Healthy Dynamics Between Kids and Dogs
I wanted to write a quick post about this because I have recently had many clients who have young kids in their house. When dogs graduate from a board and train program, part of my job is to make sure that all of the obedience training transfers when the dog is being handled by their owner. The other part of my job is to make sure that the routine at home is established in such a way that the dog can be successful when it returns to it's home environment. One of the key things that I will do for a dog that is going into a home with children is to establish rules for the kids when the dog is on a place command.
The place command is one of the most useful commands that a dog can learn, and it can be especially useful in a busy household. It can also be a great tool for giving your dog a chance to take a break and unwind if things have been particularly chaotic or stressful in the house that day. The reason that these dogs can really and truly take a breather while in a place command is that rules have been established with the kids, and they are not allowed to pet or play with the dog while she is on a place bed. While this "kid training" can add another degree of difficulty and add some more work during the initial transition, it is vital to the success of the dog and the safety of the kids.
Children are the most common victims of dog bites, and a large percentage of the dogs that bite children are owned by immediate family. Dogs may bite kids for any number of reasons, but a common situation that I see is a dog that was very tolerant of the kids at first, but began to growl or nip when he started getting messed with more and more. These dogs often start off by just moving away from the kids when they have had enough, but a persistent child will continue to pursue the dog for more petting. The dog starts to think that there is nowhere in the house that he can go to escape, so his warning behaviors will continue to escalate. Furthermore, when a dog is in a place command he is not allowed to get up off the bed without being released by his owner. He is effectively a sitting duck if one of the kids starts petting him on there and gets too rough or annoying for the dog's threshold.
The solution is to make sure that the dog has a safe place that he can go and be left along for as long as he needs. We teach the place command to dogs in such a way that they feel very secure and comfortable there, and they will frequently go hang out in their bed without having to be asked. This is very important, as the dog will be able to discover that he can go there on his own in the house and be able to get some peace as long as he is on the place bed. Whether the dog goes to the bed on their own or through a command, the kids are not allowed to interact with him while he is in that spot. You may have to be diligent at first to keep the kids from the place, but they will soon learn that this is the new routine with the dog.
Kids and dogs can make a great combination when the household is properly managed. Maintaining a good relationship starts with good obedience, and continues with how you choose to implement the training that the dog has. Kids can be involved in this training in a number of ways, such as joining you on structured walks or learning fun games to play with the dog (like fetch or nosework games). However, the dog also needs to be able to have his own personal spot where he can get away from the kids to have a little bit of downtime.
For more tips and information on keeping dogs and children happy and safe, check out Dogs to Diapers. Developed by a friend of mine, this DVD is a fantastic resource for both expecting mothers and those who already have young children.
Sam is the owner and head trainer at Kentucky Dog Training LLC. She set up this blog to share success stories, training tips, the progression of dogs in our training programs, and other thoughts on dogs and training.