Children and dogs can be a great source of love and friendship for each other, and socializing your dog with kids is key to fostering those relationships. Whether you’re making new friends at the park or introducing your dog to your own children for the first time, there are a few steps you can take to make sure it’s a positive experience for everyone.

1. Assess your dog’s mood.

Before you introduce your dog to any young children, evaluate his state of mind. Is he anxious or overly excited? If so, now may not be the right time to bring him into a new (and potentially stressful) situation. Try again later when he’s more relaxed.

The same goes for kids. If a young child is acting rowdy and loud (or even fearful), this could make your dog nervous. Playing with children should always be a positive experience, so if he seems uncomfortable, end the interaction and move on to something more enjoyable for your dog.

2. Take it slow.

Encourage kids to approach your dog calmly and slowly. Even the gentlest and most patient dog can be startled by loud noises or sudden movements, especially if he’s unfamiliar with children. If this is the first time your dog is meeting children, you may want to keep the meeting short so you don’t overwhelm him.

3. Know your dog.

Dogs of all shapes and sizes can make great companions for children, but each size presents unique challenges and opportunities.

  • TOY/SMALL DOGS: Small dogs can become great friends with young children, but because of their size, they may be fragile and not as suited to rough play. Make sure that any children playing with your small dog know to be gentle and to never pick him up without your permission.
  • MEDIUM DOGS: Many medium dogs have high energy levels, so you may want to encourage children to play fetch or help you with training your dog. That way your dog gets the mental and physical exercise he needs, and children can learn a little bit about the responsibility of taking care of a pet.
  • LARGE/GIANT DOGS: Unlike some smaller dogs, large dogs are a lot sturdier and less likely to get hurt if accidentally stepped on — making them a great companion for children who love to run and play. Still, their size and strength may cause them to unintentionally injure a small child, so always make sure to supervise play between your dog and children.

Socializing your dog with kids may take some time and patience, but it’s well worth the effort. Learn more about how dogs can improve a child’s quality of life (and vice versa) at Purina.com.