Anytime a child enters your home–with or without their parent – you are liable if a dog-related incident occurs. Playdates can be tricky to navigate, even if you have a great system at home with your child and dog.
I love to organize playdates, inside and outside our house. Pre-pandemic, we used to host drop-off playdates when my kids turned 3.5 years old. Me, Lola, often another dog (for training), and 4 to 5 young children.
I assumed supervision and going over the rules would be enough. Boy, was I wrong!
What I didn't expect:
What is important to remember:
What I implemented moving forward:
Check out this blog post to learn how to pick out the perfect puzzle toys for your dogs and some of my (and Lola’s) personal favorites. Plus, here is a reel that shows how I prepare puzzle toys for dogs with my kids.
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No matter your child's age or the age of the child visiting, you will need to have some type of management solution in place.
Some important things to consider when it comes to other children coming into your home:
✔ Even if your dog is comfortable with your child, they may not be comfortable with other children.
✔ The other kids may be afraid of dogs.
✔ The other kids may have learned different rules about dogs and have had past experiences where they were allowed to touch or handle dogs in ways you do not allow.
✔ The other kids may have a harder time following your rules about dogs.
✔ Even if your dog is comfortable with children, playdates tend to be loud and chaotic and a lot of stimulation for any dog to handle. Kids may dress in costumes during play, which could scare your dog.
✔ If you have a large dog that is friendly towards kids or tends to jump when excited, it can easily cause an injury to a small child.
✔Your attention will be divided, and as kids get older, they will visit without their parents, and you will be responsible for their child.
✔ This can be complicated with multiple children and a loose dog if you offer a snack.
✔ If you have a dog who is even a little uncomfortable with other kids, trigger stacking* is inevitable.
*A trigger is one thing (sound, sight, movement, object, person, animal) that could make your dog uncomfortable. Trigger stacking is multiple triggers simultaneously or within a short time. Multiple triggers at once mean your dog will likely become quickly stressed, easier to upset, and faster to react.
Your dog’s comfort level
➜Another very important consideration is your dog’s temperament and comfort level with visitors.
➜Does your dog get uncomfortable in general when strangers come into your home?
➜Is your dog comfortable with babies and young children specifically?
Where the children will be playing is also important - if you have a large yard and two kids are playing outside and not interested in the dog, that’s a lot different than having a birthday party with many children in a small living room.
Separation and management is often the only solution to keep you sane and all the kids (and dog) comfortable and safe. Especially if you have many children over or host an event such as a birthday party, it’s a great idea to have a trusted person such as a family member, friend, or dog sitter watch your dog at their house. Or send your dog for their playdate at doggie daycare.
Separating your dog
For regular playdates, you may keep your dog behind a gate, in their crate, in another room, or outside (weather dependent). If the dog is going to be anywhere near the kids, even if separated by a gate, there should be 100% adult supervision.
How to help your dog relax when separated:
✔ Add white noise, and turn on the fan or music to drown out the children's squeals.
✔ Give your dog a chew or a filled puzzle toy.
✔ Exercise your dog before the playdate.
If you are unsure what kind of gate to choose, here is a post with 5 questions to ask yourself before buying a baby/dog gate. Head over to Dog Meets Baby Amazon Store to check out baby gates and playpens recommended by me, my clients, and my followers.
The approach varies depending on the dog’s comfort level with visitors in general.
Many parents of dogs who are great with kids let the dog greet the guests, next separate, as they don’t want to risk anything.
Parents of dogs who don’t do well with house guests skip the greetings. Some dogs do better when they can see people; some need to be as far as possible. Commonly used management tools: kennels, crates, baby gates, separate floors of the house, backyard, or closed room.
As much as I love hosting playdates, they can be overwhelming. The noise, the mess, overtired kiddos, crumbs flying at snacktime…it’s a lot to manage as a parent, and adding a dog to that mix can be risky if you aren’t prepared.
I know many parents are worried about sending their kids to houses with dogs for playdates. Don’t be afraid to share this blog post with your friends and family, so that everyone is on the same page.
Many dog owners are not aware of the possible risks. Before I started hosting playdates and going to playdates, there was a lot I wasn’t aware of either! I want every caregiver to have a plan in place and choose a safe solution that works best for their dog and their family.
Have fun at the playdates, and stay safe!
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