Your dog loves your early learner—otherwise you wouldn’t have your dog! Countless articles online are devoted to what to do when bringing your baby home from the hospital and introducing them to Rover, but what about as your early learner grows and becomes more curious with him? See below for five tips on how to keep the relationship between your early learner and your dog safe, healthy, loving, and fun!

1. Food

Discourage your early learner from “food sharing” with your pooch. Do not allow any licking of plates, sharing of crackers/other foods, etc. This not only shares germs (food, dog saliva, human saliva), but also could condition the dog to think that she has a right to your early learner’s food! On the other side of this, make sure that your early learner leaves your dog or dogs alone and in peace during their mealtime. My cousin Aly makes a point to keep her daughter Emmy away from their dogs during dinner, because if she does approach, the dogs will back away to let her eat their food!

2. Petting

Dogs tolerate a lot from their early learner family members. Researchers know that dogs can discern the difference between adult and child humans, and have an increased tolerance for the curiosity of toddlers; however, teaching your early learner boundaries and respect for animals early on can be beneficial to both her and the dog. Model for your early learner how to pet your pooch gently. Take your early learner’s hand and guide in appropriate petting pressure and areas. Make sure that your early learner knows to avoid eyes, the inside of ears, nose, mouth, and private parts. Make sure your toddler knows that pets are not stuffed animals. It hurts when you pull their fur, just like if someone pulled your hair!

When first introducing petting to your early learner, you may want to teach them to pet “palm up” to avoid accidental hitting

3. Reading signs

Even adults sometimes have trouble picking up non-verbal cues! If your dog is walking away to another room, going under furniture, or generally trying to avoid attention, explain to your early learner that the dog needs some alone time. Teaching your early learner boundaries and social cues is incredibly important for interactions between other children and adults. Helping your toddler to read cues early on can assist them in advancing socially.

4. Noises

If your early learner has a baby brother or sister, they probably already know this short little tip! While you cannot completely eliminate shouts and bangs, helping your early learner know that it is inappropriate to shout, scream, and bang objects near dogs is essential. Explain that loud noises can hurt dogs’ ears, just like pulling on their fur or hitting them can.

5. Not all dogs are like our dog

When you already have a sweet and gentle dog, it’s hard for your early learner to tell the difference between her dog and a dog of a stranger. It’s difficult to explain that some dogs can be mean, and some nice, but you can’t tell just by looking at them. It’s easier to have your early learner always ask permission to approach or pet the dog. Because it introduces the concepts of ownership and respect, I favor a two-step process of permission. First, have your early learner ask you if it is ok to ask the owner of the dog to approach and pet. Then, you can say no, ask the owner yourself, or have your child ask. Keep in mind that a dog you don’t know is just that—a dog you don’t know.   

Given the tools and knowhow, relationships between early learners and pets can shape your early learner into a kind and considerate person as they grow older. At CCSWFL we partner with the Gulf Coast Animal Humane Society. They bring over puppies and teach the children how to appropriately pet them, "love them," and positively interact with them. If your early learning center does not have a relationship with a local animal shelter, consider making the suggestion—it might be one of the cutest things you see all year!

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Topics: Child care

Claudia Auger

Written by Claudia Auger

A volunteer for Child Care of Southwest Florida