Don’t Try This at Home

My wife and I are having a disagreement. From time to time, our dog, Mohican, will grab a napkin or Kleenex and run behind the couch. If you try to reach back to get it from her, she’ll growl at you. I won’t tolerate a dog growling at me, so I shove the couch out of the way, grab the dog, and wrestle it from her. My wife thinks we should trade a treat for the garbage. What do you think? ~ Michael

Many dogs will growl (or even snap or bite) if they have something they consider valuable and someone tries to take it.

Growling is an early-warning sign. It’s possible that she may be sufficiently intimidated by your method to give up growling, but that won’t make her any more comfortable about being approached when she has something she really, really wants. In many cases, this will cause a dog to skip over her warning signals and move directly to biting. Definitely not what you want.

Also force-based methods work only for people confident enough and strong enough to carry them through. Imagine if one of your kids tried diving behind the couch to retrieve a napkin from the dog—she’s be far more likely to bite a child who attempted your maneuver.

Trading for a treat can be a good idea if the dog is taught to drop what she has so that you can safely pick it up. The best book on the subject is Mine: A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs, by Jean Donaldson. You and your wife should read it to develop a plan that works for both of you, avoids aggressive behavior, and doesn’t scare your dog.

photo by: Sahsha Kochanowicz Photography

Touched-Out Teachers Have Dogs Too

http://www.tgfoto.com/​​​Today's post is written by Debra Murray of Smartypaws Dog Training.

​While chatting with a teacher friend today, it was brought to my attention that teachers with dogs and kids have some unique challenges when adjusting to back-to-school schedules.  All day teachers pour their energy into other people's children and come home to their own households and families with important physical and emotional needs that must be met.  

Then, the family dog, who had access to people, play, and ample potty breaks throughout the summer, is ready for rambunctious interaction or inseparable snuggles.  Yet teacher parent is tired and touched out.  They just need a few moments to breathe without the world around them urgently demanding something every single second.

Dear Teachers,

I hear you! I hope these 6 suggestions* can help you find at least 15 minutes of calm in the craziness of raising kids and dogs together while teaching and inspiring our children daily.

(Good news!  You don’t have to be a teacher to try these Back-to-School Doggy Dinners.)

  • Take-Out (scatter feeding):  Let the dog out to potty when you get home while you get the kids and their school stuff situated.  Let pup back in and send the kids out with dog’s dinner.  Have the kids toss and scatter doggy’s food around the backyard.  Call the kids in, then send the dog out for dinner.
  • Tasty Tosser (kibble toss):  This can make some of my teacher friends cringy, but ideally the mess that is made will be cleaned up by the dog.  Children of just about any age can participate in this feeding fun.  Separate dog and children with a sturdy baby gate.  You can take a seat on either side of the gate – probably closer to whichever “animal” needs you most, but being on the same side as your child is optimal.  Have your young kiddo pour dog food in a pile on the floor next to where you are seated sipping cider and gathering your thoughts.  Of course, you can keep the kibble in a bowl or container next to you if you prefer, and sip whatever you choose.  Encourage the child to grab a piece or handful of kibble and toss over the gate to the dog.
  • Homework Helper:  Since doggy snuggles can be nice, sit on the sofa and snuggle and scratch your pup the way you enjoy lovin’ together.  You can play, too if that helps settle your stress.  Use a baby gate to keep pup from interrupting the kids if necessary.  Have the kids practice their letters, spelling words, or math facts by writing them with kibble on the kitchen floor.  When they are finished, switch your snuggle partner.
  • Burrowing Blankie: This is similar to scatter feeding, but indoors and a little different.  Have kids spread dog’s food on the floor while pup is outside or with you in a different room.  Let them lay a blanket or towel over the food for Fido to burrow under and find his feast.  They can use more blankets and towels and spread the food out farther. 
  • Jr. Trainer (hand feed):  Let older children (8+) who have helped with training hand-feed Fido as a training exercise.  Instruct the child to ask for basic behaviors the dog knows well (e.g.,  sit, down, find), and feed or toss a piece of kibble when dog responds correctly.  It’s important only older children who won’t tease or frustrate pup implement this strategy.
  • Brain Toys and Puzzles:  Have kids fill food puzzles and let pupper play engaging in mealtime enrichment.  Check out Smartypaws January and February blogs with mealtime enrichment ideas:  https://www.smartypaws.net/blog/57-enrichment-feeders-for-enriching-the-new-year.html

* The above suggestions are for family-friendly dogs without a history of resource guarding or aggression.

 * Keep dogs and kids separated when eating (except older children for hand feeding)

* Always supervise kids and dogs and remember baby gates are not a substitution for supervision.

Debra L. Murray of SmartyPaws

About the author:  

Debra L. Murray is the owner of Smartypaws LLC Dog Training and Family Education in Lee’s Summit, MO.  She is a licensed educator for Family Paws Parent Education, AKC Canine Good Citizen and S.T.A.R. Puppy Evaluator, professional member of Heartland Positive Dog Training Alliance, and presenter for Good Dog in a Box Dog Smart Education.

Debra also is a homeschooling mom committed to promoting safety and creating harmony between dogs and their families. Currently, she has a rescued Great Pyrenees/Border Collie mix named Dolly, a husband of 20+ years, and 3 beautiful children.

​Photo credits: Child spelling "dog" with kibble by Sahsha Kochanowicz Photography, photo of Debra Murray by Tim Galyean

Toddler Obsessed with Skittish Dog

I have a HUGE problem. My dog is very skittish, and my 2-year old son wild.

Andrew pursues her all the house. He laughs when she leaps up to move out of his way. And for some unknown reason, he just doesn’t quite get the word “no” and “dog” being in the same sentence.

He is obsessed with her tail. He smacks it every chance he gets.  When we all go out, he throws rocks and gravel at her.

We had the dog years before we had our son. I don’t feel as though I should have to get rid of her because of him. She has never done anything back to him and gives him no reason to mess with her. I am just afraid it will turn ugly. I would hate for her to bite him, although my husband always says that if she was going to do it, she would have done it by now. ~ Mandy

Toddlers are notoriously short of empathy. Your son isn’t mature enough to understand that he’s scaring or hurting your dog. He just likes getting a reaction.

That said, you need to do everything you can to prevent him from bothering your dog. Indoors make liberal use of baby gates, so that your dog can see and hear you, but Andrew can’t get to her. When you and Andrew are playing outside, leave her in.

When you take her out for a potty break, try giving him something to hold that he can’t throw well, like a zip-lock bag with water and a few floating toys. He can squish the bag to make them move, but the weight will make it difficult for him to throw. Keep that as your special outside toy that he can only have when your dog is outside with you (and change the floating toys from time to time to keep it interesting).

Most important, make sure you praise and reward Andrew when he interacts with the dog in appropriate ways. As much as he needs you to stop him when he’s doing something wrong, he also needs to know how pleased you are every time he is gentle and kind.

beagle

Adult Dog Growls at Puppy

My family just adopted a 5-month-old beagle mix. Parker’s really sweet and playful. We all love him—all of us except our 7-year-old shepherd mix that is.

When Parker wants to play with Cookie, she frequently growls loudly at him. He’ll bring her toy after toy, and she’ll occasionally play tug, but most of the time, she’ll just get up and move away from him. Heaven forbid he follow her because she’ll turn around and bark in his face.

She doesn’t hurt him, but it looks scary. Will we have to give up Parker? ~ Diane

It sounds to me like Cookie doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for puppy antics. In most cases, this isn’t a serious issue, but rather an adult dog setting down the household rules. It will help if you make sure that Parker gets lots of exercise and, if possible, opportunities to play with dogs closer to his age. Having an outlet for his energy will help.

You may also want to take Cookie in for a physical, just to rule out any health or aging issues. If you find that after a month things haven’t settled down (or at any time if they escalate), you may want to bring in a dog trainer to watch the interaction and give specific advice.

But based on your description, it really sounds like Cookie is just telling Parker that she’s the queen and she’ll let him know when he has earned the right to play with her.

Airedale terrier

Dog Gets Wild and Crazy Twice a Day

Twice a day, my dog goes nuts. At 8 am and 7 pm, she races around the house, crashing into things and barking like crazy. You could set a clock by her. What’s up with that? ~ Dylan

Lots of dogs get “the crazies” and will expend excess energy in the way you describe.

For those dogs, I recommend increasing their physical exercise and presenting them with some mental challenges as well. If we get their brains and bodies working, the problem usually goes away. (Julie Fudge Smith and I talked about this in episode 9, Fun with Food, on the Your Family Dog podcast. You may find some suggestions there.)

But the fact that you can identify specific time periods makes me wonder if this could be a food sensitivity. Many dogs have difficulty digesting corn, dyes, and artificial preservatives, which are all too common in dog foods.

Try switching your dog to a food recommended by Whole Dog Journal (which I think of as Consumer Reports for dogs). Give her two months on a high-quality food and keep track of her behavior. I’m betting you’ll see a significant decrease in the crazies at your house!

border collie puppy

Kids in Dog Class

Our 11-year-old daughter loves dogs, and we recently bought her a border collie puppy. Since she’s the dog’s owner, I want her to be the main trainer. However when I tried to register her for a class, I was told that she couldn’t be the primary trainer. Why not? ~ Marie

Most 11-year-olds are very good trainers. Some trainers enjoy having kids in class, and others don’t. I’d love to have a motivated 11-year-old bring her dog to class!

Look around in your area for a trainer that welcomes kids. Ask questions and go watch a class or two before signing up. (The how to choose a trainer post may be helpful.)

When kids come to my classes, I require a parent to stay on site and help the child if needed. With a child as old as yours, you could probably just sit and watch, but for younger kids, it’s very helpful to have the parent hold the leash so the child can train hands-free.

The biggest challenge for most kids is keeping the dog close by, so if you take care of maintaining the dog’s location, the child can focus on training and rewarding the dog. As the dog’s behavior improves, there will be less need for you to pitch in.

As much as possible, let the trainer teach your child and let your child teach the dog. It’s really tempting to coach your child, but far too often, I see kids becoming self-conscious and inhibited if they get too much guidance from mom or dad.

Encourage her to ask the trainer questions and practice outside of class. She may also enjoy Puppy Training for Kids.

close up of young boy

Difficulty Speaking Leads to Miscommunication

My 6-year-old son is receiving intensive speech therapy. He gets frustrated when our dog doesn’t respond when he asks him to sit. I don’t think the dog knows what he is saying, but I don’t want to tell him that as we are encouraging him to speak as much as possible. Any idea how to bridge the gap? ~ Sofie

Dogs communicate primarily through body language. It’s quite likely that you already use some sort of body-language cue to ask the dog to sit. Most people have a tendency to both verbally say a cue and do some sort of physical signal.

Figure out what signals your dog looks for. You may want to have a few solo practice sessions so that your dog will be good at a few simple tricks (e.g., sit, down, spin, and shake) before your son starts working with him.

Help your son practice these skills using the physical cue only (no words yet). Use amazing treats so that your dog thinks working with your son is the best game ever. When your dog is good at responding to your son’s physical cues, then you can encourage your son to use verbal cues as well.

Ask your son to say “sit,” and then do the physical cue for sit. (Stay actively involved at first so you can make sure the dog responds–perhaps by giving the physical cue again behind your son’s back.) When the verbal cue comes first, the dog will begin to anticipate the physical cue and may respond even before it occurs.

Soon your dog will sit when your son asks, even though your son’s words sound different from how the other family members say it. And if you continue have fun practice sessions with tasty treats, your dog may soon respond to your son better than he does to anyone else, which can be very exciting for a child.

Don’t have any idea what physical cues you use?

One simple way to figure out what kind of body language you use to communicate with your dog is to stand like a toy soldier, stiff with your arms at your side, and ask the dog to sit. If the dog doesn’t sit, relax your body and repeat the cue. What changed? Odds are that you nodded your head forward and moved one of your hands either upward or in a pointing motion at the dog. Notice what seems natural—that’s what your dog is watching for.

Siblings and dog

Playing Favorities

My 10-year-old son’s feelings are hurt because our dog seems to like my 7-year-old daughter better. To be fair, she’s more of a dog person than he is, but how can I help improve the relationship between my son and the dog? ~ Allanah

Dogs will have a unique relationship with each member of the family. Some people, like your daughter, naturally form a strong bond with a dog, but the good news is that there are lots of easy things you can to do help your son as well.

First buy some extra-special dog treats that only he can give the dog. (Freeze-dried liver is a favorite.) He can use these treats to play simple games with the dog. One popular choice is a version of the shell game in which your son will hide a treat under one of three overturned plastic cups. Then he’ll mix up the cups and let the dog knock over the cups to find the treat. Some dogs will know immediately which cup has the treat; others will investigate every cup.

He can set up trails around the house for the dog to follow using one treat every 3 feet or so. It’s also fun for kids to teach dogs to navigate obstacles. He can encourage your dog to jump over a broom balanced on the rungs of your kitchen chairs or crawl under your coffee table. Remind him to reward the dog often so that the dog doesn’t get frustrated trying to figure out what your son is trying to teach him. Reading Puppy Training for Kids (it’s not just about puppies) or enrolling the two of them in a training class that welcomes kids would also be a great idea.

boy and siberian husky

Take Treats Gently

My two-year-old likes to give our dog treats, but I worry the dog will nip his fingers. Sometimes my son seems nervous too, and he pulls his hand back instead of giving the treat. Then the dog gets grabby. How can my son give the dog a treat while keeping all of his fingers? ~ Carla in Pittsburgh

Manual dexterity is a challenge for most preschoolers; they have trouble holding a dog treat and then releasing it. There are many ways to make treat delivery a bit easier and less scary for young kids.

  • Drop the treats on the floor.
  • Give your son a bowl to hold while the dog eats a treat out of it.
  • Put the treat on the back of his hand. Young kids often have trouble holding their hand open. Their fingers curl up and form a bowl. It may be better to teach your son to put out his fist and for you to place a treat on top of his hand.
  • Have him sit on the counter (with you right there, of course) and toss treats to the dog. This works well for bouncy dogs who might bump or frighten your child.

 

old dog

Older Dogs May Be Less Tolerant

I have two old dogs—12 and 14 years old. They have never shown any aggression toward anyone, but last week the 12 year old growled at my 1-year-old grandson! I was shocked. My dogs have never lived with kids, but they’ve always been fine with the ones we meet on the street. What should I do when my grandson comes over? ~ Robert

You hit on two important points, Robert. First, your dogs are older. With age comes some creakiness and discomfort. We’re all a bit less tolerant when we are uncomfortable; dogs are no exception.

Also, your dogs have never lived with children. We all know kids behave very differently than adults, and for most dogs, the unfamiliar can be worrisome. Short interactions with strangers on a walk are much easier than an extended visit with a toddler.

I think your best bet is to manage the situation when your grandson comes over. When things are calm, let your dogs hang out with the family.

When your grandson is active or the dogs seem tired, put your dogs in a bedroom with a good chew toy. They will appreciate it, and you can focus on spoiling your grandson.