Cuddle Pup or Mouthy Monster? Helping Kids and Dogs Have Fun
By Marilyn Marks
You got the dog “for the kids” but sometimes kids and dogs mix 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.
How did this happen? Puppies have excess energy and they play with kids as if they were littermates, including mouthing, chasing, jumping, and wrestling. Whether kids engage with their own shenanigans or scream and run, the dog learns to view the kids as a “cue” to play. With a little education for both dogs and children, they can play without incident.
Teach the dog to sit automatically when things get exciting:
1. Using a food lure, move the dog towards your knees as you back up a few steps.
2. As he moves towards you, lift the treat to your chest and look down. Say “yes” as his butt hits the floor and give the treat.
3. Put some treats nearby, repeat above as if you’re holding a treat, say “yes” when he sits, and then give a treat from the cache nearby.
4. Add “excitement” to the picture: run a bit, then stop and look down at the dog. Ignore jumping; don’t say “sit” but when he sits say “yes” and give a treat.
5. When the dog automatically sits each time you stop, teach the kids to play this game, starting with very slow motion.
Teach the kids to be “boring” to jump on:
1. Reduce movement by having them stand still and cross their arms on their chest. This keeps their feet and arms from being exciting targets.
2. Reward the kids for standing quietly and still rather than screaming. Or teach them to sternly say “off,” which is your cue to come to help the child and dog learn together.
Dogs get excited when people are excited. Separate the dog from exciting times by…
1. Giving the pup in-the-house time while the kids are outside running around. When you (and the kids) can devote time and effort take the dog in the yard to practice playing together nicely. When the dog is older, the fantasy you envisioned will appear.
2. Tether the dog via a leash to a sensible place nearby so he can’t run and chase pant legs.
3. Crate the dog when kids need their special time and attention, such as when they are getting home from school. By separating the two and waiting until everything (and everyone) calms, the dog associates kids with calmness.
4. Often a pup becomes “mouthy” when the child wants to hug their new (live) “teddy bear.” The pup sees this as an invitation to play. Teach kids that the ONLY time to cuddle is when the puppy is all tuckered out.
Educate and supervise is the name of the game – at least with the dog you only have to do it for the first 2 years!