- Three Steps for Meeting a Dog: Instructions for Parents
- Things Change When Your Baby Learns to Crawl
- What to Do When Your Child is Afraid of Dogs
- Visiting Child is Afraid of Dogs
- A Puppy Party for Kid-Friendly Dogs
- A New Dog with Old Kids
- Rainy Day Activities for Kids and Dogs
- Kids, Dogs, & Responsibility
- Five Cheap Ways to Calm Your Crazy Dog
A Parent's Guide to Dog-Bite Prevention
I hear that all the time. It just makes me want to scream, “But that will be too late!”
Each year nearly 2.8 million children are bitten by a dog. Most of these bites are not coming from some scary dog that got loose. Sensational stories make headlines, but most dog bites are more commonplace. Half come from the family’s own dog, and another 40 percent come from a friend or neighbor’s dog.
As a dog trainer and a mother of three boys, I want families to love having a dog, but I am perpetually frustrated by the lack of knowledge most parents have about basic dog safety. They seem to be operating under the Disney-esque assumption that a good dog would never bite a child, and their dog is certainly a good dog.
Well, I’m sure their dog is a good dog and their kids are good kids, yet every day misunderstandings occur because the parents don’t know how to set everyone up for success. We parents can do much more to prevent our children from being bitten by dogs. But it takes some knowledge.
The best barrier against aggression is a strong social drive. When choosing a dog for your family, look for one that adores people, especially children. A dog that really enjoys kids will give your kids the benefit of the doubt when they step on his tail or fall over him. Even with the best supervision, there will be times when a child hurts a dog. Today, one of my sons kicked off his snow boot, which went flying down the hall and hit the dog. Fortunately for all of us, Gordo didn’t bat an eye.
Several times a month, I am asked to perform behavior assessments of family dogs. One painful part of my job is telling parents when I do not believe their dog has the right temperament to be a safe companion for their children. That breaks my heart, but I feel strongly that I must call the shots as I see them. Sugar-coating or painting a rosy picture might put the family’s child in danger, and I can’t live with that.
I often see dogs that could be great family members with some support from the parents. Supervision, along with a basic understanding of dog behavior, is the key.
For example, here is something I bet you don’t know: Dogs don’t like hugs! Oh, I know, your dog loves when your kids hug him. While I believe that dogs can be taught to accept and, in a few cases, even welcome hugs, I also know that hugging is not a normal dog behavior. Think about the last time you saw one dog “hug” another. It wasn’t a gesture of affection, was it? No, it was either mating or a dominance display. Do you really want your dog thinking your child is attempting either of those behaviors?
Children, especially preschoolers, rarely understand the concept of personal space. We parents need to be sure that our dogs get some downtime away from the kids. It’s wearing to have someone following you around all day, even if he means well. My kids know that if the dog goes in his crate, they cannot talk to him or pet him until he chooses to come back out. It gives the dog a private refuge where he’s notexpected to be the local celebrity, the center of attention.
Learning a bit about canine body language helps too. There is a set of behaviors—called calming signals—dogs display when they are stressed. These serve two purposes: they are an attempt at self-soothing, akin to thumb sucking, as well as a message to others that the dog would like the situation to defuse. Watchful parents can step in when they see their dog exhibiting these behaviors.
- When a dog is a little anxious, he will often quickly stick out his tongue and lick his lips. It’s usually just a fast, little flick. Watch your dog; this is one of the most common signals I see.
- This is often mistaken for contentment. The dog is surrounded by kids, and he lets out a big yawn. Isn’t that sweet? Nope, it’s a sign that he’s in a little over his head and would appreciate your help.
- We’ve all seen dogs shake off when they are wet, but this happens at other times too. I liken it to a reset button on a video game. Time to shake off and start over. It will happen right after something makes the dog uncomfortable, usually as he’s walking away.
- Watch out! Freezing is one step beyond a calming signal; it’s often a last-ditch attempt to tell you to back off. Dogs typically freeze right before they snap or bite. That may sound obvious, but one of the scariest things I ever saw was when an owner told me, “Lucy loves to have kids hug her. Look how still she is.” It was a heart-stopping moment for me. Lucy, thank goodness, did not bite, but she was definitely not enjoying the experience.
Spaying and neutering our pets helps too. Nearly 80 percent of dog bites come from intact males.
It’s important not to blame kids for being kids or dogs for being dogs. Let’s be realistic; it’s impossible to control someone else’s behavior 100 percent, be it dog or child. We parents can, however, teach dogs and kids to enjoy each other’s company more by building an understanding of each other’s behavior—and in doing so, we will decrease that scary number of annual dog bites and help ensure that our children are not bitten.
Three Steps for Meeting a Dog: Instructions for Parents
Good kids and good dogs will have miscommunications every day. By teaching children and dogs how to interact with one another, we laying the groundwork for happy, healthy relationships between them. Take time to help your child practice meeting a variety of dogs.
Step 1: Ask the Owner
Teach your kids never to rush up toward a dog. Tell them to stop about 5 feet away and ask the owner, "May I pet your dog?"
Sometimes the answer will be no. Many dogs don't live with kids and are not comfortable with them. So if the dog’s owner says no, that's okay. Remind your kids that there are lots of other dogs who would love to be petted by them.
If the owner says yes, then the children must ask the dog.
Step 2: Ask the Dog—Do Not Skip This Step!
Tell kids that dogs don’t use words but instead rely on body language. Pantomime various emotions such as anger, fear and excitement to show the kids that they use body language too.
Have your children make a fist with the palm pointed down. Then they can slowly extend their arm for the dog to sniff their hand. Teaching the kids to curl their fingers in minimizes the risk of a dog nipping their finger.
When the dog is being given the opportunity to sniff, watch his body language.
Does he come forward with loose, waggy motions? That’s definitely a yes.
Does he lean forward for a quick sniff and seem comfortable? Also a yes.
Does he turn his face away from your child’s hand? Back away? Bark? Move behind the owner? Look anxious and unsettled? Growl? These are all nos.
Unfortunately some owners don’t understand or respect their dog’s decision and will drag the dog forward saying, “Oh, he’s fine. He loves kids. You can pet him.” DON’T! Do not ever allow your children to pet a dog that does not approach them willingly.
Step 3: Pet the Dog
If the owner says yes and the dog says yes, the kids can pet the dog. Tell your kids that they need to be careful of a dog's sensitive eyes and ears. Most dogs don't like to be petted on top of their heads, but nearly all people pet dogs this way—it’s a hardwired human behavior. There is a blind spot on top of a dog’s head. If he sees your child’s hand moving toward that area, the natural inclination is for him to tilt his head up and watch where the hand is going. Now your child’s hand is reaching right over the dog’s teeth—not a very good place for that hand to be.
Suggest that your children stroke the side of the dog's neck, rub under his chin, scratch his chest, or pet along his back. Most dogs prefer slow, gentle strokes to rapid pat-pat-patting.
Things Change When Your Baby Learns to Crawl
You read all the books about introducing your new baby to the family dog. You played a CD of noises to help Scooter become accustomed to the sounds Isabella would make. You brought home a blanket from the hospital for him to smell before the baby came home. You covered all of your bases . . . so why, seven months later, is Scooter acting so strangely?
Your baby has started to crawl. Scooter didn’t expect that. Isabella’s newfound mobility can upset and confuse Scooter. Now Isabella is investigating areas he once thought were his. And she’s approaching him on her own terms rather than waiting for him to come to her.
If your dog is going to have problems with your baby, the crawling stage is typically where you see the first significant signs. A few questions to consider . . . Does Scooter happily approach you when you are sitting on the couch and holding Isabella? Does he stay just out of arms’ reach or snuggle in close? Does he seem interested in her activity or a bit nervous about it?
It’s time to pull out those baby gates and put them to use. When Isabella is exploring all the nooks and crannies of the living room, let her do so without Scooter’s supervision. Many dogs are protective of things they consider their own. Scooter’s toys are an obvious example, but Scooter may feel that the corner where his cushioned bed is belongs to him and him alone. He may be uncomfortable with Isabella crawling on it. Until you are certain that Scooter is comfortable with all of Isabella’s explorations, give them each some space in the early stages.
Many dogs are fine as long as the baby isn’t pursuing them. But week by week, Isabella is picking up speed, and one of her primary interests is likely to be Scooter. This is fine as long as you make sure that Scooter always has a way to get away from her when he’s had enough. Be sure that she cannot pin him into a corner; you never want your dog to choose the “fight” half of the “fight-or-flight” stress response.
Isabella is not old enough to truly understand that she needs to be gentle to Scooter (or anyone else for that matter), but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be trying to teach her. If Scooter is happy to sit beside you and Isabella, take her hand and gently stroke his fur. Be careful to avoid his eyes and ears. It’s usually best for children to pet dogs on their sides and backs.
Also, no matter how conscientious you are, little children are prone to having sticky fingers. It’s quite easy for Isabella to accidentally pull Scooter’s fur because her hands naturally grasp and the stickiness can trap some of his fur.
Don’t Force Contact.
You know that Isabella is trying to be friendly when she’s approaching Scooter. In most cases, he’ll know that too. Dogs as a species are remarkably perceptive and accommodating of human behavior. But if Scooter has any concerns, the worst thing you can do is hold him still and allow Isabella to pet him. Unfortunately many parents do exactly that. They feel that by holding the dog, they are conveying to him that he is safe and that Isabella is being friendly. In all likelihood, the dog is learning the exact opposite; he’s learning that he is sometimes caught, restrained, and forced to endure contact that he perceives as scary. This treatment will usually result in a dog that is more likely to avoid your child, not less.
Set Up Some Fun Interactions.
The easiest way to help a dog like kids is to have good things happen when kids are around. That sounds simple enough, but often your child needs so much of your attention that the dog gets left behind. Then when Isabella is asleep, you play with Scooter and give him lots of attention. With a little advance planning, you can do both.
Teach Scooter the names of some of his toys. Then when you are caring for Isabella, you can send him searching for the special toys. Toss the toy down the stairs and let him run after it.
You can also stuff a few chew toys (such as Kongs or Everlasting Fun Balls) and keep them handy to give to Scooter when you are playing with Isabella. Then he’ll be nearby enjoying a special treat and associating it with her presence. This is a very simple, yet powerful, concept.
And keep in mind that as Isabella learns to fling food from her highchair tray, Scooter is as enchanted with her newfound skill as you are . . . but for a completely different reason. Dogs make a great kitchen cleanup crew.
Kids and dogs can be wonderful friends, but it is important for us as parents to orchestrate their interactions in such a way that they always see each other in the best light. Keep a careful eye on Isabella and Scooter and look for ways to help them enjoy spending time together. You’ll be glad you did.
What to Do When Your Child is Afraid of Dogs
Each of these children is afraid of dogs. As parents, we strive to teach our kids how to cope with life and its challenges. Yet some parents mistakenly believe that it is good for a child to be afraid of dogs because then the child will be more cautious around them.
It doesn’t usually work that way. When children are frightened, they often run, scream and flail. These actions typically bring a dog closer, not keep it away.
Dogs can and do bite children on occasion. But it is not as common as you might think, and there are many things you can do to help ensure that your child will not be bitten. The most important is to learn about dog body language and behavior.
The more you know about something, the less scary it becomes. Many kids are frightened because they don’t know what a dog will do next. Dogs communicate almost entirely through body language. A basic knowledge of body language can help kids to understand a dog’s intentions.
My favorite resource for teaching kids about canine body language is the Doggone Crazy board game (www.doggonecrazy.com). The game includes over 100 playing cards. Each features a color photo of a dog on the front and asks whether it would be safe to approach the dog. The back of each card gives the correct answer and explains why. I especially like that there are a variety of dogs and that each is called by name. I have found that kids are less afraid when they know the dog’s name; “Teddy” and “Riley” seem less intimidating than “that collie” or “the wheaten terrier.”
After you have a basic understanding of body language, start watching dogs from a distance. Park outside a pet supply store and talk about the dogs you see coming and going. Which ones look happy, which look frightened, which have been taught to walk nicely on a lead, which seem like old or young dogs?
When your child is very comfortable watching dogs at a distance, try introducing older, calm dogs to your child. Respect her fear and work at her own pace. Don’t try to rush or cajole her into doing more than she’s comfortable with.
Most children will reach out and touch a calm dog’s haunches if the owner turns the dog’s head away from the child. That’s an excellent first step. Talk with your child about how the dog’s fur feels. Ask her if she thinks other dogs’ fur would be softer or more rough. Get her thinking about that one dog as an individual. Ask the owner to talk about some of the dog’s favorite activities.
Work toward having your child give the dog cues (with dog’s owner ensuring that the dog complies). Seeing a dog respond correctly to what she asks will help her feel safer.
It’s best for her to work steadily with one dog until she feels very comfortable before adding another. Once she has met and likes three calm, adult dogs, begin thinking about introducing her to a puppy. Puppies are bouncy and outgoing, which can be unnerving for a tentative child.
Again, let her start out at a distance, simply observing the puppy’s behavior. Talk with her about the ways in which the puppy is similar to and different from the adult dogs she’s met. When she is ready, let her approach the puppy. Be sure that adults are there to prevent the puppy from jumping on her; that would set your progress back considerably. Give her treats that she can toss away from herself for the puppy to eat.
If she’s comfortable, teach her how to lure the puppy into a sit. First, show her how holding a treat in your hand and moving it just barely higher than the puppy’s nose in the direction of his tail will cause the puppy to lift his head up and put his haunches down. Do it a few times so she can watch you. Then have her put a treat in her fist and wrap your hand around hers and lure the puppy into a sit. (Still have an adult there to prevent jumping.)
Take it slow. It’s much better to teach your child to be a skilled observer of animal behavior than it is for her to be thrown into situations that frighten her. With patience and time, she will learn that there are many gentle, social dogs, and she’ll be able to interact safely and calmly with new dogs she meets. That’s far, far safer than having her remain afraid of all dogs.
Visiting Child is Afraid of Dogs
Kevin came over to play today. For the past two hours, he and my 6-year-old son Brandon have been running through the house playing hide and seek. They’ve gone in every room at least twice, have repeatedly hollered up and down the stairs, and have even attempted to sneak up behind me a few times, but their giggling always gives them away. The boys are having a wonderful visit.
This whole time, my dog, Gordo, has been in his crate.
Gordo is a great dog with kids. In fact, just this morning, he and I visited three preschool classes to present dog-safety workshops where he gracefully allowed thirty-six 3- and 4-year-olds to pet him only a few hours ago. Because I am a dog trainer, we visit schools regularly as a community service.
So why is he napping in his crate while one 6-year-old visitor is here? Well, there are two reasons. First, Kevin told me that he’s nervous around dogs, “especially big dogs who will bite me.” Hmm, Gordo may be big, but he’s definitely not a biter. And second, I have work to do while the boys are playing.
Whenever a child visits our home, I actively supervise every interaction between the dog and the kids (mine too). Kids are exciting and exhausting. All parents know that, but we often forget that our dogs see kids that way too. Dogs become accustomed to the antics of “their” kids, but other children can be very hard for them to read.
I find a Wizard of Oz analogy helpful when I’m trying to explain to people how human body language affects dogs. Men are like the tin man; they stand up straight and approach directly. They frequently reach right for the dog’s face. Many dogs are intimidated by this frontal advance.
Women are like the scarecrow. We soften our body language by crouching down to make ourselves smaller and less intimidating, and we frequently beckon dogs to approach us, rather than move into their space.
Children are the cowardly lion, and they can be the most frightening of all. They reach forward to pet a dog, then jerk their hand back because they’re unsure. Over and over. The dog, watching a hand volley back and forth over his head, often interprets this as teasing. “Can you get me? Here I am! Ha, ha, now I’m gone.”
None of these behavioral styles cause aggression in dogs, but if a dog is already uncomfortable and you act like the tin man or the cowardly lion, you are only making things worse.
Each year, approximately 2.8 million children are bitten by a dog; boys receive two-thirds of these bites. These are our children! Parents play a huge role in keeping children safe around dogs. We can do better! The most important thing we as parents can do is learn a little about dogs and their body language. Once we understand what a dog is telling us, we’ll be much better equipped to help our dogs and kids understand one another.
Dogs communicate almost entirely through body language. They are very adept at reading nonverbal messages from other dogs and from their human families. Unfortunately we often misunderstand or simply don’t notice what our dogs are trying to tell us. In my dog-training classes, I frequently stop the class to narrate the messages various dogs are sending with their body language.
There is a set of mannerisms—called calming signals—dogs display when they are stressed. These serve two purposes: they are an attempt at self-soothing, akin to thumb sucking, as well as a message to others that the dog would like the situation to defuse.
Lip licking—When a dog is a little anxious, he will often quickly stick out his tongue and lick his lips. It’s usually just a fast, little flick. Watch your dog; this is one of the most common signals I see. Yawning—This is often mistaken for contentment. The dog is surrounded by kids, and he lets out a big yawn. Isn’t that sweet? Nope, it’s a sign that he’s in a little over his head and would appreciate your help.
Turning face away—Often owners think a dog turning away from them is “blowing them off” and they intensify their demands on him, which is exactly what the dog was trying to avoid.
Shaking off—We’ve all seen dogs shake off when they are wet, but this happens at other times too. I liken it to a reset button on a video game. Time to shake off and start over. It will happen right after something makes the dog uncomfortable, usually as he’s walking away.
Freezing—Watch out! Freezing is one step beyond a calming signal; it’s often a last-ditch attempt to tell you to back off. Dogs typically freeze right before they snap or bite. That may sound obvious, but one of the scariest things I ever saw was when an owner told me that, “Lucy loves to have kids hug her. Look how still she is.” It was a heart-stopping moment for me. Lucy, thank goodness, did not bite, but she was definitely not enjoying the experience.
Most of the time when kids come over, they know Gordo and are comfortable with him. So I let the kids visit with him for a few minutes when they arrive, and then I keep Gordo with me while the kids play. Kevin is a new friend and he’s afraid of big dogs, so today, I chose to let the boys play alone. Gordo got a nap, and I got much more done than if I’d spent the time watching Kevin, Brandon, and Gordo interact.
Now that it is nearly time for Kevin to go home, I ask him again if he’d like to meet Gordo. He agrees on the condition that Gordo won’t jump on him. I assure him that Gordo will not and offer Kevin a handful of cheerios. As I unzip the mesh crate and Gordo comes wiggling out to meet a new friend, I whisper to Kevin for him to toss a few cheerios on the floor. This helps Gordo seem less intimidating because the dog is far more focused on the floor than he is on Kevin.
As Kevin becomes more comfortable, I tell him that Gordo knows a few tricks and suggest that he try telling Gordo to sit and to spin. Kevin’s face lights up as he watches Gordo listen to him—a 6-year-old visitor! That’s very empowering. Knowing that you have some control over a situation always helps alleviate fear.
It’s time for us take Kevin home, so I tell the boys to grab their jackets. As we walk out the door, Kevin looks over his shoulder and says, “Bye, Gordo. I’ll see you next time.”
Now that’s a successful visit!
A Puppy Party for Kid-Friendly Dogs
Hosting a puppy party is a great way to help your new puppy begin enjoying and feeling at ease around kids. Puppies under 5 months old can learn a lot in an easy 30-minute play date. Here are a few tips.
Send Invitations to 5-10 Kids. Write something like this: “We have a new dog! Bailey is a 3-month-old beagle/Labrador mix, and she loves kids! You are invited to her first puppy party where you can help us teach her how to play nicely with kids. Join us on Saturday at 2:30 pm.”
Have Bailey on a leash when the kids arrive. Step on it so that she cannot jump on the children. Ask them to come over and extend their fist (with fingers curled in) so that she can sniff it. Explain to the kids that dogs use their sense of smell to recognize people and that Bailey sniffs them to learn who they are. Most puppies will be wiggly and interested in the kids. Let the kids pet Bailey gently under her chin or on the side of her neck. Encourage the children to be careful of the dog’s sensitive eyes and ears, which will discourage them from petting the dog on top of the head. People often pat dogs on the head, but dogs really don’t like it, so you’ll be teaching the children good habits for interacting with all dogs.
Pass the Puppy
After each child has had a chance to meet the puppy on leash, have the kids all sit in a circle on the floor. Each child in turn will be allowed to call Bailey over, give her a treat, and gently pet her for about 15 seconds. Give a few delicious dog treats to each child in turn. The other kids should be told to ignore Bailey if she comes to them when it isn’t their turn. Once everyone has had a turn, go around again and give each child two more treats. Then you will call a child’s name at random, and he can again call Bailey, give her one of the treats, and pet her gently. When everyone has had two turns in the mixed up sequence, the kids can begin teaching Bailey to sit politely for greeting.
Be a Tree
Put Bailey in her crate for a few minutes and, teach all of the children to be a tree—by planting their feet, clasping their hands together and holding them close to their body, and looking down at their feet. Tell the kids that by being a tree they are using body language to teach a dog to be calm and polite. Have a few silly, wiggly practice sessions in which you all hop around and then on cue suddenly freeze into the tree pose. Kids love that. Bring Bailey back over on leash and tell each child to be a tree when she comes close. If she jumps on them, they should ignore her and keep being a tree.
Let Bailey wander around the kids for a minute or two. She’ll be wondering why they are all suddenly so boring. Then give the children each a treat and ask them to stand in a circle so they can practice teaching Bailey not to jump on people. As with Pass the Puppy, each kid will take a turn to call Bailey over. If she jumps up, the child should immediately be a tree and withhold the treat. If she does not jump, tell them to give her the treat. After going around the room a few times, Bailey will quickly learn that keeping all four paws on the ground equals treats and jumping makes people become boring. What a great lesson for a young pup to learn.
Helping the Lessons to Stick
Put Bailey back in her crate for a nap and take the kids to the kitchen to wash up and get a snack. Over cookies and juice, talk to the kids about all the ways they can help Bailey—and the other dogs they know—by interacting with them in gentle, calm ways. Remind them that they can be a tree whenever they are worried about a new dog or when they are near a dog that is being too silly, such as when they come through the door at a friend’s house and the dog greets enthusiastically. Dogs communicate almost exclusively through body language so tell the kids they are learning to communicate with the dogs in “dog language” and that their new skills will make dogs like them even more than they already do.
Thank them for helping you get Bailey off to a good start, and ask them to continue to help you by not petting Bailey if she jumps on them. Using these simple tips, you will soon have a dog that loves hanging out with kids and enjoys gentle, calm interactions with them.
Send out your invitations right away. Kids will be clamoring to come to your puppy party!
A New Dog with Old Kids
We adopted a dog recently. Edzo is a 2-year-old Norwegian elkhound. He’s sweet, social and gentle, and I have not seen one worrisome behavior in the time we’ve had him. My kids are really excited to have him in the family.
My three sons have been raised with dogs and have attended more bite-prevention events than they care to remember. They know how to be respectful and kind to dogs, so they’ve been a little puzzled by some of the rules I’ve set in place to help Edzo adjust to living in our home.
Supervision. We were told that Edzo was housetrained and did not chew household objects. As a dog trainer, I spend a lot of time talking to people about housetraining and about cleaning carpets. I really hate cleaning carpets. If I can help it, there will be no housetraining accidents, so we have to treat Edzo as if he were an untrained puppy and set him up for success. The first few days, I kept him very close by and would use his leash to tether him near me. Once I felt confident that he was reliably eliminating in the yard and not prone to chewing up random objects, I began giving him a little more freedom, which meant that instead of keeping him in my sight, I was leaping up and following him each time he moved.
More freedom for him meant less for me. I’ve gone back to living with a toddler, giving Edzo room to explore while providing the supervision necessary to ensure that he doesn’t get into anything he shouldn’t. When I cannot supervise Edzo for a few minutes, I’ve asked my 15- and 12-year-old sons to do it. They know that if Edzo has an accident or chews something on their watch, they’ll be doing the cleanup. So far, so good. Edzo has had no accidents in the house and has only destroyed one sponge ball he found behind the couch.
Quieter Play. Our 7-year-old labrador is unflappable. When the kids chase each other through the house, he barely lifts an eyebrow. Edzo, on the other hand, needs some time to adjust to living with five people. He needs to learn that kids can be loud without being scary. The boys are doing a pretty good job of remembering to modulate their play, but I’ve had to remind them a few times. I’m not at all worried that Edzo would bite them for being too rambunctious, only that they might unintentionally frighten him. The goal is to have a dog that loves kids and is unfazed by their antics, so it’s worth toning things down a bit for the short term.
Downtime. Every now and then, Edzo wanders into his crate, lies down on his cozy bed, and takes a nap. I am happy to see him choosing downtime on his own. I love when dogs learn to self-regulate their arousal levels. At times, I have also put him into his crate and closed the door for an hour or so. It’s really important that new dogs be given some downtime to rest up and be ready to have more new experiences when they wake.
Keep in mind that everything in your household is new to the dog and that if the dog has never lived with kids, he’ll be introduced to some behavior he’s never seen before. When’s the last time you invited adult guests over to play hide and seek or to build a fort out of couch cushions in the living room? Kids are different. Dogs can adapt well to change, but it’s important to give them a balance of busy and quiet periods.
Meeting Friends. My 10-year-old son excitedly called all of his friends to tell them about his new dog. One of them wanted to come over at a time when I would be at work. I told Brandon that, while I’m sure Edzo will be delighted to meet his friends, I must be present to orchestrate the introductions. I want to be sure that Edzo doesn’t jump on anyone and that the kids learn the proper way to meet a dog. I encourage children to let the dog sniff their hand and then to pet the dog gently under the chin or on the neck, but never on top of the head. It’s natural for people to reach over a dog’s head to pat him, but it’s very disconcerting for the dog to have someone reaching toward his blind spot. I seize every chance to teach kids how to make dogs like them, and meeting friends for the first time is a prime opportunity.
Edzo is a fantastic dog. He’s fitting in beautifully with our family—in part because I’ve insisted that we take the time to ease Edzo into our routines and to help him adapt to a busy household.
A little advance planning and extra effort on a parent’s part can go a long way to having a dog that loves kids.
Rainy Day Activities for Kids and Dogs
Rainy days with stir-crazy kids and dogs can try your sanity. When your kids wail that there’s nothing fun to do, have them try some of these simple games with the family dog.
Hansel & Gretel Trails. This is a really basic activity, but kids love it! Give your children a small bowl of treats and tell them to create a trail for the dog to follow. Keep the dog near you while the kids put a treat every 2 to 4 feet. When they have laid out the entire path, have them come back and tell the dog to sit before releasing the dog to follow the trail. They’ll follow along behind the dog cheering for each successful find.
Commando Crawl (for mid-sized dogs). Have the kids lay a trail of treats running under your coffee table from one end to the other. Teach the dog to belly-crawl across the floor to get the treats.
Dog Bowling. Arrange empty plastic 2-liter bottles in a bowling triangle in the hallway and have the kids take turns calling the dog for a treat. Whoever gets the dog to topple the most pins as he races down the hall wins.
Tiny Teeter-Totter. Lay a piece of plywood on the floor. Have the kids give the dog treats for stepping on the board. Once the dog is not at all concerned about walking on the board, lay the board across a broom to make a 2” high teeter-totter. Keep rewarding the dog for walking over the board. Remind the kids to keep their fingers away from the board while the dog is on it!
Rainy Day Come. Give each child a small cup of dog treats. Tell one child to go “hide” in the kitchen. At first the child won’t really hide, she’ll just stand in the center of the kitchen and call the dog. While dog is trotting toward the kitchen, send another child to the dining room.
After the first child has had the dog sit to get a treat, the child in the dining room can call the dog . . . and while the dog is coming to the second child, the first child will head to the living room. When it’s her turn to call again, she’ll call and the dog will head for the kitchen only to find that she’s not there! While the dog looks for the first child, the second chooses a new spot.
As your dog gets better at this game, the kids can make it more challenging by standing behind doors or sitting in unusual places. The game is over when the kids are out of treats; then everyone can head to the kitchen for a cookie break.
Remember to use lots of treats to make these games as much fun for the dog as for the kids. The idea is to offer the children simple training opportunities in fun, easy-to-implement ways.
Don’t allow anyone to push or pull the dog to get him to do something. If the dog seems confused or resistant, look for ways to make the challenges easier. Watch for any signs of frustration—on either the kids’ or dog’s part—and step in right away to help.
Soon your kids will be hoping it rains more often.
Kids, Dogs, & Responsibility
The kids have been clamoring for a dog for years. Now that your youngest is in elementary school, you are thinking the time may be right, but you’re worried about how much work adding a dog to the family will be.
By elementary-school age, kids can be a great help in caring for the family dog, but it’s important to remember that the ultimate responsibility for the pet always falls on an adult’s shoulders. Be certain that you want a dog before you commit.
Feeding the dog is a fun task. An adult should figure out exactly how much the dog should be eating at each meal. Purchase a measuring scoop and clearly mark it to show how much food the child should give the dog. Without clear guidance, kids will typically overfeed the dog, which not only isn’t healthy, but it can also lead to housetraining accidents. No one wants that.
Teach your dog to sit and stay while your child scoops the food and puts down the bowl. Initially you may need to hold onto the dog’s collar to ensure that he doesn’t charge forward in enthusiasm, but he’ll quickly learn that your child will not set the bowl down unless the dog remains sitting. This is a great chance to use real-life rewards and consequences for the dog and to explain to your child that this works with people too, when she does as you ask, good things happen for her too.
If your dog enjoys being brushed, have the kids do that job. You can either have them collect the loose hair into a bag to be disposed or put it in a bush or tree for birds to use when making nests. Many children enjoy giving the fur to the birds as much as the actual task of brushing the dog. Do not ask your children to trim the dog’s toenails; many dogs are very sensitive about their feet.
Taking the dog for a walk is best shared as a parent/child activity. Kids under 12 are not usually equipped to deal with all the surprises that could pop up during a walk, like squirrels and cats rushing by, strangers approaching to pet the dog, other dogs barking in their yards, or startling noises (such as sirens or power tools).
Dogs can bring you a lot of joy, but it’s always wise to think carefully before adding one to your family.
Five Cheap Ways to Calm Your Crazy Dog
#1. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise. That’s the first and most important recommendation for calming your dog down. Letting your dog out in the backyard to play is not sufficient exercise for most dogs. Give your dog both mental and physical outlets for his energy with the training games included in later chapters.
#2. The Do-Nothing Exercise. Sue Sternberg of Rondout Valley Animals for Adoption deserves the credit for this idea. It’s one of my favorites for calming dogs down. Start in a small, quiet room. Be boring. Just sit and read a magazine while paying peripheral attention to your dog. When he finally lies down, click and throw him a treat. Yes, that will cause him to come running over to you in the hopes of some interaction. Nope, sorry. You are too busy reading your magazine. Soon he’ll go lie down again. Click and throw him a treat. Gradually, your dog will learn that you really like when he is still. Be sure to keep rewarding him the longer he’s quiet. The more effort you spend on training this, the less you’ll have to do it over the course of the dog’s life.
#3. Food. Lots of dogs show ADHD-like behavior when they eat a poor diet. Visit All About Dogs' website and click on "Choosing the Best Food for Your Dog" for more information about diet and a list of foods recommended by Whole Dog Journal.
#4. Lavender. A few drops of lavender essential oil between a dog’s shoulder blades can help calm many dogs. It’s an easy thing to try and the worst that can happen is your house will develop a fresh, floral smell. Many health-food stores carry lavender.
#5. Snug shirts. Do you remember when they brought your baby to you in the hospital? They gave you a child wrapped so tightly in a blanket that only her face was peeking out. There’s a reason for that: snugness settles and soothes. Many dogs are calmed by wearing a snug t-shirt. Get one that fits your dog through the chest and ribs, and tieup the excess around his waist with a rubber band. Yep, it sounds crazy, but it often works. Give it a try. I love the Thundershirt, which is designed especially for dogs who'll benefit from some calming touch.