Tips for training your dog and kids to be BFFs

Is there anything cuter than a chubby baby and a sleepy puppy cuddling together? The photos on social media are countless, and while they are certainly cute, it doesn’t really represent the big picture for many dog owners. Have you ever wondered what happens when that adorable baby starts crawling and the sleepy puppy becomes extremely energetic? Sometimes the results aren’t cute at all. You may also have an older dog who you’d like to introduce to a new baby, or you may be considering adopting or purchasing a dog or puppy for your small children. To avoid a potentially dangerous interaction between your dog and your child, and to teach your dog general good behavior overall, there are a few training tips that every dog owner should be aware of.

Before you begin in your effort to train your dog and kids to be best friends forever (BFFs), you should first observe the dog’s behavior. For example, there are a few “tests” you can do to see if your dog is going to be comfortable with children, such as, pulling on the dog’s tail and ears, petting the dog when he/she is eating, grabbing the dog’s fur, etc. to see if they react aggressively, ignore you or simply try to walk away. These observations will help you identify what areas your dog needs help with.

Here are three essentials of training that are important to remember:

1.Timing- Dogs have a short window of time in which they associate a cause to an effect, 1.5 seconds to be exact! It’s important to reward good behavior or give a marker, like the word no, for bad behavior within that time frame. Oftentimes, we aren’t quick enough. You can’t punish a dog for bad behavior, like getting into the garbage, an hour after it happens. The dog will not know what he is being punished for; just that he is being punished. We do not want our dogs to think they are “bad,” so we have to catch them in the act of doing something good or bad, so they associate our reaction to that behavior. For example, if a baby starts to crawl toward a lounging dog and the dog moves away on his own without growling, this is something he should be praised for and rewarded immediately. Alternatively, if the dog holds his position and growls at the baby, the dog should be told no and asked to leave, unless the baby or child is disturbing the dog in the dog’s bed or safe place. In the latter case, it’s also important to teach children how to behave properly around dogs. Set up a safe place for your dog to go to whenever he wants to get away from the group, and teach your children that if the dog in his safe place it means he wants to be left alone, and they should not try to play with the dog. Also, a dog’s growl is a form of communication. It’s a warning sign that he is not happy with whatever behavior caused him to growl. The next step after growling is biting, so please pay close attention to what your dog is trying to tell you and correct the problem, which in some cases may be what the child is doing, not the dog!

2.Consistency- Dogs think differently than humans. In their world, it’s either black or white, and there are no gray areas. Dogs are continually learning, so your rules must be consistent. For example, if your dog is not allowed in the kitchen or another area of your house, every time he goes in the room without permission, he should be told no and asked to leave. Your dog will most likely test your boundaries. So, it’s not ok if he wants to lay on the edge of the tile, halfway in the living room and halfway in the kitchen. He is not allowed in the kitchen. Period. Be consistent with your responses to your dog, and in turn it will make you a better leader and strengthen your relationship. This scenario is extremely important if your dog has a strong alpha personality. Alpha dogs will continuously push you to see what they can get away with, even when they are seven years old! Dogs are like children. They do well with routines, directions and clear expectations. You are in charge, and the dog must do what you say. Dogs aim to please you, so it’s also important to be consistent with your praise as well.

3.Reinforcement (Motivation) – Dogs receive paychecks too! Just in the form of positive reinforcement like, treats, petting, praise and toys. If we reward our dogs for what we want them to do, they will likely want to do it again. Negative reinforcement deters them from wanting to do the behavior again. This could be a verbal consequence, like the word ‘no’, or squirting a water bottle in their face. Negative reinforcement should be clear and concise and not stressful for the dog. For example, when your dog makes a mistake, scolding him in a stern voice and sending him to his bed is confusing to him. Mostly because his bed is probably his safe place, and it should be happy for your dog. And also, dogs don’t understand lecturing. All they hear is “whomp, whomp, whomp,” like Charlie Brown. A better response when you catch your dog in the act (remember tip #1) is to say ‘no’, turn away from him and ignore him. This way he clearly understands that you are not pleased with him.

Sticking with these guidelines when teaching and training your dog and children how to interact properly will help you get better results, and in no time they really will be BFFs!

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