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Teach your Dog how to Behave around Children using Five Essential Commands

As parents, it is so important that we teach our kids how to interact safely with dogs, but as dog owners, it is also just as important to teach your dog how to behave around children. I’m not going to lie to you all today and say I have a perfect dog. After writing this post it got me thinking that I should really listen to some of my own advice and practice more with Cooper. Today, I am going to give you a step by step guide on how you can teach your dog to behave around children using five essential commands. This is a must read for all dog owners who have children, or may have kids in the future or even owners without children as I am sure throughout your dog’s life there will be lots of times they’ll be exposed to kids. Like any training you do with your dog you must be patient and persistent. The more you practice, the better results you will get.

It is so important from as early on as possible in your dog’s life to teach them how to behave around children by setting some very important rules and boundaries.

Teach your Dog how to Behave around Children

Paxton with puppy Barley

So, here are my Five Essential Commands/Steps to teach your Dog how to Behave around Children…

 

(1) Reward the Good and Ignore the Bad: Teaching your dog to be calm around children.

If your dog hasn’t really been exposed to young children and you’re unsure how they are going to act, always start by having your dog on lead. This is the best way to teach your dog boundaries and how to be calm and gentle as it means you will have full control of them at all times. Always reward good and calm behaviour and ignore their bad and overexcited behaviour. Don’t get angry at them or yell and get stressed out if it doesn’t go to plan. You want your dog to learn to associate kids with a fun and happy time, rather than a stressful time. Cooper as a puppy would get SO overexcited around young children. He would literally bowl over every child he saw. He loved them and got so excited by them, but would forget his own size. So, if we had him off lead at a dog park and we saw children approaching, we would put him straight back on the lead and walk him over to the children to say hello. I would ask him to sit, and if he was calmed and relaxed, the kids would reward him with a pat hello and I would reward him with a yummy Get WAG liver treat. Before we had kids if we had people coming over to our house with young kids, we would put him on the lead when they arrived so we could have full control over him until he was calm and relaxed. When he was calm and relaxed, we’d ask him to “sit” and he would be rewarded with a big pat and a treat.

Training your dog the “Sit” command is nice and simple and a great one to practice their control. I’m sure most of you have mastered this one but if not here’s a quick guide. Get your dog’s attention with a treat by their nose, slowly move the treat back over their head and by following the treat, their bum should drop to the ground in a sit. Say the word “sit” as they fall into the correct position and reward them with a treat. Practice this over and over until they get it right each time and eventually are able to do this without using treats.

Teach your Dog how to Behave around Children

Harper practising the “Sit” Command with Cooper

(2) The “On your mat” command: Teach your dog to respect the boundaries around children. 

Even though we all love our dogs dearly and expect everyone else to, this is not always the case. Some children might be afraid of dogs and therefore won’t tolerate an in your face kind of a dog. Some parents might not like their children being licked by dogs. Some parents might not like having your dog jumping all over their children. Even though you might tolerate these behaviours, other parents/children might not like it. These are all things to keep in mind when your dog is around young children and when you have children coming into your home. If your dog cannot respect these boundaries, pop him on the lead so you have full control until he is calm and giving the child some space. Another good thing you can do in a situation like this when you are at home is to teach your dog the “on your mat” or “on your bed” command. The idea behind it is to train your dog to stop whatever they’re doing and go and sit quietly on their mat or bed.

To teach your dog the “on your mat” or “on your bed” command, make sure to have some delicious treats ready, call your dog over to their bed/mat, say the command “on your bed” and once they are lying in their bed, you reward them with a treat. Practice this over and over. Without distractions first and then with distractions once he gets it. With consistency and repetition, your dog should learn this one pretty fast. When you have young children over, your dog might become over excited or may play up a little more than usual, so make sure to have some special high value (extra delicious and/or long lasting) treats they can enjoy on their mat whilst you are entertaining. I love giving Cooper the Get WAG Kangaroo Bone when we have lots of people coming over as it keeps him busy for ages.

Teach your Dog how to Behave around Children

Harper getting a big kiss on the face from a puppy!

(3) The “Gentle” Command: Teach your dog not to play rough when children are around.

You need to teach your dog to be gentle during all types of play or interaction when around young children. No rough play as we don’t want anyone getting hurt. As mentioned above, the best way to encourage gentle play is to reward the calm behaviour that you would like when around children. It is ok for your dog to play when children are around, but just not in a crazy rough manner. You want to encourage your dog not to jump on children, not to chase them, not to nip them etc. We also want to teach your dog not to snatch things from children, but rather to be gentle when they take something from a child. This very much includes taking a treat from a child’s hand, but can also be a toy you are playing with.

To teach your dog the “Gentle” command, start out by having a treat in your palm, and perhaps do this after your dog has had dinner so he is not super hungry. As your dog tries to take it say “gentle”. If he is not coming for it in a gentle manner, quickly close the treat in your palm and say, “ah ah, be gentle”. Open your palm and try again. Keep doing that until he comes for it gently. When he does, let him have the treat and praise him. Repeat this over and over until he is being gentle each time. Then you can start practising this with toys too. When I play tug of war with Cooper, he can be pretty rough and crazy with me, however, with the kids, he is SO gentle!! We were lucky with Coop as we didn’t really need to teach him this. He’s always just been instinctively gentle with the kids when it comes to play. I do however, never leave them unsupervised! On the very odd occasion that he has gotten a bit too rough playing with them, I have just removed the toy and stopped the interaction immediately.

Teach your Dog how to Behave around Children

Cooper play so gently when he’s around the kids. Melts my heart!

(4) The “Leave it” Command: Teach your dog not to snatch food from kids and not to eat food when it is dropped on the ground.

It is so important to teach your dog control when it comes to food and children, for the safety of both your child and your dog. Some foods can be quite dangerous for dogs, especially things like sultanas, grapes, chocolate, cooked bones, corn cobs, etc so it is important that we teach them not to snatch from a child’s hand or plate and not to automatically claim the food if it gets dropped or thrown on the ground. So how do we do this? A great place to start is to make sure your dog knows the “Leave It” command.

To teach the “Leave it” command, start out whilst at home, with no distractions around, put some food on the floor that you do not want your dog to eat. Tell your dog to “leave it”. And then give him a treat if he listens. If you have a very food driven dog (like ours) it would be best to start this training with your dog after they have had their dinner and on the lead so you can have more control. Alternatively, make your dog sit and pop a treat on the floor in front of them. Tell him to “leave it” and once your dog has shown control, use a release word, like “ok , “eat it” or “clean up” and let them eat that treat that you have put on the floor. This can take a lot of practice and control but like any training, with repetition, your dog will get it! I still practice this command often with Cooper as he is so food obsessed, we use the Get WAG Yoghurt drops as training treats, they smell so good, sometimes the kids try to eat them! It is your choice if you want to allow your dog to eat/clean up the food that has been dropped on the ground, but if you do allow it, please make sure that the food is safe for dogs. We let Cooper clean up the floor once the kids have finished eating (it’s the best – saves me having to do it), but only once we’ve removed anything that is not safe for him and only once we’ve given him the command to clean up. I have written an article on managing feeding time with kids and dogs, so make sure so have a read of that too if this is an area you are struggling with. With a food driven dog, this can be quite frustrating. So if you have young kids coming over to eat, it might be wise putting your dog outside or in another room during feeding time if you cannot manage it.

(5) The “Give” Command: Teach your dog not to steal the children’s clothes or toys.

Some dogs just know what’s theirs and what’s not. Others need to be taught this, especially puppies and those dogs who love to put things in their mouths. We have a special box for Cooper with all of his toys in it, we let him have access to this all the time. However, a couple of his favourite toys are put away and we only bring those out on our terms for short periods of time, to keep them exciting and special for him. He knows the toys in that box are his and he gets rewarded when he plays with them. We are fortunate enough that Cooper learnt pretty quickly what was his and what’s the kid’s and he respects that, most of the time!! He does have one naughty, very typical golden retriever habit that he does when we have visitors come over. He will go into the kids play room, grab a soft toy and greet our guests with it. I think it’s a little attention seeking if you ask me. So all I do when he does this is walk over to him very calmly, say “give”, and he gives me the toy. That’s why teaching your dog this command is SO important. Especially if he were to put something dangerous in his mouth like Panadol or even a dirty nappy.

To teach the “Give” command, give your dog something to put in his mouth, just start out with a ball or a rope, any toy of his that you have handy and then put a delicious treat to his nose (try the Get WAG Yoghurt drops – Cooper LOVES them). As he drops the toy, say the word “give”. Practice this over and over with different items in his mouth, saying “give” and giving him the treat each time. Once he gets it, you can slowly reduce the amount of treats you give. This means that when your dog has something in his mouth that he shouldn’t have, you will always be able to get it from him, even if you don’t always have a treat on you.

Teach your Dog how to Behave around Children

Cooper plays SO gently with Harper. It’s really sweet to watch.

Things you can do to prepare your dog for being around children.

Please always keep in mind that children can be very unpredictable and this can be quite nerve-racking for a dog, especially an anxious dog or a dog who isn’t around children that much. It’s important, from as early on as possible in your dog’s life, to get them used to being touched, poked and prodded everywhere. From when your dog is a puppy (if possible) sit down every night and give them a rub down, poke and pull; touching every part of their body; paw pads, tail, inside the ears, mouth, everywhere. Not only does this help big time when going to the vet and being examined but it also means that when an unpredictable toddler or young child is around, your dog should be ok if he were to get poked, pulled or prodded. In saying this, not all dogs are as understanding and tolerant as Cooper. All it takes is one second for you to turn your back and something to happen. Please never leave your dog and baby/kids unattended. Another important thing you should always make sure of is that your dog has aSafe Zone” when there are children around. Somewhere your dog knows it can escape and have some time out. To learn about reading your dog’s warning signs and how to know if your dog is happily playing with children, click this link. And for more information on preparing your dog for a new baby, click this link.

 

If all else fails and you feel that your dog is just too anxious, fearful or just won’t respect the boundaries around children always play it safe and pop your dog outside or in a room the child cannot get to. If you think your dog is a risk to your children, please seek the help from a dog trainer/behaviourist ASAP. Finally, and MOST IMPORTANTLY never ever leave your child and dog alone and unattended. Always make sure to supervise and step in if you feel the dog is uncomfortable or the child is at risk.

 

If you have any questions on this topic or would like some help or guidance with any of it, please feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email. This is such an important topic. Please spread the word and share this article around to all dog owners.

Mel xox

Disclaimer: This is a personal blog. I will not be liable for anything that happens to your dog or children by following my advice and tips. If you have real concerns or worries about your dog and/or safety of your children, please seek out a professional to come and assess the situation.

 


NEVER MISS A COOPER AND KIDS POST



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  1. Wiki
    Wiki says:

    Hello ,

    I saw your tweet about animals and thought I will check your website. I like it!

    I love pets. I have two beautiful thai cats called Tammy(female) and Yommo(male). Yommo is 1 year older than Tommy. He acts like a bigger brother for her. 🙂
    I have even created an Instagram account for them ( https://www.instagram.com/tayo_home/ ) and probably soon they will have more followers than me (kinda funny).

    I have subscribed to your newsletter. 🙂

    Keep up the good work on your blog.

    Regards
    Wiki