Kids and dogs’ relationships need formed based out of mutual respect and understanding of boundaries. Keeping everyone safe is a top priority meaning the use of baby gates, pens, and close supervision.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun along the way!
Here are my tried-and-true games that I love playing with young kids and dogs:
For dogs who need some extra space and young kids who still have to learn muscle control, treat tube is a safe, no-contact game to feed your dog their dinner. With either one or two gates set up (depending on your dog’s comfort level and your child’s motor skills), place a paper towel tube through the gate (or gates). Secure it with either tape or string. If you are using two gates, you may need to combine a few paper towel tubes to reach. Make sure to angle the tube downward so food can easily slide through.
With your dog on one side of the gate and your child on the other, have your child start to roll treats through the tube for your dog to eat on the other side. If your dog is comfortable, you can ask for tricks before each treat is delivered.
This game not only begins to create good feelings in your dog when they see your child, but it also helps your child learn boundaries and fine motor skills.
Turn taking is very important for both dogs and kids to understand. In this game, both child and dog learn patience and listening skills.
Place a chair out for your child and a mat or tether out for your dog. When your child is sitting in the chair, the dog can be free. When the dog is on their mat or tethered, the child can be roaming. Keep in mind, there can be a gate or pen providing a physical barrier during this game as well.
When the child is on their chair, practice some tricks with your dog. Whatever your dog loves to do is fair game. Start off easy – especially if you know that it is going to be hard for your child to sit still.
When it is your child’s turn to move, you can choose one of their favorite activities. Maybe they like to dance to a silly song, so play the song for them to dance to. While your child is moving about, feel free to reward your dog for their calm behavior. Again, start off with smaller movements from your child to make it easy for your dog.
Build up from there! This game is so versatile, and any activity can be incorporated.
What child doesn’t love Simon Says? And playing it with their fur-sibling? Even better! This one is made easier when your dog knows some extra tricks but can be played with just a few as well.
With your dog and child both paying attention (again, the dog or child can be in a pen or behind a gate, they don’t have to be free together in the same room if that isn’t right for your family), start off with some Simon Says. “Simon says, Sit!” If your dog and child sit, they both get a treat!
Keep this game positive and light – we are aiming to build a relationship on fun.
Bucket o’ Balls
This is another turn taking game that is great for dogs who love to chase things! Gather a bucket of balls and a chair for your child to sit on. Let them throw the balls one by one for your dog to chase after. The dog doesn’t have to bring back the ball in order for you to throw the next ball.
Once the bucket is empty, put your dog on a leash or on their mat and have your child run around and collect all the balls. Repeat as many times as your child and dog want to play!
Kid and dog interactions aren’t always straightforward, especially with fearful dogs. Playing games to promote positive associations is a perfect way to continue to grow their relationship safely.