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Friday, August 6, 2010

Kids & Puppies, the chasing the nipping, the jumping!

interactions: Litter of Newfs 5 weeks old

child 4 years old , training sit, going through
a whole box of biscuits, But it worked 
You may as well get your coffee now, dredge up any cuss words you think you’ll want to call me and be prepared for the truth, because if you did not get it in the prior blog article on kids and dogs it will be explained again here but a little differently. If you got it, good for you!

Okay, so last time I talked about going over the rules of teaching your kids to respect a dog’s space and while I was referring to dogs that are adopted and older, this week I’d like to talk about kids and puppies. Puppies that nip, chase, and bite your little ones, until your little ones are screaming all the time and have become so petrified of the puppy that it makes you just want to pull your pull hair out!

Trainers get so many complaints over this problem and if you have not read my previous blog about teaching your children how to respect dogs, then please do so before moving forward here. 95% of the puppy’s actions are not the puppy’s fault, so take that newspaper and hit yourself over the head for not being more aware of what to expect and how to handle the two together. If you have any uncertainties about the training of a dog, set up classes and be ready to learn before the little love bug occupies space in your home. Maybe pre-puppy kindergarten class needs to be taught before puppy kindergarten! You know, similar to how the public school system analyzes your kid to see if he/she is ready to join the ranks of daily learning and torture! This way we can weed out the puppy parents that are not truly ready to have a puppy live with them.

So why did I go with 95% and not 100% of bad behavior being the puppy’s fault? Well, because due to bad breeding there are a percentage of mentally unstable pups who due to neurological problems can act out. And 95% is just my guess based on the amount of questions I deal with on a daily basis.

Causes and explanations

First let me state that the majority of pups are taken away from their litter mates too soon. Just as you would put your toddler in a day care with the same age appropriate peers to learn social skills, your puppy deserves the same. However there are no schools that take pups on a daily basis so they can learn important social skills, and this is why leaving a pup longer with their litter helps them to better develop these vital skills.

Years ago it was pretty standard that a pup would be sold when it turned 8 weeks old and today I am seeing dogs sold at 5 and 6 weeks old which is way too early not only as it pertains to the health of the pup but also the social skills. In my opinion, even 8 weeks is too early for a pup to fully learn social/play skills among its peers and this is why we see the behaviors we do in young pups. At age 8 weeks they still in many cases have not yet learned what bite inhibition is, how to be alone away from their pack, or how to fully grasp what is prey and what it is not.

You’ve all heard this before, “I think my dog was abused when he was young because he cowers and backs away when I raise my hand to pet him, but I’ve never hit him or raised my voice to him.”

While having been abused is certainly a possibility, it is not as prevalent as you think. Here’s the thing, when pups are taken from their litter mates too soon they may be leaving at a time when the siblings were too rough making them fearful of other dogs or people.

Here’s another one...

“I think my puppy was in many fights or beat up badly by another dog because he is aggressive to other dogs!

This pup may have been taken from the litter at a time that it perceived itself to be the bully of the litter and so it continues to be dominant or aggressive over those around them, or the pup was taken at a time when it was bullied in the litter and when it feels trapped it feels the need to lash out before it gets hurt.

And yet another…

“My puppy cries all night long and he’s destroying my house!”
A pup that has not had a chance to move away from the pack/litter during sleep or other daily activities may suffer separation anxiety.

Let me give you one example of what how pups learn from the social atmosphere of their littermates.
I’ll discuss bite inhibition: Each day as the pups grow they develop stronger muscles which help them to walk, play, and run. At the same time they are developing teeth, tiny sharp teeth and stronger muscles in their jaws. This is when the mother will stop nursing them which is about 4 weeks of age. At this age mom is starting to teach them how to play and if they go too far, mom corrects them. When mom is not there to correct, this is the general scenario. Puppy A goes after Puppy B too roughly, Puppy B yelps and walks away. This ends their play session. When this happens each time they play together, eventually Puppy A learns that he may not bite/play so rough if he wants to continue playing with Puppy B.

So when little incidents like this are not allowed to happen, then Puppy A may develop aggressive tendencies toward other dogs because he knows he can win, and Puppy B may develop fearful tendencies.

Seeing kids through puppy eyes

As I stated in my last blog, kids run on impulse and dogs run on instinct. The impulse of children is to run, scream, hit, tug, and yell. The instinct of a dog is fight, flight, and prey chase. What might a dog see as prey? Running, & screaming! How do dogs view a fight or flight situation? Being cornered, hit, or being tugged on! So if a dog cannot get away from a situation they will growl, bark, or bite which is the fight or flight mode. In prey mode, they chase and capture.

What I am saying here folks is that every young child possess all of the qualities that would affect a young pup’s natural instinct.

How to stop nipping, biting, chasing

So, how do we stop the dog from nipping, barking, and chasing? Well it is up to the parent/owner of the dog to teach it what they will not accept around the house and kids and this needs to start the day they bring the pup home. Okay, okay, I’ll give an inch, the day after they bring the pup home!

Watching the dog and child chasing each other around the yard is semi cute, until, well… let’s put it this way, “Ah look at little Johnny being mauled by Muffin!”

There are rules you need to set down for the dog, and there are rules needed to set down for the children or you are going to have problems. If you don’t set rules, you’ll either hate the dog or hate the children and since you can’t give your children away; I suspect the dog will be the one leaving!

Teach your dog basic obedience in a quiet non distracting area and start with sit, it is the easiest command to teach because all you have to do is hold a treat over its head until its bottom touches the ground and put the command ‘sit’ to it. Once you have taught the dog a reliable sit, then the kids can do the same. Don’t ask the kids to give the dog a sit command until you have taught it to the dog first.

Teach the dog a firm ‘leave it’ command. This command means leave everything in its view alone and bring its attention back onto you. If you get a good leave it command you can eventually give the command from a distance which will help in situations when you are not in the immediate area.
‘Ut- uh’ over ‘No, no’.

I really don’t care for the word 'no' in training. From the day the pup goes to a new home all it hears is no, no, no, no, and no! No is also the first word parents tell their children when something is about to go wrong as well. Eventually that word doesn’t mean much any more to either the dog or the child. Dogs need simple one or two word commands, but normally it’s an adult’s nature to always say ‘no’ in certain situations, so it is better to change the wording for training. Another reason I like ‘ut-uh’ is because it takes the anger and frustration out of the human’s voice. A resounding ‘No’ can sound pretty angry and we don’t want to frighten the dog, we want to train him. There’s a big difference between a trained dog and a frightened dog!

The whole wording situation for me came about when I had a Bearded Collie named Watson. He was a beautiful and well behaved dog, and we used to call him Wat, for short. So imagine how confusing it was for him when I would yell something to my hubby from another room, and hubby who almost never heard me the first time, would reply, “WHAT?” Well, the poor dog ended up running from room to room thinking someone was calling him! So the wording in training should be thought out as well as the wording in a dog’s name!

At my job, I don’t work for free and I don’t expect my dogs to either! Many people feel that food rewards are not appropriate and while that may be great for some older dogs who are already well balanced, when it comes to puppies you will get a faster response with a food reward than you will with a tug on the collar. As well, you are developing a new relationship and the fear of what will happen next should not be a part of that relationship. I always subscribe to the theory that you catch more bees with honey! Food rewards are just another training tool that can be replaced with praise once you and your dog have a trusting relationship.

Training should be made a daily part of your routine so it shows the dog consistency in what you expect of it. Always keep the children at a distance and you can gradually move them closer as training progresses.


Train with both the kids and dog, but keep the kids at a safe distance.

Attach a light clothesline rope about 10 feet long to the collar/harness of the dog and let it lay on the ground by your feet. (I prefer clothesline rope over a leash because it is light and the dog usually forgets it is attached to him.)

Have your kids about 20 feet off to the side of you. Give the kids the go ahead to start running back and forth about 25 feet from the dog. If the dog goes to chase the kids, step on the leash and say ‘ut uh.’ Once he stops, and he will because you are still stepping on the rope, he will probably look up at you as if to say, “hey I can’t move!” You will then give the sit command that you have taught him and reward him for sitting and staying with you. He is not going to know that it is the rope holding him back as you do not have it in your hand, so he is going to start associating your words with him not being able to leave the position. Gradually have the children move/run closer and closer past the dog. This needs to be repeated several times daily and in different parts of the yard or home as pups do not always associate one action or training with each place it visits. Just because he may have learned it outside, does not mean he will carry that over to the inside of the home. When the training is over always remember to give a release command which is usually “Fido Okay”

Two things are happening above can you spot what they are?

You will again have the clothesline rope attached. Again lay the rope at your feet and step on it just at the point it flows from the collar and hits the ground, have the kids in front of the dog about three to five feet away jumping, giggling, and patting their chest. The dog is likely to try and jump up on them and at the moment that the dog’s front feet start to leave the ground you will again say “ut, uh.” The dog will again not be able to move because your foot is on the rope. Give the sit command and the moment the dog sits, praise and reward. The same two things are happening, have you spotted them yet?


Hopefully with the practice of the first two lessons your words of “ut, uh” should have the dog stop, sit down and waiting for you to reward him but in case that does not happen there are a couple other things you can do.

Remember that pup in the litter I mentioned above? The one that yelped and ended play because the other pup got too rough? Well you can do that as well. You can yelp once turn your back and walk away and ignore the dog, or, with a gated room or a small pen already set up for training you can remove the dog from you, the object it desires, and end play that way. (However a dog’s crate should never be used for this purpose)

As mentioned in last weeks blog post, a pup’s memory, like a young child’s, is not very good or long lasting, so you want to keep him in this area for no more than a minute to two minutes, then take him out and let him try to behave again. If he nips, pick him up and repeat the processes. The more the process is repeated, the faster he will learn that if he wants to play with you he must act appropriate and this is where the game of fetch from the previous post comes into play. Also you can take him out of the penned/gated area, give him a safe chew toy such as a Kong stuffed with cheese or Nylabone bone with the command ‘toy.’
It is a good idea to have something placed strategically in the home and outside of the home that you can give the dog to chew on or hold in his mouth the instant it starts to nip.

Again, two things are happening here which many humans fail to do, can you spot it?

Another trick of the trade is to spray the area the dog is going after with Grannicks Bitter Apple. So if Fido is always after your youngster’s shoes put a few sprays of bitter apple on them. This product can be found in your pet store. It is a citrus type spray and dogs are not big on the taste. Eventually the pup will think that this is what the shoes always taste like and he’ll probably loose interest. In some instances this works well, but I would not depend on this alone as you are really not teaching the dog not to go after the youngster’s shoes, just briefly deterring or delaying it.
With explanations of how to train in different situations I mentioned that two things happened in each instance; let’s see if you spotted it. First of all, as humans we are great at telling our kids and our pups ‘No’ and what they can’t do or can’t have, but we are not very good at then redirecting them to what they can do, or can have! This is where much of the breakdown happens.

Dog chews shoe, human yells at dog, dog hides. But dog does not learn what he can have instead! As with the nipping of children, obviously you don’t want them gnawing on the child’s leg, but have you showed them what they can gnaw on instead? Each negative action by the dog as illustrated above was replaced with a positive action.

‘No jumping, or chasing, but if you sit nicely you get a reward! No biting my leg, and if you stop you can chew on a tasty bone!’

Remember, teaching the correct behavior goes hand in hand with the negative behavior you are trying to stop. I think humans overlook that aspect. It is much more rewarding for a dog to get praised for doing the right thing than to get in trouble for doing the wrong thing.

When you have accomplished the above then include one child at a time in the training and let the child reward the dog’s good behavior. Although the majority of dogs never see a child as being above them because children are not consistent, at least you want the dog to see that good things come from the child when the right behavior is done. When it comes to a food reward you may want to do a hand over hand with your child and show them how to hold the food in a flat open palm and not leaving fingers sticking up to be mistaken for part of the treat!

With that being said, never trust that a dog and child will act accordingly if you are not around to supervise. The above is just to show both dog and child how to get along. Never should they be left unsupervised!

For step by step in basic obedience using a positive method, click here.

To see video of how this method works click here

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