Saturday, 4 December 2021
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Snyder: Children and puppies are not a good mix

Young kids and puppies, or new dogs, often don’t mix. I have always told people that the dog a human remembers as the dog of his/her youth will be the puppy they get at about 8 to 10 years old.

Having a puppy and young kids (toddler to 7 or 8 years old) is a huge amount of work for the parents … a huge amount of time and effort to make the relationship between the child and dog work out right!

Puppies come into our lives knowing how to play only one way … like a litter of puppies play with each other. It is rough play with lots of mouthing and chewing on each other … dog skin is much tougher than human skin! They pounce and jump all over each other, pull on ears and lips. All of that is normal puppy play, NOT bad puppy behavior. When a new puppy or dog comes into a home with small children they instinctively make the child the new litter mate. Children need to be protected from this normal puppy play because it can be frightening. 

The other side of the coin is parents often assume their young child will know how to play or interact with this new creature … and that’s where things start going wrong, really wrong! I have seen kids grab and pull skin hard, and not turn loose, so that the puppy cries out in pain. I have seen a child pick up a puppy by the neck and carry it around. I have seen kids scream in a puppy’s face, while holding it tight by the neck skin so it couldn’t escape in fear. I have seen two kids fighting over a puppy, pulling legs trying to get it away from the other kid. Poking a puppy in the eye while it was eating … kicking a puppy just because it seems fun … grabbing toys away … teasing a puppy with food, or taking food away from the puppy while it is eating (you know how I feel about that, I have written about it in the past!) All of the above, and other things, will result in a puppy learning to fear and distrust children.

Where is the parent, you say? Sometimes sitting right there watching, and sometimes nowhere to be seen. I have had a parent say to me that she wanted the puppy “fixed” because “my child should be able to do whatever he/she wants to this puppy. It’s only a dog!” A young child doesn’t realize that this is scary, painful, inappropriate behavior to an animal, an animal that only knows two options … fight or flight. When it can’t get away, it will bite.

Now, it’s time for Kid Training! Young children should not be allowed to chase or run after a puppy. Puppies should be exercised by the adult so that when the children are around, the puppy and the kids can be calm and quiet. I suggest that parents with new puppies sit down on the floor with the kids and the puppy for quiet time. Maybe talking about the day, reading out loud to each other, making up stories, etc. This needs to be done often, always after kids and puppy are well exercised so both can be calm. Children should not be allowed to walk the puppy on a leash … that can be dangerous for the child AND the puppy! Children should not be allowed to serve the puppy its meals until the puppy is older and has had some training. Even giving a puppy treats can quickly turn into teasing. Puppies tend to get overly excited about a treat. This youthful excitement prevents the puppy from being gentle when taking a treat. Taking a treat too roughly from a child can result in the child hitting or grabbing at the puppy in anger. Again, causing fear and distrust!

I feel very strongly about this topic because we have a dog that was tormented by children as a young puppy. We got her at 3 ½ months old and she had already been ruined for life as far as kids are concerned. She is wonderful and trusting with adults, but let her see a child and she panics. She was tormented by kids mostly in her crate and around food. She had no way to escape.

New puppies should not be something to occupy the kids, or to teach them responsibility, or to keep the kids active. Puppies are living, breathing, feeling creatures — not objects to be tortured by kids who don’t know any better.

Debbi Snyder is owner of Dog-Sense Obedience in Lakeland. She has been teaching obedience classes since the 1980s.


The Bark Box

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