Dog Care: How to Teach a Child to Play With a Puppy?

Do You Want a Cuddly Monster or a Mouthy Pup? Helping Kids and Dogs Have Fun

By Marilyn Marks

You got the dog “for the kids,” but sometimes kids and dogs get along more like oil and water than Timmy and Lassie: The dog takes the kids for a walk rather than the other way around, and everyone has holes in their jeans from the “puppy shark” that lives behind the kitchen gate. You got the dog “for the kids,” but sometimes kids and dogs get along more like oil and water than Timmy and Lassie.

What led to this occurrence? Puppies have an abundance of excess energy, and because of this, they play with children as if they were littermates, engaging in activities such as mouthing, chasing, jumping, and wrestling. The dog will eventually learn to view the children as a “cue” to play, regardless of whether the children scream and run away or engage in their own antics. Dogs and children can safely interact in play together after receiving some basic training in this area.

Train the dog to sit on command, even when there are exciting distractions:

  1. Using a piece of food as a lure, bring the dog closer to your knees while simultaneously taking a few steps backward.
  2. When he moves closer to you, bring the treat to your chest and look away from him. Respond with “yes” as soon as his bottom hits the ground, then hand over the treat.
  3. Place a cache of treats in the area, repeat the previous step as if you were holding a treat, confirm his sitting with a “yes,” and then hand him a treat from the nearby cache.
  4. Give the picture some “excitement” by running for a little while, then stopping and looking at the dog. Ignore jumping; when he sits, say “yes” and give a treat, but don’t tell him to sit in the first place.
  5. When the dog sits down on its own whenever you come to a stop, start teaching the younger players how to play the game by going very slowly at first.

Teach the children to be “boring” to jump on by saying things like:

  1. Instruct them to remain still and cross their arms over their chests in order to limit their movement. This prevents their feet and arms from serving as exciting targets for the enemy.
  2. Reward the children for remaining calm and still rather than yelling and running around. You could also teach them to command the dog to “off” in a firm voice, which would serve as a signal for you to come over and assist the child and dog in learning together.

When people get excited, their dogs get excited as well. Keep the dog away from any exciting situations by…

  1. Spending time with the dog inside the house while the children play outside. Take the dog out into the yard whenever you (and the kids) have some time and energy to spare so that you can work on playing nicely together. Your fantastical vision will materialize when the dog is older and more experienced.
  2. Attach a leash to the dog and tether it to a secure location nearby so that he is unable to escape and chase after the pants legs.
  3. Confine the dog to its crate whenever the children are in need of special attention and time, such as when they are arriving home from school. By isolating the dog and the children and waiting until everything (and everyone) has settled down, you can teach the dog to associate children with peace.
  4. When a child wants to hug their new (live) “teddy bear,” the puppy may become “mouthy,” which is a pejorative term. This is interpreted by the puppy as a request to play. Teach children that the ONLY acceptable time to snuggle with a puppy is when the animal is completely worn out.

The name of the game is education and monitoring, but at least with the dog you will only have to do this for the first two years of their life.

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