Pets and people

Nurturing a Positive Connection Between Toddlers and Dogs

August 29, 2023
Mandy Welch

Nurturing a Positive Connection Between Toddlers and Dogs: Practical Approaches

The bond between children and their four-legged companions is undoubtedly special, but it’s crucial for both parties to grasp the art of safe interaction. In this article, we present practical strategies to ensure a joyful and secure relationship between your toddler and your cherished canine companion.

As your baby transitions into the toddler stage, their behavior can seem increasingly unpredictable and, from your dog’s perspective, occasionally daunting. Our primary goal is to aid in fostering a positive connection between your toddler and your dog. Here are some essential considerations to bear in mind.

It’s important to recognize that any dog, irrespective of breed or temperament, possesses the potential to bite. Unfortunately, many incidents occur after numerous warning signs that busy parents might have overlooked. In some instances, family dogs are unjustly scolded for growling at or nipping children, when, in truth, the child unwittingly provoked the situation. It’s paramount to remember that dogs have distinct behavioral patterns, distinct from humans, and their actions should be interpreted accordingly.

While we often associate growling, snapping, or biting as clear indicators of a dog’s discomfort around a toddler, they convey many subtler signals that often go unnoticed. Here are some of the low-level stress signals you may observe when toddlers and dogs interact:

  1. Lip Licking: A quick flicker of a dog’s tongue, often seen during interactions like hugging, kissing, or accidental bumping.
  2. Yawning: Surprisingly, yawning can signal a dog’s discomfort. It’s a subtle attempt by the dog to ease tension, but it’s frequently mistaken for simple tiredness. Pay attention to yawning during interactions.
  3. Avoidance Behaviors: If your dog consistently tries to move away from your toddler, grant them the space they seek, and redirect your toddler’s attention to another activity. If necessary, physically separate them if your toddler persists.

Creating Safe Opportunities for Toddlers and Dogs to Bond:

When your toddler and dog share moments together, it should be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. Depending on your dog’s size and temperament and your toddler’s age, here are some activities to consider:

  • Allow your toddler to “help” with feeding, which can involve holding a food scoop, dropping food into the bowl, or holding the bowl while you scoop. Ensure your toddler understands that dogs should be left alone while eating.
  • Permit your toddler to offer a special treat that only they are allowed to give the dog.
  • For older toddlers, playtime can be fantastic, especially activities like throwing a ball.
  • Consider teaching the “touch” command to both toddlers and dogs. It’s an easy and enjoyable way to involve even young children in the training process.


  • Don’t leave your toddler unattended with any dog, regardless of their familiarity.
  • Don’t allow your toddler to engage in behaviors that make dogs uncomfortable, such as pulling ears or tails, sitting on a dog’s back, or hugging a dog around the neck, as these actions may lead to nipping or biting.
  • Don’t encourage your dog to chase your toddler, even during play.
  • Don’t permit your child to tease the dog or handle the dog’s bones or toys without supervision.

By adhering to these guidelines, you can strengthen the bond between your child and your dog, laying the foundation for a lifelong friendship. Keep in mind that this article offers general advice, and individual circumstances may vary. If you have any concerns, we strongly recommend seeking guidance from a qualified dog behaviorist.

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