Managing feeding time with your kids and dog can be an interesting task, trust me I know this first hand!
Anyone with young kids will know that feeding time can be quite messy, hectic and stressful at the best of times, then add a dog in the mix and it can really turn to chaos. From your dog stalking your kids, to stealing their food, licking them clean, your children not eating because they think it’s funny to feed the dog, food being thrown across the room, the list goes on. We’ve gone through it all in my household and with a very food obsessed Goldie, it is all still a work in progress. Along with all these challenges however, comes the BEST vacuum cleaner ever!! At home, I never have to clean those tiny scraps off the floor; I have Cooper and I thank him for that every day! And yes, that is a photo of Cooper licking every piece of rice off our floor boards (sorry for those germaphobes out there, but I think it’s great for the kids’ immune system).
In today’s post, I will outline three tips we use in our house to manage some of this chaos. After all, your dog needs to learn that if your child drops a cooked chicken bone on the floor, that it is not theirs to eat!! Cooked chicken bones can be quite dangerous for dogs. And yes, again, unfortunately, this is something that has happened to us!! I might be a dog trainer, but my dog certainly isn’t perfect.
- Management is key! Create boundaries/ a place for your dog to be during meal time
Invisible or physical. This can be as simple as a baby gate to block them out of the kitchen/dining area. A play pen for the dog, a crate or even putting your dog in another room, putting a special mat or bed out for them to lie on. Or for us, we have created an invisible boundary which works wonders. Personally, I think it is a MUST to separate your dog during meal time for their safety as things like cooked bones, corn cobs, and many others can be dangerous if your dog swallows them (image at bottom of article of unsafe foods for dogs). Click here for a great resource from Family Paws for different management ideas .
In our house, we have a rule that Cooper (and his friends) must lie down about 2-3 meters back from where the kids are eating. The kitchen table is on the floor boards, and Cooper must lie on the carpet in the play room. Cooper now knows that he will be allowed to clean up at the end of the meal, but only on my command. I have trained him to stay there until the kids are finished eating, and then I say, “Ok Cooper, clean up!” For those of you who would love to try this, but your dog is a bit too excitable, start out by putting your dog on a lead so you have control each time they get up or even better, use a baby gate initially. Set your boundary, ours is the line where the floor boards and the carpet meet and make them stick to it. If you have them on the lead, every time they get up or try creeping forward, you can redirect them back using treats – this is called positive reinforcement training. No it is not bribery, it is how dogs learn. By using treats to reward their good behaviour when they are lying behind the invisible line and relaxed, they will be more likely to repeat this behaviour.
The other alternative is to teach your dog the “on your mat/bed” command. It pretty much works the same as above… But it’s best to first teach them this command before introducing it at meal time. It will make it much smoother as teaching a new command without distractions around will be easier for your dog to focus. To do this create a nice comfy place for your dog to lie on, at a distance from where the kids will be eating, but where your dog can still see you. Make sure to have some delicious treats ready.
Teaching your dog “on your mat”:
Step 1. With a treat in your hand, tell your dog, “Go to your mat” in a cheerful tone of voice and point to his mat.
Step 2. Pause a second or two, then lure your dog onto his mat by putting the treat up to his nose and slowly moving it over the mat. If you move your hand too quickly or too far away from his mouth he may give up and lose interest.
Step 3. As soon as your dog has four paws on the mat, treat.
Step 4. Tell your dog, “Down.” Give the hand signal or lure it if your dog needs help. When he lies down, treat him. Continue to treat to keep your dog on the mat. After a few seconds, tell your dog, “Okay,” and allow him to get up.
Repeat steps 1-4, gradually increasing the amount of time you ask him to stay on the mat.
Please keep in mind that given your dog will be cleaning the floor for you at the end, and you will be using treats to reward them for sitting away from the food, make sure to reduce their meal size that day so they do not gain weight.
- Train your kids
Teach your kids to always sit down and eat. No running around the house with food as this will entice your dog to follow them and stalk them.
Teach them not to feed the dog. This can be a hard one depending on the age of your child. At around 6 months of age, both of my kids thought this was just hilarious. It’s the moment when the friendship between dog and baby really begins because the dog quickly learns your baby now equals food. But now that Harper is three, she understands that dogs can’t eat certain foods, it will upset their tummy or can be quite dangerous for them. So just explaining that to your kids can really help. Harper loves Cooper to pieces, so she would never do something if she knew it could hurt him. Paxton on the other hand (20 months) is still too young to understand this.
- And if all else fails, put your dog outside
Sometimes it’s just not worth the risk.
Our biggest challenge with Cooper and our ‘invisible boundary’ is when we have people over. Cooper will sometimes take advantage of the fact that my attention is elsewhere and will test the boundaries and try to clean up before the kids are finished. And this is exactly the situation when he ate the chicken bone. I was busy cleaning up in the kitchen when we had family over for dinner, Paxton dropped a cooked chicken bone and Cooper literally pounced and inhaled it as it hit the floor. We were lucky, he was fine, he managed to pass it through. But always call your vet to check if something like that happens, cooked chicken bones can splinter on the way through and get stuck. I’ve learnt my lesson now and will often just put Cooper outside if we have a busy house. And if I do have to put him outside, I will give him a special long lasting treat whilst he is outside so he associates it as a good thing rather than as punishment.
You might be able to train your own kids, but you can’t train someone else’s, especially if they don’t live with dogs. So, if you’re hosting a mothers group or have a house full of kids eating, the temptation is too high, put your dog outside – it will be way less stressful on you and your dog!
There are lots of foods your kids may eat, that are dangerous or toxic for dogs! So as amazing as it is that they are the best hoovers, please always make sure to pick up the dangerous foods and put them in the bin before letting your dog clean-up for you!
And lastly, as briefly mentioned above, please do your best to keep your dog a nice lean weight, it is so important for their health. Especially as they get older and especially for bigger dogs who are prone to arthritis, etc. So, if they do eat lots of the kids scraps during the day, please make sure to slightly reduce the quantity of food you give them for dinner.
For more info on child and dog safety and how dogs communicate make sure to have a read of these articles:
- How Dogs Communicate
- Three steps to Teach your child how to safely say hello to dogs
- Teach your child to interact safely with dogs and know the warning signs to look for
- Five Important Skills to teach your Dog when Around Young Children
- Lead by example to show your child how to interact safely with dogs
- Managing your Dog when having Visitors and Children Coming Over