Living Together with Kids and Dogs
As I am writing this article I get a call from a young mother, she has a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old child…. and a 9 week old puppy!…. Wow, how fun I thought, I remember those days. She saw my ad for puppy classes and asked about the ‘Sweet Pea’ program for children. She asked me, “how do I get my sweet puppy to stop using my kids’ as a chew toy, and to stop chasing and jumping up on them?” I said that’s what the ‘sweet Pea’ program is all about, and it is included in the puppy classes for families with children, especially the crawlers, toddlers and pre-schoolers. I gave her a few tips that are tried and true by ‘yours truly’ when my kids were babies and came to me AFTER I already had a few dogs.’ First of all, you need to have a crate for the puppy and create a schedule of 3 to 4 naps a day for the puppy. You also need to structure your day such that when the puppy is in the same room with you and the children that EVERY interaction is supervised. Tethering the puppy to your waist gives you ‘hands on’ control, without actually using your hands, keeps the puppy near you, and allows you the freedom to move through the house with the children, without always having to crate up the puppy, or put your baby gate up to confine him. When the children come close to you and the puppy, you remain in control of the puppy’s behavior and can ‘teach’ the children how to play with the puppy and interact in a ‘calm and positive’ manner. Doesn’t take much time, a few minutes a day. “OK” she said, “I’ve been tethering the puppy but never thought of tethering the puppy to me…um, sounds good. But what about biting?”
I gave her a bit of doggy behavior 101, and another technique that included teaching the puppy to do sits and downs, i.e.; puppy push-ups…. and then incorporating the children into the training, hence, the puppy learns that the children are also in charge of a major resource…. his food, and earning those little pieces of kibble are done by performing the puppy push-ups for the kids. So now the confidence level of the children rises, giving them a feeling of more control, the puppy learns how to behave around children, how to take food gently, and gets great reinforcement for learning his first sit and first down. We also create a little game of ‘playtraining’ that educates everyone, now the puppy is more focused, knows what his new little job is…the playbiting game is slowly replaced with a new way to interact with the children, the ‘handfeeding’ game, i.e; good manners.
The problems between children and dogs arise out of a lack of information and education. I frown on Ruff housing with a dog by children, and when this form of ‘play’ is done by adults, it can be carried over to the children by the canine. Ruff play should not be done until absolute control over the dog’s behavior is as “near” to 100% controllable as possible, which of course takes a lot of maturity and training for the dog, and the owner too. Dogs are still domesticated animals, and if not trained, managed and controlled will simply act like dogs…which they are, this fact should never be forgotten.
I gave her a bit more information pertaining to my ‘P.I.P.E.R.S’ system within the Sweet Pea program. I tried to give this young mother a ‘picture’ in her head of how her day would be structured raising a puppy with a 2-year-old and 6-year-old.
I gave her info about puppy classes, and how much fun and education is involved. Every owner should enroll not just the puppy, but the whole family too. Families often get a new puppy for the children, and expect somehow that the kids will be mature enough to handle the care and training. When parents take the lead in training the puppy, children are learning from the parents.
My own children have grown up watching me train my dogs and have learned, through observation and supervised interaction, that playing with a dog does not include rolling on the floor wrestling. I shaped an ‘attitude’ in my children’s behavior, which avoided most of the pitfalls that create dangerous situations between dogs and children. Playing with our canine companions is done through training. Children often encourage biting and growling behavior without realizing it, getting a dog worked up with high level activity in which control over the dog is lost, this can create so many problems when kids and dogs living together. In order for kids to help train the family dog a relationship needs to be built, and inappropriate play will ‘train’ the dog to respond poorly to the child, therefore making a child/dog training team difficult.
Always with adult supervision, teaching young children how to train a dog enables the parent to ‘shape’ desirable behaviors, and bringing children into the puppy class helps to build that foundation. Family dog training must include the children. Games for kids and dogs are always taught in a training format with lots of rules. That is why I choose to use food as my training tool. I use motivational techniques, whatever the dog likes and enjoys becomes a tool to train. Initially all training and teaching of behaviors is done with food. Its easy, fun, and both kids and dogs learn to enjoy each others company. Children pick up the hand signals very quickly, and the dog learns to respect the children since they are involved in the training process too, and in control of the goodies, i.e.; toys, food, games, etc.
A choke chain is a no no in my classes; otherwise young children would not have the opportunity to become involved in the training. Food luring, hand signals, handfeeding, real-life reward training and patience within the family with children train the dog….plus time, commitment, and love.
At the Jelleff Boys and Girls Club in Georgetown I often invite the passing children and parents to come in and meet the puppies. I love to see the kids faces light up, many don’t have a puppy at home. Most of the kids want to meet the dogs, some may be a bit afraid. It puzzles me to see a young child show fear even to the smallest or gentlest of puppies (mostly due to the bad press dogs have gotten in the past few years, plus perhaps some parental fears passed on to them). I always offer the grand opportunity to help these youngsters make a positive association with the canines in class, help them get a young puppy to sit and take a food treat from their hand. In fact last week I had 4 kids knocking on the classroom door asking, “Do you need anymore kids to help with the puppies?” I just laughed, invited them in, teamed them up with a few pups and their owners.’ I then instructed the adults how to show the kids what to do…everyone went right into ‘puppy push-ups’…good for the kids, good for the pups, we all had fun, and that is exactly the way it should be. If the classes aren’t fun for you, then the chances are great that your dog isn’t having fun either, and if your dog isn’t having fun learning, then the process becomes a ‘chore’…..and training your new and future companion won’t last. I want it to last a lifetime, generation to generation, that is one of my goals.
So, what does P.I.P.E.R.S. mean for children training dogs within the family structure? Simple.
Positive Interactive Play through Educational Relationship Shapers.