Five Tips for Families with Dogs and (Soon to Be) Mobile Children

May 6, 2024

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The newly mobile baby and young toddler phases are often the toughest in the baby-dog relationship. ⁠

Most of the calls, emails, and messages I receive are from parents of older infants and young toddlers after a growl, snap or bite. ⁠

“My dog has been growling at my toddler (15 month old) a lot. My son can almost run and walks fast. I am trying to teach my son to leave my dog alone, and I separate them. I don't want an accident, and they are never unsupervised together. Will my dog learn to accept my son eventually? What can I do to help? Just keep teaching my son boundaries?”

“Our son is 1 year old and walking. Dogs are very good about getting out of his way when called but will they ever get along? They were fine when he was a baby, but then they became uncertain of him once he could move.’

Many dogs, even if previously relaxed around a young infant, will have a hard time with a mobile, unsteady, falling, stumbling, all-while-making-lots-of-noise toddler. ⁠

You can do a lot to set your dog and child up for success. Let’s start with the basics. 


1. Move water and food bowls


Water bowl

Young children are fascinated by water. Water-based activities can keep them occupied for quite some time! However, it also means they love your dog's water bowl.

They may try to drink the water, dump it, splash, throw their toys in the water,  or wash their hands and toys. 

Potential risks:⁠

➜ Your dog may protect the water from your child.⁠

Regardless of whether your dog has guarded their water bowl from adults in the past, dogs can still be protective of their belongings around small children. One way to predict if a dog will be protective is to see how they react to other dogs coming near their food and water. How they treat other dogs is likely how they'll treat young children.⁠ Some dogs protect their items when they see the child approach them, even if the dog is not near them.

Holly Choi, a baby and toddler safety expert from Safe Beginnings, adds two more risks:

Falling on a slippery floor.⁠

Water on the floor poses a hazard to both adults and small children. Wearing socks with rubber grips on the bottom or a mat under the bowl that absorbs the water can be an easy way to reduce this risk.⁠

➜ If you have a large dog and a large water bowl filled to the brim, there is a risk of drowning. Drowning can happen with less than 1” of standing water. For drowning to be possible, water only needs to cover the child’s nose and mouth - a pet dish is more than enough water in this case. Anytime a small child is in or around water, they should be supervised within arm’s reach.⁠

Food bowl

Kibble is a choking hazard for children, and many dogs will protect their food from newly mobile babies. Never leave the dog food sitting in a bowl if your child could have access to it. Feed your dog away from your child or safely separated. Some dogs protect empty food bowls from children!


➜ Have the water and food bowls in a location where children cannot access them. Examples: gated-off kitchen, dog-only zone, outside (weather permitting), laundry room, mud room, basement, closed bedroom.

➜ Some parents choose to redirect consistently.

➜ Get a no-spill water bowl.

➜ Make sure the dishes are non-breakable, so the glass won’t injure your child if they throw it. 

➜ Keep the water bowl higher and only put it down for baby’s naps. Setting the alarm as a reminder to put them down helps as you will forget (I did many times).

➜ Not making it a big deal helps some children lose interest quickly.

➜ Letting your child help refill it for the dogs might help some children dump it less.

➜  More water-based activities for children.


Below are 6 water bowls recommended by the Dog Meets Baby community. 
No spill water bowls

Road Refresher, The No-Spill, Slobber Stopper Dog Water Bowl by Prestige Pets

Dripless Water Bowl by Slopper Stopper 

Laura: “There is only like an inch of water exposed at the bottom. Baby can’t put their face in it, and the wide base makes it difficult to tip, especially when the bowl is full.”

Water bowls with a floating platform 

No Spill No Drip Dog Water Bowl by UPSKY

LumoLeaf Dog Water Bowl, No Spill Dog Water Bowl

K.J: “Buys you an extra second before kids splash the entire thing.”

Bowls that keep long ears out of the bowl

Kruuse Buster Incredibowl, Large/68 oz

Kruuse Buster Incredibowl, Small/34 oz 

Basset hound owner: “Incredibowl works really well.”

2. Introduce a baby gate 


Many dogs are not going to see a crawling baby or a wobbly toddler as they see an adult human. What they see instead is a new and scary unfamiliar creature and will need time to adjust. It is normal for your dog to be unsure about your not-so-long-ago immobile baby. Management at this age is the name of the game.

If you need help preparing your dog for your mobile baby, check out our online courses:

Pre-Mobile Baby Course - This course helps you proactively set your dog and baby up for success for this new phase, even before your baby starts crawling. For parents with babies 4 -10 months old.

If you have a toddler and could also use help on how to address typical toddler behaviors toward dogs, we recommend:

The Mobile Baby Course - Learn how to keep your mobile baby and dog safe, navigate the new challenges, and understand dog behavior. It includes many helpful video examples, downloadable scripts, and a workbook. For parents with babies 11- 48 months old.


Gates and other management tools are helpful to: 

➜ Keep your dog safe from a curious grabby crawler and later an uncoordinated toddler.

➜ Keep your baby safe from your dog. Your dog may have loved your immobile baby (many do), but that doesn’t guarantee your dog will be comfortable with your mobile baby. As I mentioned earlier, the newly mobile baby phase is often the most difficult for many dogs. 

➜ Keep the parents sane. Watching your baby and dog like a hawk for hours is mentally exhausting. And honestly, a strategy that almost always fails, as those little crawlers are fast!


What to use to separate your dog from your child:

  • baby gates⁠
  • exercise pens⁠
  • separate rooms⁠
  • crates⁠
  • playpens and ⁠superyards 
  • secure backyard, weather permitting.


If you are unsure of what kind of gate to choose, here is a post with 5 questions to ask yourself before buying a baby/dog gate. Download our free Gates Guide that covers how to choose the best gate for your growing family, and a list of our favorite gates divided by categories. If you want to see all the gates and playpens we, our clients and followers like and recommend, head over to Dog Meets Baby Amazon Store:

3. Baby TV


Baby TV is giving your dog a chance to watch your growing child from a safe distance. It is not about separating your dog all the time; it is about choosing when to include your dog and when to give them the space and time they need to adjust to your baby. 

 Once you have dog-child-proofed your house, time for Baby TV. 

Many dogs NEED lots of time to observe the newly mobile baby from a safe distance.


As the baby becomes more mobile, the dog needs time and distance to ACCLIMATE TO NEW MILESTONES: sitting up, crawling, pulling up to standing, standing, walking, and running.


Your dog has probably seen many toddlers in passing but has not frequently lived with one and has no idea about milestones.


And toddlers are curious, fast, impulsive, on the go, and unpredictable! Dogs are wired to be suspicious of things that change, stand out, and are unpredictable. 


Before your baby and your dog start interacting more directly in safe and consensual ways, they need to learn how to coexist peacefully. Baby TV is a perfect step in helping your furbaby and human baby become friends. 

Watch me talk about Baby TV on Good Morning America.

4. Build positive experiences


When you are giving your dog plenty of space, distance, and time to adjust, focus on building positive experiences with the child while doing your best trying to avoid negative experiences.


➜ Going on walks together

➜ Giving a special toy or chew when the baby is present

You can find my favorite toys and chews in the Dog Meets Baby Amazon Store, but here are my top 3 recommendations:

  1. Toppl

The Toppl is a great, durable choice and one that you can easily make more difficult for your dog. It comes in three sizes and can hold treats, kibble, and mixes. This is a great one to freeze!

  1. Snuffle Mat

Is your dog a sniffer? Then a snuffle mat could be the perfect puzzle toy! These mats have fabric to mimic the feeling of grass. It is easy to wash and take on the go. Use it for kibble or treats.

  1. Gorilla Chew

If your dog likes sticks and you'd rather not give them a food-based puzzle toy, this is a great choice. It is made from soft wood and, therefore, won't splinter​, but it is not ​recommended for dogs who will consume it. ​If your dog likes it, ​hours of entertainment are guaranteed!


➜ Playing fetch with the child or when the child is present

Check out this reel and the reel below for ideas and important safety rules.


➜ Being the clean-up crew after meals

Dogs learn by association. If you allow your dog to be your “clean-up crew,” your dog will likely build a positive association with your baby in this specific scenario:

Baby in highchair = great things for me (dog).

When a dog approaches and is attentive to the baby in the highchair ≠ dog loves the baby.


What to watch out for

  • Dogs love food, and some may get close to the highchair only because there is food, not because they love the baby.
  • Since your baby is contained and the situation is somewhat predictable, your dog may be more relaxed.
  • Don’t assume that your dog loves your baby because they can lick the food off your baby’s hands, or your baby has been dropping food on the floor.
  • Your dog may still be scared of your newly mobile baby when not contained in the highchair.

Check out my blog post The moment your dog has been waiting for. Your baby starts solids! for more tips. 

5. Solutions for the dog-obsessed child


Improperly managed interactions can prevent your dog from building a positive association with your child.⁠ 

Stuffies that look like real dogs make an excellent outlet for kids who want to hug and pet nonstop.

Children can use the dog stuffies to:

➜practice gentle petting

➜ pet & hug

➜ walk them, feed them or put them down for a nap

Check out more ideas in this reel and the reel below.


My top 3 toys for young children:

Bringing home a baby is a big change for a dog. The bigger adjustment happens when that baby goes mobile. Even if your dog seemed completely at ease with your baby at first, they may now have a hard time with all the rolling, crawling, reaching, chasing… 

And dogs, like people, have their limits. 

The key is to notice and understand your dog’s body language so you can immediately recognize when they need a break from your little one.

Stay safe and sane!


Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only. Please contact your veterinarian, a certified dog trainer, or a veterinary behaviorist if your dog's well-being is at risk or your dog's behavior poses a threat to you or other people.