Don’t Blame the Kids

By Linda Stein

After 19 years as a professional dog trainer, certain problems with dogs and kids occur again and again. The dog that was purchased to give the children the joy of a “best friend” to cuddle, confide in and comfort and care for turns into a source of family stress. Puppies grab at fingers and toes and grow into dogs that jump and pull on the leash. What started out as a positive family project evolves into tension as the dog gets into trouble that neither the parents nor the children know the correct method of training. Busy parents start resenting the cost of replacing items and children get blamed for “overstimulating” the dog when they are merely acting their age. “If you didn’t run about so, the dog wouldn’t grab your ankles” a frustrated parent will exclaim as the children shriek, then jump on the good furniture to get away from the dog’s “frolicking”. 5 year olds and their friends will forever run around the house and leave toys on the floor no matter what you say (That’s the joy of being 5!!). However, the dog can be taught quickly to accommodate to that behavior without pouncing or grabbing the items. Parents should know that simple training techniques can alleviate these tense moments within a week’s time without constant practice. Remember kids take 18 years to train….dogs only a week!

Dogs as young as 12 weeks can be taught not to jump or chew, to keep clean in the house, to walk nicely on a leash with youngsters, and to listen on the first command without shouting, repeating or bribing. Sphincter control for 3 month old puppies is as long as 8 hours. They can learn to be trustworthy in the house by themselves and in to stay in the yard off leash as the family barbecues, plays ball or lounges in the pool. That is the picture people have in their minds as they purchase a dog from a breeder, pet store or humane society. But as puppies mature, some start to take over the family pack and become more dominant with each passing day. Soon they end up tied to a tree outdoors or confined permanently to a cage indoors. This only happens because of lack of information. Dog training books and videos are often helpful, but they also seem to contradict one another and dog owners get confused when their dog doesn’t do what the dog in the video did. Guilt and frustration and anger result.

Housebreaking often becomes a bone of contention between dogs, children and parents. The parent turns the “dog walking” chore over to the children to teach a sense of responsibility to the children. They remember their child’s sincere teary eyed promises: “Mom, if you get me a dog, I’ll walk him everyday, honest!!! Believe it or not the kids really meant it when they said it, but, of course, they didn’t imagine a pulling dragging dog. They end up feeling scared that the dog will pull them down, or run away and get hurt. It’s also terribly frustrated when they are outside for 30 minutes the dog doesn’t relieve himself, comes in and does it in the house, and the child is the one who gets punished. . Try to imagine a child’s feelings when the dog messes in the house after they tried to walk him. Everyone is upset and the 10 year old feels responsible. Is it really fair to expect the John or Chrissy to walk a dog that pulls and drags them , lollygoggles before taking care of business and still make the school bus? This is unforeseen pressure to put on a child, and sometimes even dangerous. Once the parents get adequate professional advice about handling the uncontrollable dog, they can remedy the walking problems. Then, they can confidently teach their child in a short time, who can then feel secure and confident about the dog walking responsibility. This builds trust between parents and kids and indeed teaches the lesson to kids we set out to teach when getting them a pet. Taking care of a living being takes knowledge and love, not a random upsetting approach.

Some dogs, like some children, are born easy to raise. They are very compliant and things go smoothly from the very beginning. But I have noticed that by 4 1/2 months if things are getting worse with a puppy, it is time to seek help because they are probably not “going to grow out of the behavior problems” without specific training advice. It may be well worth it to keep the family heirlooms safe, the hectic family schedule more sane and the whole dog experience a joy it was meant to be.