Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to “proof” the relationships between new rescue dogs and their human siblings? To be able to ensure that both the children and the dogs understand how to be polite and appropriate with each other atall times?

While best behavior all the time can’t be guaranteed, there are proactive steps that you can take to create a safe and healthy relationship between your children and your new rescue. Even if you can’t “proof” them entirely, you can at least feel confident that your new family is headed in the right direction.

Learn to read your dog’s signals.

One of the most important first steps of bringing home a new rescue dog is acquainting yourself with canine body language so that you can understand what your dog is trying to tell you. I’m not just referring to the old standbys like, “a wagging tail means he’s happy,” or “growling is bad.” (Neither one of those assertions is 100% true, by the way.)

Canine body language is nuanced and can be subtle, but there are several unmistakable behaviors that telegraph intent, specifically discomfort. If you can pinpoint when your dog is feeling conflicted you’ll be better able to diffuse the situation before it escalates. For example, yawning is a very clear indicator of stress. It’s a contextual behavior; if your dog yawns at the end of the long day, he’s probably just tired. If he yawns when your child tries to take his bone away, he’s stressed. Similarly, “lizard tongue” (lip licking) is an indicator of tension. If your child gets too close to your dog’s face and he looks away (another signal) and licks his lips, he’s communicating stress. Learn to recognize when your dog is enjoying interactions, and when he’d rather just be left alone.

Teach your child the proper ways to interact with your new dog.

Helping your child understand how dogs like to be touched is an important first step in building a strong bond. Tell children that even though we love to hug each other, dogs find a tight grip around the neck to be uncomfortable and a little scary. Model appropriate petting by demonstrating chest and shoulder massage on the dog. Let them know that your new rescue dog might be a little nervous at first, so if he wants to leave the room and take a rest, he should be left alone. Tell them that chasing, grabbing, tail pulling, overzealous petting, dressing up and carrying a new rescue dog isn’t allowed, and enforce those rules if you witness any slip-ups.

Include your child in training.

Getting children involved in dog-friendly training is an empowering process. Children of all ages should participate, from toddler to teens.  I’ve watched kids change from nervous to confident to joyful during training sessions, and I’ve seen dogs go through the exact same stages during the process. Helping a new dog to understand that the short person in the room can ask for a “sit” or a “down,” and give treats too can transform a budding relationship, and change a dog’s perspective of his smaller family members.

Supervise and manage.

The concept of “supervision” is always mentioned when it comes to kids and dogs, but what does it really mean? And how is it possible to adequately supervise busy kids and dogs in the average busy household? The reality is that it’s impossible to be 100% present in every interaction between your new rescue dog and your children, and that’s where management techniques come in. If you want to make sure that your child doesn’t feed Fido from the table while you’re off getting orange juice, use a management technique like a baby gate or a crate in a near-by quiet room. If your children and their friends are playing video games and you’d like to keep the dog from climbing on the couch next to them, try tethering him near your workspace with a treat-stuffable busy toy like a Kong. Supervise as much as you can, and when you can’t, manage.

Bringing home a rescue dog is a wonderful way to welcome a new family member into your household. While “proofing” the behavior between your children and your new dog might be a lofty goal, aiming for understanding is a way to keep the relationships safe and healthy.