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Dogs and Kids: How to Manage it Right!

If you’re thinking of adopting a Greyhound, have adopted or are thinking of adopting any new dog, you may benefit from reading Sue Tofful's experience. 

Sue Tofful is the adoptive mum of two Greyhounds, Marcus (9) and Lucy (8), mum of daughter Lauren (8), as well as step-mum to Alex (almost 17) and Nic (21). She emphasises that she’s not a dog behaviourist or trainer, but a mum who’s used some common sense. 
She says that integrating a dog into your family amounts to three things: vigilance, consistency and commitment.

"It makes all at Greyhound Rescue very sad to see another poor hound, straight from a racing kennel, who has probably had very little - if no exposure to home life - returned to us from a trial home within three days, because he growled at the child or would not get off the couch without a fight. It is sad because of the missed opportunity for both the dog and the family to become lifelong friends.

But these issues are the number one reason hounds (in fact all dogs) are returned. So how do we prevent this? If your child (whatever age) does something wrong, do you send him or her ‘back’? Of course not, you teach them the acceptable behaviour. So, why don’t we apply this to the hound as well?

Greyhound Rescue is constantly asked “is that hound kid friendly?” Instead, ask yourself “are my children dog friendly?” More often than not, dogs are blamed for incidents with children that have been caused by the child - inadvertently or otherwise. Where this is not the case, problems usually occur because the dog has not been correctly handled and managed for behaviours such as resource guarding (protecting a special thing such as her bed, toy or food).

When I got Greyhound Marcus from Greyhound Rescue, I was advised he’d been sent back from a trial home because he “barked at their child”. My first question then was “what was the child doing?” The volunteer was unsure, but it wasn’t enough to put me off and she also felt it was totally out of character. And that’s true! Marcus has barked ONCE in the years we’ve had him. That bark was an understandable protest when Lucy our second hound came along and took his toy!

Marcus was immediately wonderful around my daughter, Lauren. She was two and a half years, when he came to live with us. Marcus stepped over or around her so elegantly and gently and never jumped at her noise. Family and friends were amazed. He was a natural. In fact, he ignored her completely, which I think in most cases is the best way for a dog to be around young children. Having been around my elderly Retriever since birth, Lauren wasn’t in awe of large dogs and this does help. The less fascination the better! Marcus really has become the bomb-proof dog. We trust him implicitly in any situation with children of any age, even if the child is doing the wrong thing.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing. A few months after we adopted Marcus, he was happy and had settled in. I started letting him on the couch at night when we watched TV. One night, Alex went to sit down next to him and he growled. Then one night, when he still slept in our room, he wandered downstairs and jumped on Alex’s bed in the middle of the night and refused to get off. The last straw was when he growled at Lauren, when she came to sit next to myself and Marcus on the couch. That day, we banned him from the couch and he hasn’t been back, unless we invite him

After that, we began a gentle process of retraining him to ask to be allowed on a couch or bed and not think of it as his bed. Both hounds have their own beds (in fact they now have three each!); neither the couch nor the bed is one of these! I started getting Lauren to carry his food bowl to him and to ensure we walked through doors first and so on. We have had no problems since. Lesson: kids and dogs sharing couches and beds is not advised unless it's on your terms. 

Because one is never enough, we also adopted Greyhound Lucy. She too had been sent back from a home due to an issue with a child. I thought we’d be fine, given our success with Marcus. Also, Lauren had developed dog savvy, so no problem. 

Sue Tofful with her Greyhounds, Lucy (left) and Marcus (right)

However, Lucy’s issues were a little different to Marcus’ issues. She was and is a stronger character (female you see). It soon became obvious she suffered from sleep startle and also tended to resource guard, so that a couple of times when Lauren went to pat Lucy (when she was asleep on her bed), she snapped at my daughter. This only happened if I was not close by.

Once she drew blood on her face. This was not good. At this point, most dogs would be sent back, but having seen so many returned for this, I committed to work through it. My husband was overseas, so it was only me at home with Lauren. Immediately following the last incident, I very sternly reprimanded Lucy verbally, really growled at her. I then ignored her completely, gave her no attention, and instructed Lauren to do the same. 

Lucy wanted pats, but we did not give them. She was not to be rewarded for unacceptable behaviour. Lesson: do not reward unwanted behaviours in your dog by giving them attention, always correct it and praise the right behaviour with treats. Always supervise your child around dogs.

I have read that in a pack, the alpha dog is usually female and I agree with this theory. Female dogs are more likely to be bossy and motherly, and to “tell the child off” so to speak. Lucy loves a cuddle and a pat more than anything, and often approaches Lauren for these (whereas Marcus almost never does this). However, as Lucy is more interactive with Lauren, I’ve found this can lead to more excitement from Lauren. This in turn can create behaviours that may cause issues. 

Consequently, I have instilled in Lauren that she must never approach Lucy if she is asleep on her bed or anywhere else. And Lauren knows that is not negotiable. She asked me sometimes if she wasn’t sure. Much time has passed with no further problems and Lucy has become a wonderful addition to our family. When other children visit, we ensure they know the right behaviours.

In no particular order, here are some pointers and rules I’ve followed to ensure a harmonious household with “dog-friendly” kids and “kid-friendly” dogs!


  1. Play tug/toy games with caution and under supervision
  2. Teach your children to only pat a dog that is awake and only if the owner says you can. The best place to stroke any dog is around the ears, not on top of the head.
  3. Allow your children (over 3 years old) to feed the dog - carry their bowl, make them wait and/or sit before putting the bowl down.
  4. Always supervise children when they are around the dog.
  5. Reward good behaviour from your child around the dog.
  6. Reward all your hound's good behaviour with treats, time and again.
  7. When walking the dog on lead, keep him/her at your side, correct pulling and reward good walking. Encourage your children to walk the dog the same way, supervised of course.
  8. Ensure your dog waits before they are allowed to eat their food.
    Lauren walking Marcus (left) and Lucy
  9. Teach them stay, come and sit (if you can!). Attending formal training sessions can be great fun and very rewarding.
  10. Feed dogs after kids (where practical).
  11. Be consistent- don’t accept the wrong behaviour in dog or child and if you do, don’t then be annoyed when it is repeated! 
  12. Use verbal tone (your growl) to reprimand the dog, NEVER hit or kick your dog.

  1. Don’t allow kids to lie on the floor at the dog’s level.
  2. Don’t allow kids to lie on the dog’s bed or on top of the dog.
  3. Don’t allow the hound to push ahead of you or kids through doors.
  4. Don’t allow kids to walk around the house holding food.
  5. Don’t allow kids to scream and/or run away from a dog or encourage the dog to chase them.
  6. Don't allow your kids to poke or pull a hound’s eyes, ears, tail, mouth or private parts.
  7. Don't allow your child to tease a hound in any way.

  1. Avoid if possible playing rough and/or loud games in proximity to the hound.
  2. Avoid allowing the dog on beds and couches that your children use. While people will have different views on this, I would stick by this rule. If you do decide dogs on beds/couches, wait at least six months and only allow it if the child is on the couch first and invites the dog up. But I don’t recommend it!
  3. Never take food a dog is eating away from him/her.
When considering a child/hound match, the best choice is a dog that doesn’t find noise and constant activity near him/her upsetting

Having had two male and two female dogs now, I believe male dogs are more tolerant and laid-back in general with children, but this is not always the case. 

Ensure you trial a hound that has been in a foster home rather than straight from kennels as he/she will have more experience with household noise and have some basic training. 

Do not expect the dog to be perfect straight away; they need a period of adjustment. The dog will need guidance from you as to what is expected of him/her, as does your child. 

You should be consistent with rules from day one. It really is your responsibility to ensure they get it right: yours, not the dog’s and not the child’s.

The rewards from a happy pairing of child and dog are endless. It is well known that owning a pet teaches children responsibility and compassion. It also gets them outside and keeps them fit! Alex always walks both the dogs on a splitter after school, and very proudly takes a friend if he has one over. Marcus almost falls over himself with excitement as Alex gets his shoes on! 

Lauren having a tea party with Marcus the Greyhound
The dogs both come into Lauren’s cubby and she makes them tea (Lucy actually drinks hers!). 

Marcus always comes into Lauren’s room and lies on the floor for story time. They both poke their heads into the bathroom at bath time. Lucy gives Lauren her “bum hugs” as we call them. If Lauren is crying, both dogs unconsciously come over to her and stand near, as if to say “can we help?”. At school pick-up times, the dogs are regularly the quietest, gentlest, most popular and most patted dogs at the gate.

As I wrote this, Lauren was tidying up the dogs’ outside beds. She chatted away to them as she does this and they are both spellbound, standing quietly next to her. Gold."

Written by Sue Tofful, November 2017 for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved).

While Greyhound Rescue covers Sydney, Canberra and the Illawarra, there are similar grassroots charities with available hounds in each state. 

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