The Ultimate Playdate Guide for Families with Young Kids and Dogs

November 29, 2022
Toddler

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.

Our first playdate:

I assumed supervision and going over the rules would be enough. Boy, was I wrong!

What I didn't expect:

  • I learned very quickly that peer pressure is real. Your child who knows not to hug your dog might suddenly start doing it because another kid does it.

What is important to remember:

  • Many children are afraid of dogs and may have a reaction that would definitely get your dog’s interest. Or scare them.
  • Some children assume all dogs like physical attention.
  • Some dogs get hyper around small running kids and could knock them over, even if they’re super friendly or it was accidental.


What I implemented moving forward:

  • I did a quick supervised greeting for children who wanted to say hi to Lola.
  • Next, Lola got her yummy snack, such as a filled Toppl or Kong, and was separated behind a baby gate or in my bedroom.

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.

Playdates will look very different depending on the age of children, the number of children visiting, and the ratio of adults to children.
  • A newborn and their mom visiting when you have a newborn is much different than your four-year-old having three friends over.
  • Preschoolers and kindergartners often start playing on their own with loose parental supervision.

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.

What to consider when you host a playdate


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.

Other factors to consider

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?

Location

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.

Special events

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 watchyour 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.


Other helpful tips shared by Dog Meets Baby community.

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.

Examples:

  • Anne uses baby gates and gives her dog a chew and puzzle toys to keep them occupied.
  • Sara takes her dogs on a long walk before a playdate then crates the dogs or puts them in a different room with a bone.
  • Teal separates the dogs and the kids by putting the dogs in the master bedroom with stuffed kongs and music to drown out kid squeals. Some parents use white noise or a fan.
  • Courtney always has her dogs separated when guests are over. She mainly puts them outside (weather-dependent).
  • Katie plans a day at doggie daycare or a playdate for her dog outside of the house. Some parents send the dog to a dog sitter, friends, neighbors, or family members.
  • Molly sends her dog to her parents for his own play date. “Brucey Bear adores his granddad and has the best walks and cuddles there.”
  • Catherine has the dogs leashed for greetings, and “when I can’t be around them, dogs go in the guest room to relax away from the craziness.”
  • Debbie’s rule: ‘child can’t approach a dog without an adult in between.’ Only supervised petting.
  • Mel’s dog has a solid down-stay on the dog bed, but if kids don’t listen and approach, she removes the dog.
  • Elika has her tiny guests in the super yard, and the dog stays outside.
  • Laura has a gated playroom.
  • Molly gives her dog calming medications to take the edge off.
  • Caroline has 4 dogs and allows 2 dogs to join if the playdate is outside since she has a large backyard.
  • Ed’s dogs stay in the hall behind the baby gate so he can still see the people while he chills in his beloved bed.


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!