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.

dog wearing birthday party hat

Birthday Party Bliss or Bedlam?

My 8-year-old daughter was invited to a “bring-your-own-dog birthday party” where each guest (or rather each guest’s parent) is supposed to bring her dog for the first hour of the party.

I’m worried my dog won’t behave well around dogs she doesn’t know. What do you think of this party idea? ~ Candace

I don’t like that idea at all. There are way too many variables to deal with there:

  • Dogs that don’t know each other
  • Dogs that may not be comfortable with groups of children
  • Dogs in an unfamiliar environment
  • Kids whose behavior may be unpredictable around dogs
  • Far too much excitement

No, I don’t think this is a good idea. Each of the dogs may be lovely in her own home, as yours is, but they probably won’t be at their best at a party.

A trainer friend of mine recently participated in a birthday party for a dog-loving child. At this party, she and her trained dog were hired to come to the party for 45 minutes. She taught the kids a little about canine body language and how to train a dog. Then her dog showed off with a variety of tricks. Each child was allowed to come meet Willow and pet her at the end of their visit. The party-goers loved spending time with the dog, and it was a much safer way to have a dog-themed party for a child who really loves dogs.

puppy

Is Her Fear Controlling Her … Or Me?

I have 6-year-old twins: a girl and a boy.  My daughter is afraid of dogs, so I just adopted from the Humane Society a puppy 5 lb. terrier mix who will stay small and is very sweet. 

Hannah will pet Dory if someone is holding her, but she’s still terrified if the puppy is on the ground loose. She will scream and stay on the couch—even if I have Dory on a leash.

She says she “loves” Dory and can’t wait to come home the see her, but once there, it’s another story.  I don’t want to be an enabler and give into my daughter’s control issues.

Hannah will only pet Dory if someone is holding her, and she’s even told me Dory needs to go the crate or she won’t come out of her room.

I know she is afraid; I used to be the same way until my parents got me a dog.  Should I make her stay in my bedroom with me with the dog running loose even though I know she will freak out? I feel if I don’t do this then she will never try to do more than she is doing now because of fear, but I don’t want to terrorize her either.  ~ Sarah

I think this is too much, too soon for Hannah. I don’t recommend getting a dog for a child who is afraid of dogs until after we’ve done some significant ground work to help decrease the child’s level of fear. If you haven’t seen a big improvement within a week, I would seriously consider returning the dog and enlisting some professional help to deal with your daughter’s anxiety. There is a possibility that being forced to interact with the dog can make her fears worse, not better.

The biggest challenge is that dog behavior seems unpredictable to frightened children. By asking you to hold Dory, Hannah is really asking you to ensure nothing unpredictable or scary happens.

If you want to make this work, then I think you’ll have to do everything you can to make their interactions calm and controlled (which can be challenging with a puppy!). Give Dory lots of exercise and plenty of tempting things to chew, so that she won’t be too bouncy around Hannah.

Since your son isn’t worried about Dory, have a conversation with both kids in which they say what they like best and least about dogs in general and about Dory in particular. It’s nice for kids to be able to say that they like some things and not others. Add your own thoughts to the list. Maybe hearing from the two of you will help Hannah see some of Dory’s more enticing traits while accepting that “nobody’s perfect,” so it’s perfectly okay to not like every little thing about her.

Encourage your son to do some basic training with Dory using treats to make it fun. (More info and ideas in Puppy Training for Kids.) Have Hannah watch from the couch. Once she sees that there are ways to interact with puppies that encourage calm and appropriate behavior, she may start to warm up a bit.

P.S. Don’t let either of your kids carry the puppy around. It’s tempting to treat a small dog as a toy, but most dogs are very uncomfortable being carried by a child and many learn to wriggle (and sometimes snap) as a way to be put down. That won’t help Hannah at all.

greyhound

Labrador or Greyhound?

I’m a single mom with a 2-year-old son, and I would really like to adopt a greyhound. I have talked with a local greyhound rescue, and they have approved I have talked with a local greyhound rescue, and they have approved my application.

But everyone keeps telling me to get a Labrador because they are the best dog for kids!

I like labs, but I don’t think I have enough energy to live with one. On the other hand, I definitely want a dog that will love my son. What do you think? Should I get a lab? ~ Phoebe

Go for the greyhound—but make sure you choose one that is highly social (not just tolerant) with children.

There isn’t a best breed, but there are “best traits” for your family. There are laid-back labs and hyper greyhounds. Never choose simply by breed. Instead choose a dog that is social, gentle, tolerant, and has an energy level compatible with yours.

I’m sure the rescue group can help you identify dogs who may be good matches. Ask if they perform behavioral evaluations (or if you can hire someone to assess a dog before you adopt).

Take your time. When the right dog comes along, you’ll know.