy is the behaviour they’ll keep as an adult. So to prevent your four-legged friend from growing into a serial jumper, you’re going to need to deter this rowdy behaviour from day one - especially if you’ve got young children in your home.

The best way to do this is with positive reinforcement. And what does this mean exactly? It means rewarding the good and ignoring the bad. When your puppy jumps up, step back and don’t give them any attention until they’re back on all fours.

If you think it will help, you can also try offering your puppy an alternative outlet for their excitement like a quick game of fetch.

3. Ask all the humans to play it cool

When introducing your pup to new people (especially young ones), ask them to wait patiently for your puppy to come to them. Rushing in or leaning over young puppies can cause them to jump up and nip with excitement.

Introducing your puppy to babies and toddlers

Even if your puppy has experience being around babies or small toddlers, it’s important that you treat all new introductions like a blank canvas. Learning to be around infants is an ongoing task in your pup’s socialisation and will play a critical role in how they cope around all little people in the future.

  1. Get the training basics locked down If there’s time, try to have your puppy master the training basics like sit, stay, and down before moving onto any introductions with babies.

  2. Prep your pup with baby sound clips In the lead up meeting a new baby or toddler, play audio clips of babies crying or babbling (like this one here) to help get your pawed pal used to the sound of being around little humans.

  3. Make sure your puppy is settled before any introductions Before letting your puppy near any babies or toddlers, always wait until they are in a calm mood first. This may mean having to put them in a different room or keeping them on their lead until they’ve settled down. As always, don’t forget to reward them for being on their best behaviour.

  4. Keep a toy on hand to distract any overexcited toddlers Just like your puppy, young children are also at risk of getting a little overexcited. For this, always have a toy or game up your sleeve to divert their attention if things get too noisy or rough.

  5. Ensure your puppy's vaccinations and flea and worming treatments are up to date A warm, fuzzy bond isn’t the only thing you share with our pup. If you aren’t careful, you (and your little ones) can also end up sharing mites, fleas, worms and even Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can only be staved off by vaccinating your pup. Because of their tendency to confuse certain unsavoury substances (read: poo) with edible goods, young children are most at risk. To keep your clan safe, always make sure your pup is up to date on all their vaccinations and flea and worming treatments.

Introducing your puppy to children

Children are a lot like puppies - excitable, mischievous, and sometimes unpredictable. Which is why you’ll need to pay extra careful attention when overseeing these introductions. It might also be an idea to brief your kids on these ground rules in advance.

  1. Discourage screaming and loud games Loud noises can be unsettling - especially for young puppies. To avoid any upsets, ask all children to keep their voices to a reasonable volume. Better yet, make it fun by challenging them to see who can speak in whispers for the longest!

  2. Avoid staring When you’ve got a fresh new puppy sitting in front of you, it’s hard not to stare. But with all eyes on them, your pup can start to feel threatened or uneasy. We know it’s hard, but try to keep the ogling to a minimum.

  3. Teach children that your puppy must come to them - not the other way around We said this before but it definitely bears mentioning again. Being set upon by a mob of 5 year olds (no matter how well-intentioned) is no fun for anyone… including your puppy. If anything, it will probably teach your pup to become fearful around all pint-sized people. To prevent this from happening, ask all children to wait patiently for your puppy to approach them. Or better yet, show them how they can use treats and toys to encourage your puppy towards them.

  4. Encourage your children to be part of your puppy's pet care routine Contributing to their dog’s feeding, walking, and general care routine is a great way for kids to bond with their four-legged family member. But not only that. Studies show that this kind of involvement has a range of social and mental benefits for children, including reduced childhood anxiety, improved school performance and a greater sense of empathy.

  5. Don't forget about positive reinforcement Rewarding your puppy for positive behaviours is an absolute must. But don’t forget the kids too! Anytime a child behaves appropriately around your pup, don’t forget to praise their efforts. The more positive you make the experience, the more enjoyable it will be for everyone involved.

Introducing your puppy to visitors

Your puppy will meet a lot of people throughout their life. And the best way to set the tone for all these future meetings is with your first few houseguests. Getting these first few introductions right will not only help your puppy build confidence around strangers, it will also help them understand how they should and shouldn’t greet visitors in the future.

  1. Ask visitors to ignore your jumping pup until they're back on all fours If your puppy tries to jump up on guests when they arrive, ask your guests to hold off giving them any attention until they’ve settled into a sitting or standing position.

  2. Prep your guests with a treat If possible, arm your guest with a small treat or piece of kibble before they arrive at your house. This way, they’ll be ready to reward your puppy the second he or she stops jumping.

  3. Don't shout or get angry if your puppy is over-excited If your puppy misbehaves when meeting a new person for the first time, never shout at or punish them. This could reinforce negative behaviours or lead to your pup developing negative associations with strangers. Instead, always opt for positive reinforcement by ignoring any bad behaviours and rewarding all the good ones.

Brushing up on your puppy's body language

Prepping for your puppy’s first few introductions is a strong move. But sometimes, things don’t always go to plan. In amongst all the energy and excitement, your pup might become scared or anxious. And if these feelings aren’t addressed, they can cause your pup to panic. In some instances, they may even turn to… brace yourself... aggression.

To prevent these mini-freakouts before they even begin, it’s a good idea to brush up on your best bud’s body language.

Yep. That’s right. Behind the wet nose and suave coat, your pup is pulling faces too. And the better you are at reading those faces, the quicker you’ll be able to pull them away from any stressful situations.

Signs that your pup is feeling fearful or anxious include:

A furrowed brow

Excessive lip licking

Avoiding eye contact

Ears flattened and pulled back

Your puppy continues to look sideways so the whites of their eyes are visible

They keep rolling over onto their back

They keep shaking their enitre body (as though they've just had a bath)

Excessive yawning

If you notice your puppy only doing one of these behaviours, then it’s probably nothing to be worried about. However, if they’re performing several of them at once in with increasing frequency, then it is most likely a sign the situation is causing them distress.

The takeaway

There’s nothing more rewarding than showing your brand new puppy off to the world. Just bear in mind that these initial interactions will play a big role in shaping how your puppy approaches all future introductions. Not that it has to be rocket science! Just remember to keep things positive and encourage all humans and canines involved not to get too carried away.

Sources:

Purewal, R., Christley, R., Kordas, K., Joinson, C., Meints, K., Gee, N., & Westgarth, C. (2017). Companion Animals and Child/Adolescent Development: A Systematic Review of the Evidence. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(3), Page 234.

Geerdts M.S, Van de Walle G.A, & LoBue, V. (2015). Daily animal exposure and children’s biological concepts, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Volume 130, Pages 132-146, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022096514001842

University of Bristol, Bristol Veterinary School. Interpreting the behavioural signs http://www.bristol.ac.uk/vetscience/services/behaviour-clinic/dogbehaviouralsigns/interpretingbehaviour.html https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5369070/

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