Getting Son Acquainted with a New Dog

My fiancé wanted a puppy, but I didn’t want to deal with the chewing, training, and peeing all over the house. I wanted an older dog, one we didn’t have to work with quite as much. However my two year old only likes smaller dogs and my fiancé likes bigger dogs (as he says “something I don’t have to bend down to pet”).

We agreed to look for a slightly older, large-breed puppy to fit both of our needs. We recently found the most adorable, friendly 5-month-old yellow lab.

We’ve had the dog for about a week now, which I know it hasn’t been long, but my two-year old screams and panics anytime the dog comes near. I know the dog only wants to get to know my son, and he’s not growling or barking at him. How can I help them get acquainted without traumatizing my son? ~ Cassie

Make sure your puppy is getting tons of exercise. It’s virtually impossible to wear out a lab pup (and be aware that labs and goldens have the longest puppyhood of all), so your son is probably reacting to the puppy’s active and impulsive behavior.  A tired dog is a good dog.

Then set up some fun interactions between your son and the dog. Try putting a baby gate in a doorway with you and your son on one side and the pup on the other. Encourage your son to toss a ball or some treats over the gate. Make sure that his arm doesn’t reach across the gate because the puppy will jump at his hand, which could be scary.  Just keep them each on their own side for now.

Teach your dog to sit using treats.  Practice it a lot.  If your dog sits reliably, you’ll have better control of him. You can also have your son tell the dog to sit—and then you’ll say it too. The dog will be responding to you, but that’s not important.  We want your son to see that he can communicate a little with the dog and that there are times that the puppy isn’t so impulsive or scary.

Narrate the dog’s actions for your son, so that he can understand what the dog is doing. You can also make up some silly stories about your son and the dog. Imaginary tales filled with humor and fun can help your son to become more interested in the dog.

I hope you’ll be able to turn this situation around so that you, your fiancé, and your son all develop happy relationships with your new pup.

Old Dog, New Baby!

My 8-year-old dog has had behavioral problems for a long time, but my husband and I ignored them. A year ago we had a child. As my daughter gets more active and grabby, I am afraid Carly is going to bite her. Janette races after Carly, and Carly tries to get away. I sometimes resort to locking Carly in different rooms.

Last night, my daughter tried to pet Carly through a baby gate. Carly growled and I saw her teeth!
Carly is part of our family, and we hate to keep her separated until Janette goes to bed. Any advice? ~ Linda

Since your dog is 8 and has some long-term issues, we aren’t likely to convince her that kids are the greatest thing ever. When you separate her, give her a chew toy with a little peanut butter inside so she has something enjoyable to do. Increase her exercise as well so that she naps more.

Supervising an active toddler is exhausting.  I know you feel bad about separating Carly, but she may prefer to be separated than to be constantly on alert for Janette’s approach.

When both you and your husband are home, include Carly in your activities. One of you will watch the dog, and the other, Janette. Don’t let Janette get closer than 5’ from Carly. She’s uncomfortable, and if she feels trapped, she may bite.

As parents, we want our kids and dogs to love one another, but trying to force the relationship will backfire. Don’t ever restrain Carly so that Janette can pet her. Many parents think this will help, but it makes the dog even more anxious about the child.

Instead encourage interaction from a distance. When your daughter is in her high chair, let Carly clean the floor. Teach your daughter to toss a treat or toy to Carly. When you use a baby gate, put a box on one side so that you have at least 15” of depth between them.

Be very cautious.  Janette’s physical abilities are improving every day. You need to be sure that Carly feels that she is at a safe distance at all times. She’s telling you she’s uncomfortable and she needs your help. Consider bringing a dog trainer in to give you more specific suggestions as well.

Wake Up Call! Dog Will Not Stop Barking in the Morning!

When I go in to wake up my 5 year old each morning, my dog starts barking and acting up. I want my son to wake up, but I don’t want to wake the whole neighborhood! How can I get her to stop? ~ James

She thinks she’s participating in the wake-up call. Tell your son that when the dog barks, you are going to ignore her and walk immediately out of his room. When the dog is quiet, you’ll go back in. It doesn’t matter if the dog follows you out or stays in the room with him (as long as she isn’t jumping on the bed). Tell your son to ignore her unless you are in the room.

Keep a small cup of treats near his bed so that when your son actually sits up in bed, he can toss one to her. No treats until he’s sitting.  She’ll soon figure out that it’s not in her best interest to add to the excitement level because it only delays her reward.

Be sure to start your wake-up routine 15 minutes earlier for the first few days you try this. Within a week, she’ll catch on.

Looking for Dog for Family with Special Needs

We want to get the right dog for our family, and train him/her from the early on so the dog will become a valuable, loved, and well trained member of our family.  We are looking at labradoodles and goldendoodles.  We have 2 young sons ages 5 and 6 (one has autism). We’ve always had miniature poodles, but are looking for a dog that is more whole family friendly ~ Jackie

We get lots of “doodles” in class. Most of them are very nice dogs, but nearly all are very, very, very energetic. Far more so than a purebred lab, golden, or poodle puppy (and these pups are all known for being pretty high energy). For some reason, the combination of breeds seems to produce a “caffeinated” dog. 🙂

Are you familiar with North Star Dogs? North Star is a nonprofit group that places dogs with children who have autism. Check out their website to see if you might be interested in one of their dogs.

You might also consider adopting a dog that didn’t pass the Canine Companions for Independence training. We’ve had many CCI puppies (usually lab/golden crosses) come through our program, and they’ve been calmer than all the others. Their advanced training program is very rigorous, so they sometimes have well-trained, social adolescent dogs who would make wonderful pets, but aren’t quite up to the task of being a person’s full-time service dog.

And don’t necessarily rule out a shelter dog. One advantage of adult dogs is they’re pretty much “what you see is what you get” whereas there’s a bit more guesswork with puppies. I adopted a very sweet, social, gentle dog from a local rescue group. He’s exactly the kind of dog I’d recommend for a family like yours.

There are great dogs out there, but you’ll have to look more carefully than most people. I absolutely think a dog could thrive in your family, but it’s vital that you get the right dog. There are no perfect dogs (or perfect people), but a good trainer who knows how to perform behavioral assessments can share a lot of information with you about a given dog.

This is a really big decision, so I applaud you for doing research in advance. I’ll be happy to help you in any way I can.

Dog Given as a Gift!

My 17-year-old son gave his girlfriend a puppy, but her parents made her give it back. He now understands that he shouldn’t have given a puppy as a gift, but we are left trying to decide whether or not to keep the dog.

The puppy is adorable. We think she’s a boxer mix. We have a lab, and he’s doing well with the puppy. Actually everyone is falling in love with her, but I’m not sure I want to start all over with a puppy. My son swears he’ll do all the work, but he’s a junior in high school and will be going to college in a year and a half.

I’m really torn. Do you have any advice that may help me decide whether or not to keep the dog? ~ Beth

I’m glad your son has learned (albeit the hard way) that dogs should never be given as a surprise and that each person should play an active role in choosing the dog he or she will live with.

You are right that if you keep this puppy, she will be more your dog than your son’s. So think this over carefully. You should keep this dog if you find her charming and you are willing to provide 12 or more years of care. What are you are hoping for in the coming years? Do you want to be home more or less than you are now? Are you hoping to travel frequently? Are you hoping to walk daily for exercise? If so, fantastic. It sounds like this new puppy will be a wondeful addition to your family.

Don’t feel guilty if you cannot keep the dog. Good shelters and rescues work very hard to help dogs find terrific homes. The goal is not to find a dog any home, but to find a dog the right home. These groups can make that happen. (A donation would be appreciated since most shelters and rescues operate with severely limited funds.)

Is Twelve too Young to Dog Sit?

My 12-year-old daughter has been asked to care for a neighbor’s dog for a week. She won’t have to walk the dog, only play with her in their fenced-in backyard. The dog is a sweet, mid-sized spaniel mix. We also have a dog, and my daughter is good with him. Do you think she’s old enough for this job? ~ Chrissie

If your daughter is good with your dog and also knows the dog she’ll be caring for, then this might be a nice opportunity for her to take on some additional responsibility.  You will need to help her though. Go with her for the first few visits to make sure she knows what to do.

Expect that you’ll need to remind her about the dog from time to time. It’s common for kids to focus so much on what they’re actually doing that they forget what they should be doing instead.

You may also need to do either the last outing at night or the first one in the morning. Typically a 12-year-old sleeps more hours per night than a dog can comfortably hold it.

One advantage of having a preteen care for a dog is that she may have more time to hang out with the dog and play than an older child’s busier schedule would allow. Dogs get lonely when their families travel. They more than just food, water, and potty breaks, so encourage your daughter to spend some time petting and playing with the dog during her visits.

Dealing with “Rough Play” Between People and Pets

I’d like advice about how to handle a playful dog, who is very rowdy and sees the children more as his “playmates.” My husband and sons love “rough play” with our lab pup who gets very excited, but he mouths them as his very natural way to interact and roughhouse with his “littermates.”

The men and boys in the house don’t mind this, but I sure do!  It’s teaching the dog that it’s okay to nip for fun.  Then he nips my younger children when he’s excited and thinks they want to play, and he’s actually pierced skin sometimes because he obviously doesn’t know how to be more careful.  I can’t get the men in our house to stop playing with the dog this way, so how else do we teach him that nipping is not okay?

I am sure this is a common problem with the men and boys in homes.  Several acquaintances have mentioned this same problem to me.  It would be great to see more information on your site on how to handle these types of situations….overly playful dogs and teaching them the “right” ways to play with the kids. ~ Rita

Ah, Rita, I wish I had the magic answer for you. I live in a house full of males (husband and three sons), and it’s really difficult to convince them to moderate their behavior so that they don’t rile the dogs to the point of inappropriate behavior.

I haven’t given up though! I always teach people to recognize stress signals because I think it’s important to be able to recognize them. So I’ll say things like, “Ooh, ‘getting a lot of half-moon eye there. Time to bring it down a notch.” (Half-moon eye is when you see the whites of a dog’s eyes. There are some stress signals shown on my website in both video and photo form.)

I also talk about how it’s really hard for a dog to know what he can and can’t do with any given individual. If my 15-year-old riles the dog up and gets him jumping and mouthing, how is the dog supposed to know that he shouldn’t jump on and mouth the kids when I take him to preschools? It’s really unfair to blame a dog for not having sophisticated reasoning, but a lot of people think the dog should know that he can only do these activities with certain people. How is the dog supposed to figure that out other than trial and error?

Teach your husband and sons to “be a tree” when the dog starts getting too excited. (The tree pose is with feet firmly planted, hands clasped and held close to the body, and eyes looking down at toes. This gives clear guidance of what to do, rather than what not to do.) This body language is a cut-off signal for a dog, and most respond quickly to it.

Encourage everyone to play games with toys like fetch to keep the dog’s energy focused and channeled. Even tug can be a great game as long as you set some rules.

If you happen upon the brilliant solution to this age-old problem, I would love to hear it!  It’s definitely a common problem.

Good luck with your guys!

Should I Get a “Replacement Dog?”

My 12-year-old daughter would really like us to get another dog. She loves all dogs and  is very attached to our 10-year-old cocker. The cocker has had some health issues this year, so I’m worried about how my daughter will react when he dies. Is it better to get a second dog now or wait? ~ Carolyn

There isn’t a perfect answer to this question. As a teen, I was in a similar situation and convinced my mother that we should get a “companion dog” so we’d never be in the position of getting a “replacement dog.” I was very upset when my 15-year-old dog died, and, for me, it was very helpful to have another dog I was already devoted to.

You really have to consider if you would like a second dog and whether it would be too stressful for your cocker. Some older dogs are really bothered by puppy antics, so you may want to consider adopting an adult dog.

If you decide to get a second dog, remember that age has its privileges. Be sure that your cocker gets plenty of breaks from the new dog as well as some special one-on-one time. It may seem that helping the new dog settle into the household takes all your attention, but make an effort to show your older dog how much you love and appreciate him too.

My Dog is a Tripping Hazard?

We have a busy household with three teens, and our dog, Cargo, loves everyone—sometimes too much. He always wants to be in the middle of the action.
My mother-in-law is coming to live with us because she is having trouble getting around with her walker. She loves dogs, but I’m worried about her tripping over Cargo. I don’t want to yell at him for being friendly, but my mother-in-law can’t risk a broken hip. ~ Mary

Dogs are quite perceptive. I would not be surprised if Cargo intuitively gives your mother-in-law the space she needs.

Borrow the walker and practice teaching your dog a “move away” cue. You can teach him not to approach anyone using the walker, but that he’s allowed to approach when the person sits down. That way he can visit with your mother-in-law without tripping her. For the first few weeks, carry treats in a fanny pack so that you can reward him for being gentle and appropriate. He’ll soon learn that he needs to moderate his behavior around her.

Be sure that he gets lots of exercise too, so that he can burn off his excess energy in appropriate ways and won’t be quite so likely to be underfoot all the time.

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.

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