Ask the Dog Trainer: Growing Pains with a Puppy
We recently got a Labrador puppy and she has been a wonderful addition to our lives. We have two children, ages 6 and 10, and for a while they played tag and naps with little Bella. However, months have passed and Bella has grown into an exuberant teenager whose main source of entertainment is chasing and bouncing on children. It’s not the experience we envisioned with our family dog and the kids are starting to get scared of her. To help!
Dear Bouncing Bella:
It’s quite common that within a few months, the soft, squishy pup transforms into a stubborn, powerful teenager and becomes a whirlwind of high, unchanneled energy. Children, on the other hand, take many years to mature and as a result may find themselves frightened and overwhelmed by the forceful attentions of their former pint-sized playmate.
The first step towards realizing the relationship you envision with Bella and your family is to have a discussion about safe and respectful interactions. You can explain that actions such as hugging or laying on top of Bella should be stopped. Although these are affectionate gestures towards other humans, they can be interpreted as oppressive actions towards dogs. Instead, opt for gentle chest scratches or quiet ear rubs. Your children can also help him brush his teeth and bathe.
Children and puppies love to play, but games that involve jumping or running should be discouraged until Bella is more mature.
Instead of tagging, you can encourage your kids to play with a toy. If Bella starts jumping on them or running after them, rather than running and screaming when she approaches, ask them to stand still, hand out a treat, and politely tell her to sit down. Incorporating your children into Bella’s daily training and handling is a great way to bond and place them in positions of “honored treat givers” instead of “moving targets”.
It is important for each family member to be able to calm and channel Bella’s energy. A daily activity I suggest is to give each member of your family a handful of dog food and place Bella in the center of your circle. Take turns asking Bella to come, sit, lie down, roll over, or shake. Make sure everyone slowly hands the treats to Bella on their open palm, so she doesn’t steal the food.
Family walks are another great way to foster cooperation and focused energy. For family members who are too small to walk a rowdy teenager, I suggest you or your husband use two leashes. Attach both leashes to his collar. You hold one leash and give the other to your children. Encourage them to take turns holding the second leash loosely with Bella at their side while you prevent her from jumping or pulling with yours. It helps Bella and your children feel like part of a team, while you act as the assistant behind the curtain.
It is quite common for young dogs and children to need guidance on what is considered safe and appropriate play with each other. However, through a combination of clear communication, structured play and daily practice, I’m confident that Bella will soon join the esteemed ranks of Old Yeller and Lassie.
Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For more information, visit customk9servicedogs.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.