Setting Up Rules For Your Children With Their Puppy
As a dog trainer, I often see situations where adults purchase an adorable puppy for their children. Not a big deal, right? Unfortunately this scenario often includes one or more children under the age of 6. Young children are going through their own phases; they would be challenging enough, but if you add a puppy into the mix, YIKES!
The outcome is usually not good for the puppy or child. I have been asked on several occasions to help assist in finding new homes for puppies under a year old. In other situations, I have had clients take on a dog with previous biting issues and then decide to have children. Well, you can probably guess what happens to the dog.
When it comes to your children and your puppy, here are some things to consider:
Consider the ages of your children prior to getting a puppy.
If you have children under the age of 6, please reconsider the decision on getting a puppy. An older dog that has been raised with children is a much better option to consider, but make sure it has no previous history with biting. If you get a puppy prior to having children, it is imperative you socialize your puppy around children of all ages.
Have rules and boundaries in place for your children and your puppy.
As a parent, you must establish rules not only for Fido, but for your children too. Parents are quick to correct and discipline their new puppy. However, they must also hold their children accountable for the way they treat their puppy.
Also consider the size of the puppy you want to get for your family. The smaller the puppy the more dangerous the situation can be. A puppy is not a stuff animal or baby doll to carry around or dress in clothes and put in a baby stroller; tell your children that this is not what they are to do with their new fur buddy. If your puppy is carried around and forced to sit in laps and stay in arms, it will squirm and/or eventually bite its way out of those arms or laps.
Obviously, a bite is never good. Stitches might be needed. If the skin is broken, you may need to take your child to the ER and have the wound professionally checked and cleaned. Also, if your puppy squirms its way out of a standing child's arm it could fall and break its leg(s).
Instead, teach children that when they want to hold their puppy they need to sit on the ground (with their legs criss-crossed) and may hold their puppy for no more then 10-30 seconds. Usually the puppy will be ready to move on in this amount of time.
You must be the one to train the puppy and the children.
No child should force a puppy to stay in their lap. I use the "settle" command to teach puppies to accept all touching and handling. This type of training is very important and should be done by an adult - NOT a young child. Children tend to push the limit while holding their puppy and overextend the puppy's patience. DON'T think your puppy should be fine with this.
Remember, what is considered cute now might not be considered cute as the puppy grows bigger and gets its adult teeth. Having a puppy chasing children around the house or vice a versa is never good unless training is involved (such as teaching puppy to "come" ;). This is exceptionally bad with herding breeds. When a puppy sees children squeal loudly and run, it thinks it's a game. Teach children not squeal and run every time their puppy pulls, tugs, or nips at them.
Children ages 6 and under are limited as to what they can safely do with their new puppy. They are not old enough to understand the proper methods of training, and may harm it. Training is the parent's responsibility.
There are, however, ways in which your child can help take care of the puppy.
Children 11 or older are sometimes more interested in being more involved in taking care of their puppy. They can assist you with teaching the puppy commands and taking it on its daily walk.
You can also have your children teach the puppy to fetch by throwing a ball and teaching their puppy to "drop it." Children can also play hide-n-seek with their puppy. This is a great game to teach their puppy to "come." When they hide, they call their puppy by name and say, "come," until the puppy finds them and then reward the puppy with treats.
A child should always play with a toy between his hand and the puppy's mouth. They should never play with their bare hands, or the puppy may learn that all hands are squeaky toys.
Consider the issues with getting a puppy if you have children who are 6 or younger. Adopting an older dog that has been raised with children is your best option and will be less stress for your family. But no matter what, know that getting a dog should be a positive experience and should be enjoyed by the whole family, even the furriest member.
Dog Bible, Edited by Kristin Mehus-Roe, 2005