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Dr. Kwane Stewart's tips for introducing adopted dogs to kids

Dr. Stewart’s take on the 3-3-3 rule.

So your kids have been asking you to adopt a dog for months, and you think it’s finally the right time. But, before racing down to your local shelter, you’ll want to consider a few things first. 

Asking the right questions at the shelter, teaching your children how to care for an animal and creating safe spaces in your home for your future dog can help ensure the initial transition goes smoothly.

Dr. Kwane Stewart, a veterinarian and member of Fetch's Veterinary Advisory Board, shares tips to ensure your adopted dog gets along well with your children. 

What questions should people ask their local shelter before adopting a new dog? 

Any relevant history on the dog is helpful, like specific information about previous medical or behavioral issues or likes and dislikes. Anything that will help ease the transition and acclimate your new family member.  

For example, I once adopted a Pitbull from my old shelter and had no history at all. Later, I learned that he was fine with small dogs but was aggressive with bigger dogs, which made it difficult with my Doberman. So fine details matter. 

Can you share tips for making the dog's transition from the shelter to their new home easier?

There's something known as the 3-3-3 rule. Three days to decompress, often with some anxiety or feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, 3 weeks of settling in and 3 months of building lasting trust and bonding. 

As for a plan, start with these steps in order: 

• Gather supplies

• Prepare your home and puppy-proof if necessary

• Assign them a safe place, like a kennel or crate

• Show them around the house

• Let them explore the yard and

• Introduce them to the family slowly

What lessons can pet parents teach their kids before welcoming a pet home? 

I love the lesson of responsibility. This was my biggest takeaway in my youth when I got my first dog. My job was to ensure she had food, water, walks and plenty of love. Children should learn how dependent these creatures are on us for not only survival but contentment. 

What are your steps for introducing a new dog to children? 

Slow and easy wins the race. Don’t throw a welcome party for your new dog. Instead, keep things calm and quiet. To introduce children, use caution and, again, move slowly, keeping interactions brief at first. 

The same goes for meeting the family dog — briefly and at a neutral location, ideally. It’s sometimes wise to keep the new dog leashed during these interactions just for safety’s sake. 

Will safe spaces help new dogs during this transition? 

Yes. Using barriers or gates initially is an option. But, again depending on the dog’s temperament, it not only protects the children but allows the new dog time to acclimate without sensory overload smoothly. 

Do the steps for introducing a new cat to children differ from dogs? If so, why?

Yes, cats are less of a risk or threat to children and other pets. But a similar principle applies as far as slow and easy. It’s usually best to choose a room to allow the cat to acclimate, making sure they have everything they need nearby. Consider using pheromones as well (the smell is comforting to cats), and make sure the house is escape-proof. 

RELATED: Your next dog-treat recipe from Dr. Kwane Stewart

Are there any body-language cues that suggest a dog is uncomfortable with a child? What about if they’re enjoying the interaction? 

This is a fairly common-sense read. A dog that is done playing or needs to be alone will often express it much like a person by walking away, lying down and expressing fatigue and disinterest. 

Signs that they’re enjoying the interaction are also easy to read. They’ll be energetic, excited and encourage more play.

How long does it usually take to cultivate safe interactions between dogs and kids? 

This is variable. As I mentioned before, a general rule is it takes a few months to form a solid bond, but depending on the dog’s age and history, this can happen much quicker or slower. In some cases, depending on the dog’s history with children, a sincere bond is never formed. 

Is there anything pet parents should never do while training their dog to interact safely with children? 

A pet parent should never use harsh punishment to correct their dog. This is dog training no-no number one. Old-school methods of hitting, swatting, jerking and yelling at your dog will not only not get the desired training result but can also shatter the bond and create distrust. 

Positive reinforcement, when used properly, is always the most effective and caring method.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

Photo by Dr. Kwane Stewart

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