How to Introduce Children to Your Dog – Use A Clicker

How can a clicker help you safely introduce a child to your dog? Watch and learn.
A little girl sleeps with her dog.

5 Steps to Introducing a Child to Your Dog

1. Make sure the child has a space where they can watch the dog from a protected spot. Behind a baby gate or from a crib should work.

2. Allow the child to smell and taste items belonging to the dog—toys, blankets, etc.

3. Charge the clicker. Click and immediately pop a favorite treat into the child’s mouth. Repeat 4 or 5 times. Some treat ideas? Cheerios, M&Ms, blueberries, or small pieces of cheese.

4. When the child looks calmly at the sitting dog without screaming or waving her arms, click and treat.

5. Slowly increase the intensity by having the dog walk or play while clicking and treating the child for her calm response.

Eventually, after many days of incremental progress, the child will be able to calmly approach the dog from the side and pet him nicely.

What have we learned from this simple method to introduce a child to your dog?

Don’t Take Dog Training Advice From People Who Know Nothing

Yes, it was a joke, people.
Little boy meets a dog at the park.
I know a little about training dogs. I know far less about raising kids.

In my defense, clicker training is an effective way to teach people (click the link to see a fun video on clicker training the Fosbury Flop for the high jump). I suspect a clicker would be a great tool for teaching pre-verbal children.

But teaching children and dogs how to interact safely is too important to leave to a moron. Luckily, there are some awesome resources for keeping children safe around dogs.

This information is so useful you should bookmark this post now and send it to everyone you know who is introducing their dogs to children or children to dogs.

But what if you don’t have kids, don’t want kids, and none of your friends have kids. Is any of this important?

What Every Dog Person Should Know About Kids

They’re everywhere! Where do they all come from?

You’d almost think they were the result of something fun, like sex.

Honey the Golden Retriever is a puppy chewing on her toy.

When is it too early to teach a puppy to be gentle with kids? Never.

When Honey and I are out walking, I see kids pointing her out to their moms. Most of the time, their parent tells them to politely ask if they can meet my dog. But every once in a while, a toddler will slip her leash run toward Honey shrieking and waving her little arms.

I don’t worry.

  • We worked hard to teach Honey bomb-proof bite inhibition.
  • Honey can sit and stay calmly in the presence of a runaway toddler.
  • If the parents don’t take charge of their child, safety first. Honey and I can outrun any toddler, if necessary.

Unless you life in a retirement community, you probably have kids around you too. And even retirees have visiting grandchildren.

Don’t wait. Check out the resource list above. And make a plan.

Who knows? If you prepare your dog for children, you might be more likely to bite than they are.

Your Turn: How does your dog respond to children? Have you done special training or preparation to help your dog cope with kids?
photo credit: Girl with her dog by najarich via photopin cc and Little Boy with pup by rumpleteaser via photopin cc. Click images to learn more about the photographer.

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  1. We have a mixed bag of reactions to children. Emmett isn’t fazed and can tolerate hugs, tail pulling, the works. Lucas doesn’t like hands-on attention, but he can stay calm around kiddos. Cooper, though, only tolerates kids who are quiet and calm… which is none of them. My 4-yr-old nephew has been helping him overcome some of his fears of kids. I taught my nephew a few basic cues with their hand signals, and he “trains” Cooper. Once Cooper realized that all the treats were coming from this kid, he loosened up and started responding calmly. Now Cooper doesn’t freak out when my nephew gets the kid version of the zoomies. Hopefully we can translate that to other kids…

  2. Little people means dropped food which is always a result. We have none here but on the park we get lots of little ones wanting to stroke and play. We are pretty good about it. Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  3. This is a great and helpful post and I’m sure I will be recommending it to people around me who DO have kids, or plan to :) You’re right, they’re everywhere. Fortunately my crew are kid-friendly, although Fozzie is still a jumper. Also fortunately however, I bring my treats with me on walks and can ensure Fozzie does not launch onto a human half his size by rewarding him for keeping all 4 paws on the ground. It’s been working!

  4. What a great post Pamela but I have to tell you I was totally on board with clicker training the kids. I have no problems with crates either. In fact, every kid that comes into my house gets to spend just a little time in the crate. 😉

    I find that most kids have no idea how to react around or to dogs. It’s wise to try and get the word out.

    • Whew! Am I relieved.

      I was just waiting for someone who was a parent, grandparent, or both to come along and ream me out for my bizarre sense of humor. :)

    • Mike Webster says:

      From the Husband:
      Pam’s next move will be to expand the conversation by taking on potentially much more controversial topic of using clicker training on Husbands.
      (Of course, this topic might end up being much less controversial with many Wives than I might imagine.)

      • Believe it or not, when we subscribed to the notion that being a pack leader was the correct way to raise a dog…I was told by the trainer that it worked on Husbands too. So I see no reason why a clicker wouldn’t work. 😉

  5. Unfortunately, we are a bit unpredictable around kids…both me & the dogs. Limited exposure works best. But seriously, this is really important for people with kids and people with dogs. We’ve enrolled Jack & Maggie in a socialization class that starts next week. Hope to get to bomb-proof…may have to settle for early warning systems.

  6. I do like your clicker method. Three of my dogs love children, but little Timmy had a bad experience with a grandchild before I got him. She kept tormenting him and he learned to defend himself by snapping at her. I always tell children that the dogs might bite them if they get too close. I don’t want the other three to have bad experiences with children and I want children to know that they can teach any dog to bite.

  7. Gizmo loves children…I think it’s because they’re closer to his size…He’s always been gentle with them and tends to seek them out when we’re at community events…It’s always closely supervised, for his sake as much as the child’s

  8. Great post, Pamela! I love every single reference you put in your article. People should definitely bookmark this for future reference and to send others who have kids.

    About kids, that’s a tough one for us. Because we don’t have any kids of our own, and because I’m an only child, the opportunity for our dogs to be around kids is almost 0. We have to go look for opportunities for our dogs to meet kids from a distance.

    That said, all of our dogs have been taught to go away from children when they’re not comfortable. And because I’m a trainer, I am always looking for signals from my dogs as to whether they’re happy or not. I’m always at the ready to intervene when it looks like kids are getting too rambunctious or the dogs are not enjoying themselves.

    I think that because we’ve done this for so long now, the dogs trust us to keep an eye out for them and to help them when they need it.

  9. Luckily both Sherman and Leroy respond to kids very well, which is good because they are always right at eye level with them. It drives me nuts when little kids come running right up to their faces but it doesn’t phase the boys, they usually just look away or slobber all over them which makes the kids take a few steps back.

  10. I love kids. Especially babies in prams. But apparently I’m not allowed to lick them:-(

  11. LOL that was funny! Kelly somehow is instinctively gentle with children. When we’re out on a walk and they run up to her, she stands there and is very very calm. It’s so nice to see, especially in a dog who isn’t always the best behaved!

  12. I thought the idea of clicker training kids was brilliant, actually! haha! Rocco is great with kids, but I do watch carefully to make sure the kids are well-behaved and don’t yank on his fur. I also tell the kids how smart they are for asking to pet first…. I want to reinforce that behavior as much as possible!
    Your pals,
    Diane and Rocco

  13. What a great post! With great links! Thanks for doing this. I wish the world of parents out there would read this and THINK!

  14. Oh my gosh – you’re hilarious! I read the first part thinking, “this is an excellent idea.” That’s probably why my sister never lets me watch my nieces.