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Kids and Puppies


In This Chapter

One of the hallmarks of my childhood was my dog, Shawbee, who was a Husky-Shepherd mix. She was my constant companion, waiting for me at the bus stop, hanging outside the church while I took ballet lessons, sharing my ice-cream cone on a hot summer day. Nowadays, dogs and kids rarely have the freedom to bond this way. The world today is different from when I was a child. We have computers. Most communities have leash laws. Dogs left outside are stolen. People are even more dog phobic. Unfortunately, times have changed, and new problems are cropping up.

Today, kids are often overstimulated at a young age, and they have less time to hang out with dogs. Riding bikes and running around is often limited to parks where dogs aren’t allowed. To boot, young puppies and young kids don’t always hit it off. In some circumstances, the puppy views the child as another puppy to bite and bully. I’ve dealt with situations where the kids don’t like playing with the puppy anymore because “he bites too hard.” At other times, a child becomes jealous of the attention the new addition is getting, which leads to an all-out war between the child and the puppy.
All this talk may sound depressing, but these are things you must think about. Even though a good child-puppy relationship can happen, it takes time, patience, and understanding. Don’t worry. This chapter can help.

Encouraging Positive Interactions between Kids and Pups

Puppies and children are a lot alike. Both like to be connected to adults and like to take direction from others who seem to know more. At a very young age both are astoundingly aware of what gets attention, and they will go to great lengths to either please those they respect or run the show.
As puppies and children grow up, their impulses and hormones mature in kind, spawning egocentric manners, possessiveness, and disrespect. Even though it’s frustrating, each experience is a great sign that your beloved is developing normally. As the days pass and adolescence hits, don’t be too surprised if either one gives you the eye roll. Adolescence is an emotionally confusing time. When puberty hits, both species may want to disown you completely — remember going through all these emotions when you were that age? It’s not fun no matter how many legs you walk on.


To bring out the best in your household, be mindful of where your children are emotionally and what your puppy is capable of at the time. Your child and puppy will be most cooperative when they’re understood and you stay positive. In this section, I give you some suggestions.

Use positive catchphrases


Kids don’t respond well to nagging. Phrases such as “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that” have a tendency to go in one ear and out the other. Like dogs and puppies, kids respond better to a more positive approach.

Catchphrases, such as the following, can be very helpful:

“Four paw rule”: This catchphrase helps the kids remember not to pet Rex until all four paws are planted on the floor. And, this catchphrase sounds a lot better than “Stop calling the dog on the couch.” (At which point, I would defiantly do exactly what you said not to do, if I were the kid.)

“It looks like rain”: When the kids come in from school, have them “look for rain” until your puppy calms down — that is, tell them to cross their arms in front of their body and look to the sky (see Figure 8-1). You can also have your kids look for rain when the pup jumps into their laps for attention. This body language will communicate calmly that jumping is an ineffective way to interact.


If your puppy is just too big for the “looking for rain” technique to be effective, use a spray bottle filled with water or a water-vinegar mix to discourage your pup from jumping. Instead of aiming at his face, however, spray the mist in between your child and the puppy.

Figure 8-1: Kids should “look for rain” until the puppy calms down.

“Kisses”: This trick is fabulous. Rub a frozen stick of butter or peanut butter on the back of the kids’ hands, have them extend their hands, and together instruct “Kisses.” The trick not only teaches your puppy to kiss a hand that reaches toward him, but it also discourages nipping.

“Thumb clip”: This is a kid’s version of bracing (see Chapter Life from His Paws: Understanding Your Puppy’s View of the World). Show your children how to clip their thumb over your puppy’s collar and fan their fingers across his chest. This technique is a good way to discourage jumping and calm your puppy down.

These catchphrases are just some of my all-time favorites. Get creative and discover some catchphrases that work for you. Keep me informed of new ones because I’m always on the lookout for clever ways to help kids and dogs get along together.

Play groovy games


No tug of war, please! Even though your puppy will bait your children and your kids will like the game, discourage it. Your puppy must learn that when hands are touching an object, teeth let go — period. Tug of war can lead to serious consequences because your puppy most likely won’t be able to distinguish between a stuffed toy or leash and an item of clothing (see Figure 8-2).

Breaking the cycle of tug of war

A 6-year-old girl was strangled to death after she was sent out to play with her 3-year-old Golden Retriever. The Golden Retriever was overstimulated in play and tugged on the girl’s scarf until she suffocated and died. Even though no words can express the family’s sorrow, there is a moral to this story: No tug of war. Your dog must learn never to pull on an object that is worn or held by a human.
Puppies love to tug and wrestle as much as, or more than, children do: Tugging is an ageold developmental game of control and power. It has, however, no place in a child-friendly household. Kids can get easily overwhelmed or overpowered by a puppy who can’t differentiate between a toy, an article of clothing, a cherished stuffed animal, a doll, or hands and fingers.
If your puppy is a tugging addict, try the following:

– Tie objects to other grounded objects, such as banisters or trees, and encourage your puppy to tug on these. A banister won’t budge, nor will a tree — this technique is a great way for your puppy to vent his impulses.

– Refer to Chapter Ten Fun Games to teach your puppy a solid “Give” reaction.

– Place your puppy on a drag leash. Doing this enables quick interference if your puppy begins to get noticeably rowdy. If you suspect he’s getting riled up, interfere quickly with a tug of the leash as you say “No.” Then, refocus him onto another activity.

– Use the spray-away techniques described in this chapter to discourage your puppy from tugging with or on your children.

– Bait your puppy to play with or grab at a toy. Tug him sternly if he jumps or grabs at the objects impulsively. Regardless of temptation, this quick tug of the leash will teach your puppy not to grab or tug anything held by or worn by you and your family.

Check out the sidebar “Breaking the cycle of tug of war” to find out how to discourage your pup from playing tug of war.
Figure 8-2: A simple game of tug of war leads to nipping and tugging.
To eliminate tug of war, you must take away the rope toys, shared stuffed animals, and socks. Warn the kids that you will tolerate absolutely no more wrestling, teasing, or chasing the puppy. Jeez, you say, what’s a kid supposed to do for fun? Check out Chapter Ten Fun Games, which contains ten great games you can enjoy with your pup.


Monkey see, monkey do. You are your children’s best example. If you remain calm and structured with your puppy, your child copies you. If you’re frantically confused or you encourage rough play, your child copies that, too. Inspire motivational projects There’s no question that getting a puppy will add to your life — but in the beginning there’s a lot of work to be done. Multiple feedings, hourly housebreak runs, and play, play, and more play. If you get frustrated with your puppy or speak badly of his transgressions, you may notice that people in your household lose their enthusiasm for your new addition. Instead, think through activities that could motivate everyone’s cooperation and bring a united front for this newest member of your family.

Try doing the following with your children:

Make sticker charts: Make an activity chart, and every time one of your kids completes a task (feeding, walking, or brushing your puppy), she can add a sticker to her column. If you have more than one kid, you’ll need plenty of column space. See Figure 8-3 for an example.

Weekly Fun Chart

7 a.m.
Feed and Water
Out and Play
Lead, Station, or Crate, Supervised Freedom
Out and Play
Feeding and Water
12:15 p.m.
Out and Play
Lead, Station, Crate, Supervised Play
Out and Play – Explore
Feed and Water
Lead, Station, or Crate, Supervised Freedom
Family Interaction

Create a super schedule: Kids love to be creative. Ask them to help you write “the SUPER schedule for REX.” Include times for everything: feeding, brushing, playing, and napping. Let the kids decorate around the edges, and hang the finished schedule in a place where everyone can see it.

Set up play stations: Ask your children to help you create a place for your puppy in each room (refer to Chapter Home Sweet Home to see a typical play station). Furnish the location with a place to lie down, a favorite chew, and a toy. Each time you enter the room, send your puppy to his area using a chosen word, such as “Go to your bed.” If your puppy isn’t cooperative with staying in his area, secure his leash to an immovable object (see Chapter Teaching Everyday Etiquette).

Decorate supplies: Call your children to the table and let their imaginations and creativity run wild. Ask them to help you decorate treat cups, snack packs, and your puppy’s dishes. So what if you just spent big bucks on a shiny stainless steel bowl? If your child puts her own stickers on the outside of it, she’ll be far more likely to participate in meal times.

Include kids in short, positive lessons

Kids like to help and be involved, but training exercises can bore them to tears. Face it: To a five-year-old, mud wrestling for two hours is more exciting than a two-minute heel. Training exercises are just no fun, and the phrase “It’s your responsibility to feed Rex” has a negative spin. The good news is that you can get the kids happily involved, but you must be very upbeat and creative. Staying positive is also a plus. Here are a couple ideas:

– Your child can teach your puppy to heel using the jumping trick “Over” found in Chapter Ten Crowd-Pleasing Tricks.

– “Sit” can be a prelude to “Paw” (see Chapters Training through Your Pup’s Growth Stages and Ten Crowd-Pleasing Tricks).


Don’t make your commands too singsong or whiny: Your puppy will take your tone to mean playtime. Teach the puppy a negative sound for unacceptable behavior, such as nipping, and then use it regularly when you see your puppy becoming too excitable with the kids. I use the sound “Ep, ep.”

Daily Discouragements

Let go of the idea that the kids can communicate leadership. Even though some can, usually the responsibility to train your pup will fall (like everything else) in your lap. Young kids can’t train puppies until they grow tall enough to stare at you eye to eye — when they’re about 12 to 14 years old. Before then, they’re just too close to the puppy’s height to be taken seriously. Kids also bend and “bark” too much. So, it’s up to you to teach the puppy to respect the children.


Set up situations your pup can expect to encounter — such as the kids’ running frenzies or their building sets and dolls — to teach your puppy how to handle himself. Use your leash as described in Chapter Teaching Everyday Etiquette. With the right training techniques, you can remedy many everyday occurrences between kids and puppies — things like mouthing and nipping, food grabbing, and chasing. Take a look at Chapter Dealing with Daily Hassles for details on overcoming these and other daily hassles.



A young puppy needs a lot of sleep: 16 to 18 hours until the age of 12 weeks. When overstimulated or overtired, a puppy will nip hard! When he starts getting nippy with the kids, consider separating your puppy calmly to see if he simply needs some quiet time to regroup.

If your puppy is still nippy and wild when the kids are around, secure a leash onto his collar — a more thorough explanation of the drag lead can be found in Chapter Home Sweet Home. He can wear this light leash around the house, which makes for a great way to give indiscrete corrections.
Try as you might, your puppy will consider younger children as sibling puppies. Their play will be different, more facially interactive and impulsive. In the end, your children will have a special and unique relationship with the puppy that will grow as they both age. However, you’ll need to teach your puppy how to interact with your children or he’ll make up his own rules.


Avoid yelling at your puppy when energy escalates. He’ll think you’re part of the play or, worse, that you’re being confrontational. Instead of yelling, check out Chapter Dealing with Daily Hassles, which outlines a more thorough age-appropriate approach to resolving nipping.

Clothing assault

Life can get a little boring for a puppy because he’s always looking up and only able to focus on objects that move by at his nose level. When a fuzzy slipper or dangling sweatshirt passes his line of vision, it’s virtually impossible for him to ignore. If you notice your puppy mounting an all-out assault on your child’s outer wear, you’ll need more than one approach to refocus his excitement.


Encourage before you discourage. Find a toy or object you can place on the floor to refocus your puppy after a correction. Within short order, he may start going for this new item before assaulting the kids! Play with this toy or object both before and during misbehavior so he’ll associate the toy with interaction and group attention.

Come up with one cue word that indicates your child needs your help. “Help” always works under my roof. When you (or any other grown-up) hear this cue, grab a spray deterrent, such as Bitter Apple spray, and move to the rescue. Don’t run, however, or you’ll give yourself away. Walk quickly and quietly, and then discretely spray the clothing your puppy is targeting, whether it’s in his mouth or not. After your puppy has released, refocus him on a toy. You may also need to take care of a need if one is pressing, such as potty, hunger, or play.
If your child is older, she may be able to successfully handle the spray correction on her own. Instruct her to quietly get a spray deterrent and say “No” while spraying the item of clothing your pup is targeting.


If your puppy is repelled by a distasteful spray, douse the coveted item and leave it out for the pup to find. He’ll learn on his own to avoid chewing or pulling on it.

Also consider using a drag lead inside and out to enable you to redirect your puppy’s focus before it goes astray. Move quickly and quietly and say “No” as you tug the leash.
2       Chasing compulsion
They dart, they spin, they stare, and they bark. Wow, those little two-legged creatures are just like puppies. This next exercise will help your puppy learn not to chase and nip them when they go zooming past. It requires a few volunteers — little volunteers, that is. If you don’t have kids, borrow some. Then practice these steps:

1. Start inside. Place your puppy on a leash and go to an open room.

2. Ask the children to run in front of you while you watch your puppy. See Figure 8-4.

3. The second you see that gleam in your pup’s eye, just as he prepares to bound after them, say “No” sternly and quickly tug back on the lead.

After you’ve conquered the chasing exercise, it’s time to try out distance control. Using your long line or Flexi-Lead (see Chapter Home Sweet Home), repeat the procedure again. Tell your little volunteers to race around in front of you (but no circling behind). Correct all thoughts of a chase by tugging back on the lead, saying “No,” and praising your pup for resisting temptation.
Figure 8-4: Stage setups to curb your puppy’s impulse to chase.

Struggle of toys

“Mine!” This popular lament is common in all toddlers — whether they walk on two legs or four. If you’re experiencing this daily frustration, you’re not alone. You must, however, transfer the control of the situation to your child, basically teaching your puppy that when your child touches an object, the puppy must remove his mouth. Following are some suggestions:

– Use the “Give (or Drop)” section in Chapter Ten Fun Games to teach your puppy the proper response to the command “Give.”

– Encourage your child to leave the puppy alone when he’s chewing his toys. Also, ask your child not to shriek when the puppy picks up one of her toys, though I wish you good luck — your puppy may be easier to train than your kids!

– Place treat cups (see Chapter Using Cool Tools and Groovy Gadgets) all around your home. Anytime you see your child approach your puppy when he’s chewing an object, shake the cup and say “Give.” Treat your puppy if he obeys and praise him lavishly.


– If your puppy is showing signs of possessiveness, and you’re unable to convince him to defer to your child, call a professional dog trainer or behaviorist for help. This type of behavior can lead to a serious situation: one in which you’ll have to give your puppy up, or if he bites badly enough, euthanize him.


Some puppies mount kids (and even adults) when they get too excited. Don’t be too embarrassed. Mounting is more a sign of dominance than sexual preference. Knowing this makes it no more acceptable, however. Mounting dogs are bossy dogs who get overstimulated in exciting situations. To rehabilitate your mounting pup, do the following:

1. Leave a 4-foot lead on your pup inside or out.

2. When the mounting starts, calmly grasp the short lead and tug down firmly.


Don’t face off to a mounting puppy. Also, don’t make eye contact, and don’t push him away. These reactions may ignite a confrontational response, escalating your puppy’s reaction instead of calming it.

3. After your pup is grounded, stand very tall, glare at him, and say “Shame on you!” in your most indignant tone.

4. Station your pup for 15 minutes with no attention.

5. If your dog acts aggressively, terminate the corrections and seek help from Chapter Food and Fitnes.

Sarah Hodgson

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