I was recently asked by first time parents of a toddler how I, “deal with their [children’s] dog obsession?” I assumed (correctly) the question related to safety rather than the weaning off of dogs. Not all dogs love to be touched, poked and sat on by children. So, here is what I do when that inevitable dog obsession takes over our little people.
As I’ve repeated in most of my posts, explain everything early, dealing with dog obsessions is no different. Teach your kids early, meaning in the first few months of their life, how and how not to touch living things.
Before the obsession begins, I always show babies/toddlers how and how not to touch dogs, you can show this by using books, stuffed animals and real dogs. I show babies to touch gently, by lightly stroking or patting an image, stuffed animal or real dog. Most parents and caregivers have witnessed their baby/toddler smack, throw or be rough in some other way with stuffed animals. I use these opportunities to correct, show and explain how “we touch animals.”
Like most things children learn behavior from watching the adults in their life and then copying that behavior themselves. Because I am cautious, I always approach the dog first. The steps involved are as follows:
- Ask the owner if the dog is okay with being petted and with small children.
- After a positive response from the owner I put my hand to the dogs nose, giving him time to give me his okay.
- I then pet the dog.
- After I say it’s okay, I tell her to repeat what she saw me do.
The toddler I watch knows how to approach a dog and how to pet the dog. She knows this from watching me and from practicing being gentle at home with her books and stuffed animals. She knows to ask me first (I assess by first asking the owner and then going to the dog myself), with my approval she knows to put her hand to the dogs nose and after a few “okay” sniffs she knows to, again, wait my approval and then go in for the nice gentle petting I’ve shown her. She knows to do all of this from watching me and listening to my endless explanations of why some dogs don’t like to be touched, even gently. And when a dog doesn’t want to be touched, or I say “No,” because the dog is barking at her stroller, she understands with abundant disappointment…that is, until the next dog appears.