Balanced Mama! There are lots of ways to make sure your kids and your dog are safe from one another. A lot of websites and books exhort you to "always watch your dog and child together," but they don't always tell you what to look for. You want to watch for your dog's very first signs of discomfort, and depending on your dog, these can be very subtle:
- averted eyes or "whale eye" in which you can see the whites of your dog's eyes.
- moving away, or leaning away from the child,
- lip licking
- ears pinned back (depends on dog's ear shape)
- sweaty foot pads (leaving little pad prints as they walk)
If you see your dog exhibiting these stress signals, make sure he gets some space from the child immediately. Dogs tolerate a LOT from us humans, but they shouldn't have to.
Make sure your dog has a safe place to go where your toddler cannot pursue him. For older children teach them to never disturb a sleeping dog, or a dog who's in his special place. For younger children, don't risk it, just make sure they can't even get to that place.
Never punish your dog for growling at your child. Growling is a WAY better warning signal than a snap at your child's body or face. If a dog growls at you, your first instinct can be to react with anger or to try to stop it, but instead you should say (something like) "Thank you for the clear warning. I'm going to give you the space you need right now before this gets scarier for you or worse for me."
If you're too tired or overwhelmed, or don't have the capacity to focus on the interactions between your dog and your child, just keep them separated--with ex-pens or doors or a crate.
Good luck! I think you can do this!