Helping your Four-Legged and Two-Legged Kids Bond

I always say my first child is my 9-year-old Shih Tzu. She was my first stab at raising another living thing who was completely and utterly helpless without me. She taught me patience, compromise and the power of selfless, unconditional love. And it seemed almost inconceivable to me that my capability to love could swell enough to include more than one being. But of course our capacity to love can often be stretched beyond our wildest imaginings.

After I had my human kids, I was convinced the three of them would sail off into the sunset in perfect harmony. Unfortunately, that scenario was not to be. Perhaps because my two-legged child was treated to two years of uninterrupted top dog status unimpeded by the demands of others only to be unceremoniously knocked off her perch when the other kids came along, she clung to me and the three of them never quite warmed up to one another. If I’d had the good sense to do a little research before introducing these very different beings to each other, I would have learned that there were specific actions I could have taken to create a more cohesive bond between them. Still I’m hopeful, the expertise of Nicola Anderson of The Dog Blog ( and founder of the “Smart Dog Training” iPhone app can offer myself and other families in my predicament tips to facilitate the bonding process and create one big happy, bonded family.

Tips to tackle that first meeting

“When a new baby comes into the household, it’s viewed as a new pack member entering the environment and according to the dog, every new member must prove its worth and position in the hierarchy,” says Ms. Anderson. “To do this successfully, the dog needs to be introduced to the newborn in the correct way. This all must be positive and fun so that jealousy does not occur from the dog which could lead to unwanted behavior.”

So if, like me, the bonding between your canine kid and human kids is not as strong as you’d hoped for Ms. Anderson offers these basic tips to counteract the situation and increase the bonding progression.

Don’t banish the dog once the baby comes into the home, this can actually make problems worse.
The dog must be made to feel part of the pack; however parents need to provide canine leadership which involves establishing boundaries and discipline without hurting the dog. Be consistent in enforcing the rules. This is extremely important for their mental well being.
Mental stimulation and physical exercise are also very important. Providing enrichment using toys, games and obedience and walking your dog several times every day while involving your kids in the process is important to a healthy pet and human relationship.
“Parents need to ensure a relationship bond between a child and family pet is taught in a way that ensures consistency and repetition,” says Ms. Anderson. “Simple tasks can create harmony in the home environment as long as all techniques are positive and fun. One example is requiring your dog to sit in order to earn a pet or a treat. This teaches the dog that it has to earn a reward by behaving and following commands, and your child’s ability to successfully interact with your dog in this manner will strengthen their bond with the pet.”

Activities kids and their dogs/cats can engage in together to increase the bonding factor

Fun and active games such as hide and seek, chasing, and piggy in the middle, allow positive interactions between kids and dogs without getting the dog too excited notes Ms. Anderson. Always make sure the child starts and finishes any game as it will exert his/her dominance as the pack leader, and keeps the games safe and controllable.

Ms. Anderson offers these tips for cheap ways to create treats and toys for your dog:

Keep old ice cream containers or butter containers and freeze bones or treats inside them. The next day, scoop it out in one solid block for an icy treat your dog will love
Keep old soft drink bottles and cut holes in them so that you can put treats inside them and then as the dog moves them around, treats fall out and as the dog interacts with the toy, they are also stimulated and rewarded.
Hang up ropes and stick treats on them using small amounts of peanut butter or cream cheese. Dry treats or dog food pieces work best. When the dog goes to grab the treat, the rope toy moves and makes it harder for the dog to get to the treat, creating a reward system
Scatter treats around the yard, so the dog has to forage for them, this takes times and keeps the dog’s mind active and interested
Use an old towel to play tug of war.
Perform 10 minutes of obedience a day with your dog, its mind will be exhausted and it will strengthen your bond.
When bonding hits a snag

The best thing to do is to consult a professional trainer to work out a plan and determine exactly why the child and pet can’t connect. If things aren’t going as planned, it can cause high levels of stress and tension in the household, notes Ms. Anderson. Some breeds require more attention than others and this should be taken into account when taking on the responsibility of caring for an animal.

“Ultimately it’s important for children to grow up with a family pet as it teaches them to care and love another sentient being,” says Ms. Anderson. “Pets can teach us many amazing things such as trust, loyalty and spontaneity. A family pet can create harmony in family life if the pet is taught correctly. They allow us to enjoy the simple things in life and remember what’s important – compassion and fun.”