Puppies love to chase, and kids love to run it's a perfect combination...for disaster.
When puppies get aroused they jump, bite, tug, chase. When kids get upset they run, yell, flail and cry. It can very quickly spiral into at best a scary situation for either or both parties, or at worst a dangerous situation. Kids can step on puppies, puppies can bite faces.
So how do you prevent what seems like an avoidable issue?
Kids brains often go out their ears when a new puppy comes homes, and puppies have little to no self control at first. Manage the interactions with baby gates, leashes, and making sure that the kids remain calm when near the puppy through lots of supervision and coaching.
Train for What You Want:
Rewarded behavior happens more often, I cannot emphasize enough how important that is. Don't worry about teaching commands or a solid "stay" to prevent issues, reward the picture you want to see. Puppy is laying down, a kid walks by, the puppy doesn't get up, give him a treat. Puppy is watching you, a kid sneezes, give him a treat. For the first several days Jaune earned 100% of his daily food for being calm especially when the kids were nearby.
We also staged short training sessions where Jaune was fed kibble on his mat while the kids were coached through increasing levels of activity. At first we would have them just walk through the room, as Jaune got better, we gradually increased the movement speed and the closeness until the kids were jumping and spinning right next to the mat while Jaune ate treats. Jaune comes from service and therapy parents and had a solid foundation from the breeder before he arrived, so it only took him a couple of days, higher drive, more sensitive, or nervier dogs may take weeks.
We generalized this training to other rooms in the house and then outside, and then with no mat present. He was always on leash though just in case.
Prepare for Mistakes:
Mistakes will happen, you will push the limits too far, or maybe his threshold was lower than normal, or the kids crazier, it happens, prepare for it.
We did this by working fairly obsessively on a recall away from things, toys, Reyna, other people, bowls of food, Feather, Reyna, shoes Reyna...basically anything he wanted to get to. Then we taught the kids to stand still and cross their arms when Jaune ran up, lots of on leash practice for that one. Then we taught Jaune that crossed arms means sit or down. We also spent A LOT of time with the kids talking about how puppies bite and jump and how to stay calm and ask for help.
We have already used this emergency bail out several times...stuff happens you might as well have a contingency plan.
So how is all that working out? Here is Jaune from a week or two ago...
Teach a Drop it Cue
This one is easy, but it think critical to a happy child and puppy. Puppies take stuff, they chew stuff, they slobber on stuff, and shred it. Having lots of chew toys around is key, but also setting an example to the kids for how we're going to react when the puppy finds items, or toys around the house.
You could yell at him, chase him, reprimand him. Or you could teach the "treasure" cue. We try to keep the floors as picked up as possible, but you cannot always prevent the puppy from finding a playing with something that is not his. If you chase, or yell he will learn yo run away with items. Instead keep high value treats with you and if he manages to pick something up he shouldn't, say something cheerful like "what did you find? Oh it's beautiful can I see?" While you show him the treat, he drops the item, gets the treat, you pick up the item and give him another treat. He will quickly learn that whatever phrase you picked out is a cue to drop whatever is in his mouth and come to you for treats.
The best part is the kids pick up that it is no big deal, and to not panic and cry when puppy comes wandering through with their favorite stuffie, even Penelope who is only 3 responds to Jaune picking up her fluffy pony with "did you find a treasure? What a good boy!"
Maintain Good Dog EtiquetteKids should never, ever, ever put their faces right near a dog or puppies face. They shouldn't squeeze, hug, kiss, or grab the dog.
They can...pet, scratch, praise the puppy with adult supervision. Preferably while the puppy is receiving treats for accepting petting.
The puppy should be heavily rewarded for tolerating children in his space, and the adults need to recognize that if the puppy is aware of the children then they are in his space. For some puppies this may be two inches away, for some it may be 20 feet. Do not wait for the dog to look nervous, or excited, or for him to move towards or away from the kids, the second he notices them give him a treat and then continue to reward him as long the child is in, or moving through the area.
For puppies that may be a little nervous, this helps counter condition how they feel about kids, and for puppies that love children this teaches them that children in the area means good things from you, and children are white noise, nothing to get aroused over.
Train for the Inevitable:
We used the above method to help Jaune learn to be calm and accepting of children in his personal space. We gradually increased how close the kids could get, and have even done conditioning first with myself and Norman and later with the kids cuddling him while he receives a non stop flow of treats. Ideally he is never in that situation, but it's quite possible that a few months, a few years from now or tomorrow a children runs up and hugs him or tries to pick him up. We want to make sure that he has a solid history of reinforcement. We just have to be very careful that the kids know that it is a training session and continually reinforce safe behavior around dogs, which includes no hugging, etc.
Keep the Kids Safe
Just like the puppy needs to feel safe around the kids, they need to feel safe around him also.
- Keep all interactions on leash until he proves he can remain calm with children around
- Reiterate that puppies are baby dogs and they don't know not to bite, not to jump, not to steal toys and pull clothes. Children are sponges so repeating this over and over will help it sink in until they are telling you "it's okay he's just a baby". It helps keep kids from panicking, or getting upset if (when) there is a training or management failure and they get knocked over, bitten, or tugged on by an overly enthusiastic puppy. It's going to happen.
Teach the puppy a default sit when the child crosses his arms:
Step one - hold a treat over the puppy's nose until he sits (don't say anything) then give him the treat
- Repeat until he automatically sits every time you hold out a treat
Step two - Move quickly a very short distance (maybe just one step for a high drive puppy)
- Stop and hold out a treat, puppy sits, give him the treat
- Repeat until he is sitting as soon as you stop before the treat appears
Step three - Add additional movement to make it more exciting, the goal is for the puppy to get excited enough that having to stop and sit poses a small challenge, but not so exciting that he can't function, gets too aroused and fails.
Step four - Begin to add the cue just as you come to a stop cross your arms, puppy sits, puppy gets treat
- Repeat, repeat, repeat
Step five - Start all over but with kids doing the moving
- You still have to manage the treats to prevent the child getting mugged
- Practice with the child several times before introducing the dog to the situation. Have them walk around and then stop and cross their arms, when they get comfortable you can bring puppy into the picture
- Start off walking next to the child during the sessions
- Work up until you can walk briskly or even run together and as soon as the child stops, the puppy sits
Step six - From here you have two choices. Some people choose to let the child handle the treats. I prefer to gradually move further away but still manage the treat dispensing so the behavior chain becomes - Child moves around - puppy gets interested and follows - child stops and crosses arms - Puppy sits and then disengages from the child to come get a treat from me. Doing the second option takes all the focus off the child and really reinforces moving away from their space
At that point it's a matter of practicing, practicing, practicing so when the inevitable occurs and puppy loses self control and begins to chase, just as you are trying to get dirt out of the babies mouth, the kid will either automatically stop and cross his arms, or at least be very conditioned to responding when you yell from the porch at the two of them dashing across the yard "STOP AND CROSS YOUR ARMS". Just remember if you do not practice regularly that safety net will not be as strong when you really need it.
Now that we are through the first month, and Jaune is really integrated into our household we are actually able to start using some of his kibble to teach him cues and behaviors that will make management easier, teach him to accept nail trimming, brushing, loose leash walking, going to a mat or a crate on cue, coming when called, responding to the kids cues etc...
It has been a lot of work and Jaune has not received a single piece of kibble that didn't have a lesson of some sort behind it, but we are experiencing the rewards now as Jaune chills in the backyard while the kids run and play on the swing set, or he meanders through the house as David blasts past him dressed like a space alien fighting dragon with a light saber and he doesn't pay any attention. He still steals Penelope's stuffed animals, but instead of crying or yelling, Penelope now chimes in with "Look, Jaune found a treasure, what a good puppy" and we go get a treat to trade for the pink dolphin.
Here's a couple videos just for fun...