Head of the Class Dog Training LLC 

Winchester, VA

Winchester's Premium Professional Pet Training

Toddler 101 for Parents With Dogs

Babies grow so quickly. Before you know it, they’re up and running around the house. Up until the toddler years, your dog is used to seeing your baby resting in someone’s arms, a bouncy seat or a car seat. How can you teach your baby and your dog the proper way to interact so that everyone is safe and happy? Read on for tips on teaching your little one to be safe around dogs, and your dog to be safe around your little one.

Body Language

Your dog relies heavily on human body language, gestures and subtle movements to determine if a situation is safe or not. Toddlers begin to move somewhat awkwardly, which can be confusing to a dog, especially if this is the dog’s first experience with a toddler. Dogs do not perceive toddlers the same way they do older children, so don’t assume if your dog likes older kids he or she will automatically be equipped to handle your toddler.


To ensure everyone’s safety, actively supervise your toddler at all times around your dog. Look for signs of discomfort from the dog. These signs can be very subtle, like its eyes or ears changing position. Make sure your dog has a choice to leave if he or she wants to. Don’t allow your baby or toddler to move toward the dog; rather, teach your child to invite the dog over. This gives your dog the choice to interact or not. You can teach your child to pat his or her leg or make a kissing noise to call your dog over.


Allow your dog plenty of space. Crowded areas like hallways, doorways or stairways may make your dog feel trapped or vulnerable. Make sure your dog’s crate is in a space where your toddler can’t access it. Make sure your dog has a safe space where he or she can retreat from your toddler’s curiosity. Toddlers are often bitten when they crawl under coffee tables or into small corners, making the dog feel trapped.


Children like to explore and reach for items that are interesting. If these items are your dog’s treats or toys, this can present a problem. Make sure to keep the dog’s treats and toys out of little hands’ reach to avoid the dog being territorial over items with your little one.


Teach your children how to interact properly with a dog. Teach them to respect the dog’s space. Young children show affection by hugging, grabbing and kissing, and often these things can be distressing to a dog. Teach your child gentle, one hand petting by holding your child’s hand and petting for a few seconds. After a few seconds, stop petting and see if your dog chooses to leave. If your dog chooses to leave, don’t let your child follow him or her. Honoring your dog’s space and teaching gentle handling will greatly help develop a smooth interaction between your toddler and dog.


Look for these signs of discomfort when your child interacts with your dog, and if you need to separate the child and dog:

  • Dog licks his or her lips
  • Dog averts gaze
  • Dog closes mouth and looks away
  • Dog pins ears back
  • Dog furrows brow
  • Whites of dogs eyes are visible
  • Dog yawns
  • Dog rolls on back with legs stiff, looking out the corner of his eye
  • Dog gets up and leaves

If you have any questions about how to build better relationships between your family members (furry and otherwise), contact us. We’d be happy to consult.

-Lisa Marino

Lisa Marino, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, PMCT, has taken her varied teaching experiences and applied them to helping owners understand and train their beloved four-legged family members. She has more than four years’ experience leading group dog training classes at Best Paw Forward in Hartland, WI, and opened Head of the Class Dog Training LLC in Winchester, VA in 2012, where she conducts group classes and private lessons, as well as helps owners to modify their dogs' problem behaviors.

Lisa earned her CPDT-KA in 2012, is a 2015 graduate of the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy and is a Pat Miller Certified Trainer.

She has 4 registered therapy dogs and is a Pet Partner Therapy Team Evaluator and a member of HOPE AACR. As a former middle school teacher, she works well with families and children and does school presentations on various dog related topics.