THE PERFECT FAMILY PUPPY
Deciding as a family to adopt a new dog or puppy can be such an exciting time! Dog ownership can be a wonderful asset to family life and the right family pet can be a valuable companion to a growing little boy or girl. Owning a dog has proven health benefits for the whole family such as reduced stress and better physical health. Dog ownership teaches our children empathy, compassion and responsibility, and gets them out into the great outdoors!
The experiences children have had of other peoples dogs will shape their expectations of their new puppy. Lots of children look forward to cosy cuddles with their new fluffy little bundle of joy! Sadly, reality often doesn’t match with expectations, and new puppies are hard work for parents and children alike. This can often result in puppies being surrendered to our already full-to-burst rescue system.
However, with careful management, planning and training of both children and the new dog you can have your perfect family pet! We certainly wouldn’t be without ours and my little boy would say the same!
MANAGEMENT AND SUPERVISION
Normal puppy behaviour is often not very child-friendly – biting, snapping, mouthing, jumping up and stealing are all ways in which your puppy will communicate with you. While we teach our puppy not to do these things our most important strategy is management.
Puppies and young children should NEVER be left on their own together without 100% supervision from an experienced adult. This usually means using crates, baby gates and indoor leads to help with your training. This way parents can be there to manage and coach children and puppies when they interact to make sure every learning experience is a good one!
GIVE ME SOME SPACE!
Children often want to pick up, kiss and hug puppies and climb on them. Because dogs communicate in different ways from us these activities can all be very stressful and overwhelming. They may respond by hiding from the children or avoiding them, or even growling and snapping if they feel they are not being listened to. We need to teach our children what is appropriate behaviour around puppies, as well as teaching the puppies that children are great!
Make sure that your dog or puppy has a safe quiet place to go to for rest and sleep where it won’t be disturbed by children. This might be a crate or bed in a different room. Make sure the children know that they are not allowed to touch, approach or interact with your dog when he or she is there. We like to get them to make a ‘Do Not Disturb’ poster for this area!
START WITH A SIT!
We have successfully taught children as young as 3 to ask their dogs or puppies to Sit. It is a simple exercise to teach, quick and easy for dogs and children to learn, gives children a sense of pride and teaches puppies that children are worth listening to! Try to use folded arms as a hand signal to reduce the risk of mouthing at hands, and drop treats as a reward on the floor to reduce jumping up.
Once you have taught Sit have children practice in different rooms of the house, and during different activities. Children’s faces are often just at the right height for puppies to jump up to, and the usual kid reaction of shouting and fast movement can actually reward your puppy for jumping up. Instead we need to focus on teaching and rewarding polite greetings. Sit can be used to prevent jumping up, mouthing and chasing.
Our new puppies don’t know which toys are theirs to play with and which are their human siblings! They also love picking things up – shoes, socks, rubbish, stones, sticks, leaves….I could go on! Our natural human and child reaction to this is to chase after and try to wrestle with pup to get the object out of their mouth.
Puppies get very good at running away and hiding in these situations, they can get into much smaller spaces than we can and they are quick! If they learn that we are a threat around their new finds, they will learn to very quickly get away from whoever is chasing them. They may even start some guarding behaviour such as growling to keep you away.
Instead teach your puppy to swap their treasured find for one of higher value. Whenever your puppy has something say ‘Thank you’ and then offer them a treat or a toy as a swap. That way they should open their mouths to get the new treat or toy and drop what they had in the first place, without any wrestling, chasing or confrontation. Young children will be too small to do this, so have them call an adult to practice this routine. Soon your puppy will learn that it is good to bring you stuff instead of running away with it!
PLANNING AND ROUTINE – EXERCISE AND MENTAL STIMULATION
I am a big believer in a good routine for puppies. Does your puppy know when to expect meals and walks? Do they know when it is time for them to have a nap? In busy households with small children it is very easy for puppies to want to be involved all the time, and often they will start to get overtired if they don’t have regular naps. If they are overtired they may start mouthing, biting and jumping up more, and there are can be certain times of the day when this kicks in (quite often teatime or the evening!)
If your puppy has had enough mental and physical stimulation he or she should be happy to settle down for naps afterwards. While we have to be careful about overexercising young puppies, and we can’t introduce them to unvaccinated dogs before they have completed their vaccination course, there are lots of other things we can do.
If small enough, carry your pup to the shops for a socialisation walk. Work on short 5 minute training sessions for basic manners or tricks. Prepare activity toys like Kongs and kibble balls so your puppy has to work for food. Hide treats around the house for puppy to sniff out.
The more we can focus their energy towards appropriate activities, the less energy they will have for activities that we don’t want them to do!
SO THERE ARE MY TOP TIPS FOR THE PERFECT FAMILY PUP!
I hope they help you! Sadly many puppies end up in rescues before the age of 6 months. Don’t let your puppy be one of those! Why not book in some training with us so that we can guide you along the right path to happy puppy companionship!