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Kids and Puppies | Merit Puppy Training

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Kids and Puppies

TYPICAL FAMILY SCENARIO: Children want a puppy. Mom and Dad feel the kids are old enough and should have a puppy to grow up with. Not realizing of course the puppy will probably be around long after the children are grown, and have left for college. The new puppy is home, he’s little and cute, the kids are excited, puppy is running with the children, jumping up on them as he makes the sounds of a cute little ‘play growl’ as he tugs at their clothing and shoes laces.

Kids are laughing and ‘encouraging’ the puppy to keep playing with them. No one seems concerned, afterall, kids and dogs are a natural, and he is so little what harm can do? This is the first ‘lesson’ the puppy has been taught by the family, the new ‘game’ between child and dog; jumping up and tugging is fun, humans like it! Now in as little as 2 or 3 months the puppy has almost doubled in size, more rambunctious, still jumping up on everyone, but by this time the kids are crying that ‘Rover’ is biting, scratching, knocking them over and tearing T-shirts. Rover is no longer allowed outside with the kids unless he is tied up, of course this further frustrates the puppy. Rover may end up down in the basement (in total isolation) when the kids are home with their friends from school.


Three things may happen at this point:

  1. The parents will either re-home Rover because he is too wild
  2. Kids are told and parents think Rover will grow up soon and ‘outgrow’ this behavior
  3. They will enroll in a puppy class to try and understand why Rover is hurting the children.


What the parents didn’t understand was that Rover’s behavior was ‘normal’ doggy play. But it could have been controlled, modified and ‘shaped’ into ‘other’ forms of play appropriate for humans, especially children, by starting the first day Rover arrived into his new ‘human pack.’ Rover was playing the ‘only’ way he knew how, and the way he learned from his own species, his FAMILY canine pack he left behind. Afterall, dogs are still domesticated animals, and if not trained and controlled will behave like, well…dogs (that is what they are, dogs). Unfortunately, many people still believe a puppy can not be trained because they are unable to learn at an early age…not true.

Puppies are learning every minute…life is either positive or negative, feels good, feels bad…black or white. Rover learned jumping up was positive, it was fun and the kids liked and encouraged it. What puppies lack is (especially when untrained and unsupervised) is‘impulse’ control, no different than that of a young human child. It must be taught via training, along with good management.

Life with children and dogs can offer much joy and companionship, but it doesn’t happen without the guidance of parental supervision and education for the whole family.
We need to incorporate the whole family into dog training, especially the children. Life with a family dog can not begin without them. Children are everywhere, and a fact of life, even if you don’t have any kids of your own, you need to find some and socialize your dog to children, of course using lots of positive associations….um…..food is a good choice! Let those kids (with your supervision) handfeed you puppy some treats, gee, what a great idea! Those little human hands reaching forward towards your dog to ‘give’ something ‘good’ (rather than reaching in to pull doggy hair and poke eyes) will help your dog learn to LOVE and respect the hand that feeds him. Also, committing your life to a dog means socializing that animal to ‘everything’ our human environment has in it, and kids are in it. No way to avoid them, they are everywhere!

Kids want a dog. Mom and Dad ask themselves, “do WE want a dog?” Parents are ultimately responsible for the care of a canine and therefore will be the ‘primary’ caregiver. They think about the future. In another 5 or 10 years these kids will be driving and leaving for college, the dog will be ‘ours.’ Mom and Dad decide to start calling breeders and trainers for advice and recommendations, trying to find the ‘right’ breed to fit into the family lifestyle. Mom and Dad decide to buy a puppy. And they stay in contact with a trainer for advise on living with a young canine AND SIGN UP FOR FOR A PUPPY CLASS.

Now it’s time to educate not only the puppy but also the children. Rules need to be in place, and all interactions between child and dog are supervised at all times, inside the house and outside as well. The ‘P.I.P.E.R.S.’ program is number one priority. Encouraging the children to engage in positive interaction via playtraining is easy. It builds education for kids and dogs and becomes the relationship shapers for the future.

This is the foundation laid at home until the puppy is ready for puppy classes. Puppy classes should start around 12 weeks, but no later than 5 months. Training a young puppy is easier because they are ‘blank slates’ with few if any bad habits to undo. You teach the puppy how to behave around humans while he is young, especially with children.

Have the kids in the training area sit quietly and watch. Explain the game everyone will learn to play. I first suggest teaching a puppy to do a ‘sit’ and ‘down’…. puppy push-ups. Measure out in a big bowl your puppy’s total daily ration of food and use that to begin your playtraining lesson. No need to use the words ‘sit’ or ‘down,’ that’s our ‘human language’ for which dogs do not understand at first, but they do know body language and can learn ‘hand signals’ quite easily, once they learn the signals you can pair the word ‘sit’ with the signal you are about to teach.

Holding a piece of his puppy kibble up and close to your pup’s nose until his head goes up and he folds into a sit…”good puppy”…then give him the kibble. Now while he is in the sit, take another piece of his kibble and hold it by his nose and move the food (luring down) down to floor, the pups nose will follow the food and he will end up in a down position. Say, “good” and give him the kibble. Make sure you say “good” first, lavish him in a ‘calming’ tone of voice as you physically praise and then give him the food last while he is still in the down. With a few repetitions you will have a puppy doing ‘puppy push-ups’ i.e.; sit, down, sit, down, etc., in no time flat.

Now look at what the puppy has learned. The puppy can now do sits and downs rather than ‘jumping’ up for attention, your teaching hand signals, teaching puppy eye contact and attention (an essential ingredient for training), teaching impulse control, a calming behavior…and using one of the most powerful tools easily accessible to humans.’FOOD.’ Food is a primary reinforcer, animals can’t live without it, in the wild they must hunt (work) for it…and the ‘leader’ controls it, in this case it is controlled by the ‘human pack leader, and the ‘other’ human pack leader is a child, one in which the canine will learn to respect as well with you guidance.

Now we work with the children, one at a time. You stand behind the child and show him where to place the food, keep your hand under his hand to steady him. The child lures the pup into a sit, says “good doggy” and praises, then gives the puppy his kibble/treat, using an open palm facing up…. this way the puppy will lick the kibble from the child’s hand rather than using his teeth. Now do the same thing with the ‘down’…repeat the process over again until the child now has the puppy doing ‘push-ups’ too.

Now look at what the child has learned. He has taught the puppy to do sits and downs, giving the child a feeling of confidence and pride, which helps to build the relationship. Both child and dog can get lots of attention by interacting in a positiveformat through playtraining. Also, the child can actually see that ‘dogs’ do learn, they are thinking and feeling animals just like us, therefore we now have ‘respect’ between the species. Child begins to respect his new companion because he has learned it is possible to control his buddy by signaling him to ‘sit’ and ‘down’.

The handfeeding process done by children can only enhance a budding relationship with a canine. When one is in control of a dog’s resources one can control the dog. There are so many ways in which these two simple behaviors can be incorporated into games and ‘real-life’ situations for the puppy. The point is that all learning stays positive, and children become a part of the dog’s ‘picture’ in life. They are incorporated into the care and training of the puppy in all aspects. I tend to look at it this way, for me, I see dogs learning in pictures, and when children are a part of “their’ picture life is manageable. Children taught from day one that ‘playing’ with the puppy IS playtraining, and playtraining does not include running, jumping, wrestling and anything that includes teasing, taunting or raising a dog’s excitement level beyond what the dog can not control. That is why parents must take the lead and realize when a dog enters the family home that the ‘learning’ process of proper dog care also includes training the humans to view life through the eyes of dog and learn to speak ‘dog.’

And of course not everyday is an “A” day as I say, no one is perfect, including dogs. There are good days and bad days. Living with children and dogs’ has been one of the most rewarding parts of my life. I have raised 2 litters of puppies myself, once while pregnant with baby #2, and also with baby # 3, as my Boston Terrier gave birth to her second litter, I was home nursing my own baby.

I spent the early days of motherhood holding my children in my lap teaching them how to handfeed our pups. I included the puppy training into daily baby care. We would move from one activity to the other, building blocks, playdough, to puzzles, to puppy push-ups, to hand feeding. They learned the puppy push-ups and when my son became old enough to learn t-ball, I incorporated the push-ups into playing T-ball in the yard with the kids, my son never had to leave the batting area, our dog retrieved the ball, returned it, and patiently waited for the next ball to fly…. of course not until he did a sit and down ‘first’ for my son (who was around 4 years old at the time), happily doing sits and downs got the game going again, and that gave me great pleasure watching a young child control the family dog in a ‘play’ time format, rather than rolling around screaming and creating a dangerous situation.

Children should be involved when training the family dog, and what better way than to have children join my puppy classes. It gives me a rare opportunity to hopefully shape the next generation of dog owners’ for the future. To educate children and teach them that dogs are not people, dogs are living breathing animals that can not learn to ‘live’ in a people society without good training, i.e.; humane training taught to them by people.


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