Living with kids and dogs is not always easy ... but the rewards are worth it
Kids and dogs can be best friends ...
when a wise parent sets them up for success.
Being the parent with kids and dogs can be challenging. Good kids and good dogs will have miscommunications every day.
But there are many simple strategies you can use to make your life less chaotic, more cooperative, and lots more fun.
A good trainer can help a lot! Check the links below to find a qualified trainer near you.
Books & Resources
Living with Kids and Dogs: A Parent's Guide to Controlling the Chaos
The award-winning parents' guide to managing kid-and-dog interactions from birth through teens. At last! A kids-and-dogs book for parents written by someone who "gets it."
Living with Kids & Dogs . . . Without Losing Your Mind provides busy parents with simple, realistic advice to help ensure that the relationship between their kids and their dog is safe and enjoyable for all.
Puppy Training for Kids
Kids and dogs are naturally attracted to each other, and this book introduces boys and girls to the responsibilities and the joys of puppy care, training, and companionship.
Young readers will find advice on exercise, selecting chew toys, clicker training, teaching the puppy to meet both human and animal friends, and much more. Sidebar features advise parents on guiding their children toward responsible dog ownership. The book is filled with engaging and instructive color photos.
Canine Stress Signals Bookmarks
100 colorful bookmarks showing photos of common canine stress signals: lip licking, turning away, mouth closed, half-moon eye, yawning, and shaking off.
You'll love having these bookmarks to teach your clients about dog behavior.
NOTE: This PayPal link is for US addresses only. Contact me to find out the postage rates for shipping to other countries.
Kids & Dogs: A Professional's Guide to Helping Families is now out of print. If you'd like one, I still have a few copies ($14.95 plus shipping, email me), or a used copy can be found from a variety of sources.
Supervision is only as good as your knowledge of body language and behavior
Everyone says that kids and dogs should never be left unsupervised.
That's good advice as far as it goes. But supervision is only effective when you know what to look for and when to intervene.
Most people don't. Even people who have lived with dogs their whole lives frequently miss the meaning of dog body language.
Fortunately it's not hard to learn. To truly supervise kids and dogs, you need to know about kid behavior (most parents have this one down pat) and dog behavior (that's where trainers can help).
Once you know how to read what you are seeing, you'll be able to set your kids and dogs up for a happy, healthy, safe, and fun relationship.
It's helpful to think of behavior as a continuum. No one is happy all the time, not even the Dalai Lama or the giddiest golden retriever.
For each of us, there will be good moments and bad moments.
Happy Home Tip
A common mistake parents make is looking only at their child's intentions and not the result.
For example, child hugging a dog is intending to be kind, but often the dog will feel trapped or anxious.
Good interactions are enjoyed by all participants.
Behavior deteriorates under stress.
We all experience stress; none of us is at our best all the time.
Your job is to pay attention to everyone's emotional state--your child's, your dog's, and your own--so that you can play an active role in setting everyone up for success. That's not always easy, but it is doable.
To make things simple, I use a green, yellow, and red traffic light analogy. Look at your child's behavior and at your dog's behavior, and compare them to the descriptions below.
Their color codes may not match. When you see anything other than green, that's your signal to take action.
Things are going well. Continue supervising, but there's no need to intervene at this moment.
Things are a bit tense. See what you can do to improve the situation. You may need to end the interaction.
Intervene immediately. Give everyone some time to relax and unwind before interacting again.
The yellow zone, Tolerance, is where wise parental guidance really improves kids' and dogs' relationships!
There are many different signals dogs use to communicate. I particularly like these six because they are common and easy for kids and adults to recognize.
When you notice your dog using stress signals more frequently, take that as a call to action.
Ask yourself, "What can I do to make this interaction better or shorter?"
Those really are the only two choices.
Behavior in Action
Test yourself. How many of the six common stress signals do you see in this 45-second video?
Background: This is Edzo. My son was standing on a coffee table and recording the view from above. Edzo was confused. Notice how many times he checks in.
Teach your dog that you are paying attention. When there's a stressful situation and your dog looks toward you, consider it a polite request for assistance.
Do something to make the situation better ... or shorter.
What you need to know about the Red Zone
Growling, snarling, nipping, snapping, and biting are all red zone behaviors.
BUT ... so are all forms of escape and avoidance.
Pay attention when your dog moves away from your child.
Whether politely or rudely expressed, the red zone is when the dog wants the interaction to end.
Red zone behaviors usually mean we missed the earlier signs. They indicate a need for increased management and supervision. When you see red zone signals, intervene immediately and give everyone some down time.
Do not punish red zone behaviors! They are the symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself.
Make a plan for preventing similar stressful situations in the future. Not sure what you can do differently? Find a good dog trainer to help.
Finding a Dog Trainer
You'll be amazed at how much a qualified, positive-reinforcement dog trainer can help. They can offer simple, easy-to-implement strategies that will make a big difference in building happy, cooperative relationships between kids and dogs.
Because all Family Paws Parent Educators have been specifically trained to work with kids and dogs, I encourage you to check this list first.
If you can't find a Family Paws trainer near you, check the directories on the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, and the Pet Professional Guild. There are many talented, positive-reinforcement trainers eager to help you.
Colleen Pelar, CDBC, CPDT-KA
As a dog trainer, I loved helping kids and dogs develop strong, respectful relationships.
Kids can be amazing dog trainers--often better than their parents! In my completely biased and strong-held opinion, having a dog makes a family's life better!
I am a firm believer in setting everyone up for success by using training, communication, and management techniques that minimize stress and help put everyone on the same team. Fear- and force-based methods are absolutely inappropriate for training family dogs.
After 28 years as a dog trainer, my focus has shifted to providing coaching, community, and support to pet professionals. I am no longer training dogs.