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Teaching Dogs about children

Donna Gleason on July 01, 2013

teaching dogs about children

Several years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled. “All I Ever Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. In his book, he speaks about how people can live a meaningful life by learning from experiences that occur while attending kindergarten. Share everything. Play fair. Don't take things that aren't yours. Don't hit people. If I was going to write a similar book (from a dog’s perspective), it might be titled: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in my Whelping Box. Some of my thoughts would be similar to Robert Fulgham’s, however “Don't hit people” would most likely be changed to “Don’t bite people”.

While in the whelping box, puppies begin to learn about limitations and boundaries from their mom and littermates. How to play appropriately with other dogs. How to send and receive appropriate canine social signals. How to use their teeth and mouth appropriately when engaging in play. Each one of these experiences will be part of a pup’s behavioral foundation for the rest of their life. So, how can we help our puppies and young dogs learn about children, using previous experiences they may have encountered while living in the whelping box with their mom and littermates?

Children are not puppies with two legs.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to grab the remote control on Super Bowl Sunday and watch the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet, you know that puppies engaging in unleashed play are close to the same height, project lots of energy, impulsive and may (at times) forget to be gentle when interacting with another dog. Many of these traits can also be observed when watching small children engage in free-play. Maybe that is why some puppies may view young children as a “buddy” on two legs.

However, your pup no longer has his mom and littermates to correct him, so it becomes the role of the adults (living in the home) to continue this role. Here is what you can do; Control the level of energy that occurs between your pup and child and try to keep their interactions positive and fun. “Mom, he’s biting me again!”...is not fun!!

When energy levels begin to rise and before interactions are no longer positive or fun, stop the play and redirect your pup with his favorite toy or perhaps ask him to perform a learned cue. This tactic will diffuse the energy and redirect your pup’s attention onto something else. It teaches your pup alternative and incompatible behaviors for those times when he needs to burn off a little steam and goes looking for the nearest child.

Children are not chew toys:

Puppies and maybe even most dogs love to chew. Chew on marrow bones, fancy chew toys from pet stores, furniture, shoes, books ...oh my, the list can become quite long!! But now let’s add movement from a young child into the equation. You can just see the pup thinking, “Oh boy! I’ve just been reunited with my littermates…I know I will be corrected when I’ve gone too far, but for now let the games begin!” Off your pup goes to chase, play and nip at your child. Puppies and young dogs sometimes don’t understand that showing good “bite inhibition” - playing with a “soft mouth” makes us humans VERY happy!

Young pups may occasionally bite a littermate to hard when interacting with each other in their whelping box. The recipient of the bite typically will let out a sudden and sharp "yelp" in response to their discomfort. The game suddenly ends and all interactions cease. We can also use those same techniques, when teaching a pup that children/humans are not chew toys. Over time your dog will realize that when he uses a soft mouth, the fun continues, but when he nips too hard…game over!

Final Note: Pups begin to learn the rules of appropriate canine interactions from the residents they shared a space with while in the whelping box. Now that those pups are living in our space, we become the residents who need to teach them the rules of appropriate human/canine interaction, especially when it comes to our children.

Donna GleasonCDBC, CPDT- KA is owner of TLC Dog Trainer (Time Love and Commitment) resides in Sherman, CT. and has a Masters in Behavior Modification. She offers professional in-home dog training (specializing in puppy education, basic obedience and behavior modification for unruly or reactive dogs) as well as group puppy/basic obedience classes. Donna is a member of APDT, Shelter Animal Reiki Association, Pet Partners, mentor/trainer for Animal Behavior College, CGC evaluator and consulting trainer for PawSafe Animal Rescue. Donna can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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